It takes a lot of special talent to adequately pay tribute to an artist as prolific and influential as Bob Dylan. Columbia Records proved it could pull off such a lofty endeavor when the label honored its brightest star on Oct. 16, 1992. Columbia took over Madison Square Garden and unleashed a torrent of talent rivaled only by the all-star rosters assembled for major disaster-relief fundraising efforts.
George Harrison, Neil Young, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, Lou Reed, John Mellencamp, Chrissie Hynde, Tom Petty, The Clancy Brothers, Ron Wood, Roger McGuinn, Richie Havens and The Band all took turns on the stage paying homage to Dylan.
In addition to these rock and folk greats, the stars of country music were well represented. Johnny Cash, a friend and collaborator of Dylan's since the '60s, and his wife June Carter Cash belted out a spirited duet version of "It Ain't Me Babe." This performance featured some tasty and instantly-recognizable harmonica work from Mickey Raphael, a long-time member of Willie Nelson's backing band, The Family.
Nelson also graced the MSG stage. Although "What Was It You Wanted" from 1989's "Oh Mercy," is not one of Dylan's better-known tracks, the dark tune with its stark arrangement was the ideal vehicle for Willie's dusty Texas-cool style, a sound he would hint at on his 1996 album "Spirit" and perfect on 1998's "Teatro."
Willie then passed the mic to the third member of The Highwaymen on the bill that night, Kris Kristofferson. Thanks again to Raphael's harmonica contributions, a laid back and tremolo-heavy arrangement and Kristofferson's signature vocal style, this rendition of "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight" from "John Wesley Hardin" is a solid country rocker from start to finish.
The final country contribution came from the talented trio of Mary-Chapin Carpenter, Rosanne Cash and Shawn Colvin. These three attack "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere," a gem from "The Basement Tapes" with the same twang stick that The Byrds used to make the song chart on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1968.
Non-country highlights include Clapton's slow-blues version of "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" (the Deluxe Edition also features a second rendition of this song from rehearsals), original members of The Band reuniting to perform "When I Paint My Masterpiece," an impassioned "Masters Of War" by Eddie Vedder and Mike McCready from a then-fledgling Pearl Jam, a poppy take on "Absolutely Sweet Marie" by George Harrison and a killer "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" by the entire ensemble.
This group performance was book-ended by two acoustic performances from the guest of honor - "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" and "Girl From The North Country." On the latter of the two, Dylan plays with the arrangement to produce something that manages to be both casual and quietly frenzied.
In addition to the CD, this concert is also available in both DVD and Blu-ray formats. Although the decades-old video footage falls short of the technical brilliance expected on modern-day performance releases, this is still a high-quality video presentation. Nearly 40 minutes of backstage bonus footage and three bonus performances bolster this already notable release.