Beck is an all-encompassing music fiend, working with everyone from Childish Gambino to Will Ferrell. Likewise, he also attracts an eclectic mix of admirers. Kanye West celebrated his songwriting and even Johnny Cash happened to be one of his first-ever major champions.
Back in 1995 Beck actually opened a Hollywood show for The Man in Black, in one of the most surreal LA concert billings going, and he certainly caught his ear. It would appear that Cash wasn’t behind the booking because it was the first time that he had heard youngster, which makes the fact that he arrested his attention all the more noteworthy. “I listened to him backstage and I was so impressed with the way that he could do Appalachian music, like a Hillbilly, he’s really good at it. And then his own sort of songs,” he said.
Cash even reserved specific praise for the track ‘Rowboat’, stating: “It sounded like something I might have written or might have done in the sixties when I was going through some weird times.” In fact, Cash liked it so much that he later covered it on his 1996 record Unchained.
This mix of timeless elements with pioneering style is something that has resided throughout Beck’s wavering musical journey to date. In fact, towards the start of that journey, Bob Dylan himself remarked, “[Beck is a] young man with an incredible future.” Both artists pride themselves on being hard to pigeonhole and Beck set about making the comparison clear with his War Child charity cover of ‘Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat’.
In the song, Dylan croaks, “It balances on your head just like a mattress balances on a bottle of wine,” in perhaps the greatest hat-based insult since Laurel and Hardy’s sartorial antics. The disdain continues therein in an acerbic slur of the spleen as the songsmith proves once more that hell hath no fury like Dylan scorned.
In fitting Blonde on Blonde waltzing melodic fashion, the cutting lyrics are taken on a merry little dance around the dingy bars of break-up-Ville as the free-flowing instrumentation whisks everyone else off their feet to join in the swaggering stroll. Beck might be laidback but even his whimsical recline has a cutting air about it.
Beck carts the song off on a psychedelic jaunt with bluesy guitar riffs that seem like they’ve been run through Jack White’s unique amp sound. It’s wild by design and soars as a brisk reinvention of a classic.