Music From Sons of Anarchy Seasons 1–4 by The Forest Rangers et al. (Columbia Records, 2011)
Confession: I don't watch t.v. I've never seen an episode of the The Sons of Anarchy, a series about a fictitious motorcycle gang on the west coast. I stumbled across the series' soundtrack, while listening to versions of "John the Revelator," in search of one that sounded powerful and threatening, as any song about the apocalypse should. One by Curtis Stigers and The Forest Rangers more than filled the bill. That discovery led to searches for other songs by The Forest Rangers and soon to the series' soundtrack.
Save for one song, all of the selections on the soundtrack are covers. The Forest Rangers back Katey Segal on "Bird on a Wire," "Forever Young," and "Strange Fruit"; Paul Brady on "Gimme Shelter"; Billie Valentine on "Someday Never Comes"; and Allison Mosshart on "What a Wonderful World." In all, there are covers of three Dylan songs, and each illustrates what is spot-on about this soundtrack. Audra Mae' singing brings a maternal tenderness to "Forever Young," and the addition of a banjo gives it a country sensibility; The Lions roar through "Girl From the North Country," offering up a maelstrom true to Dylan's imagery of "howling winds"; Franky Perez & Los Guardianes del Bosque sing "The Times They Are A-Changin" in Spanish (Los Tiempos Van Cambiando) and introduce a Spanish harp. Rather than distortions of the originals, these new readings take us to the heart of the songs, and give us fresh listening experiences.
Notwithstanding the variety of styles and players, the soundtrack has a unity that makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts. And, given these parts, that is saying a lot. The overall effect is one of foreboding, but not despair. Think "Gimme Shelter." If war is just a shot away; love is just a kiss away.