Happy 70th Birthday Bob Dylan: The Seven Best "New Dylans"

Bob Dylan turns 70 today. The man who gave us "The Times They Are A-Changin'," the man who wrote "Like a Rolling Stone," "Mr. Tambourine Man," and "With God On Our Side."

Over the years, he's influenced and remained busy. He inspired Sam Cook to write "A Change is Gonna Come," and even gave his blessing to rap music when  tried his hand rapping with Kurtis Blow. He teamed up with the George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Jeff Lyne, and Tom Petty to form The Traveling Wilburys, cranking out noirish songs like "Tweeter and the Monkey Man."

It's become customary for music writers to dub upcoming singer/songwriters "the new Bob Dylan," or "the next Bob Dylan." It's said that imitation is the highest form of flattery, and in that spirit, we've decided to profile seven of the "New Dylans," who, clearly inspired by the man, succeed mostly because they followed Dylan's example: Being themselves above all else.

Happy Birthday, Bob.

Conor Oberst was only a few albums into his career before people starting calling him the "next Bob Dylan." Despite his attempts to shake the label with electronic releases, angry post-punk and full band efforts, he's still known for his Dylan-esque folk, and for railing against injustice while exploring personal demons. The Dylan/Oberst thing doesn't always hold up --he's not quite enigmatic enough-- but even though he sang George Harrison's lines when joining M.Ward, Ben Gibbard, and Jenny Lewis, and the Watson Twins for a cover of the Wilbury's "Handle With Care," it was hard not to think of Dylan.   

Bruce Springsteen's early, predominately wordy albums earned him Dylan comparisons for their rambling nature. Though he forged his own path of fusing folk's poetic nature with hard diving anthems, B-movie scenes and bar band R&B, listening to this early demo for the song "Jesse," it's hard not to hear one of Dylan's hard luck characters trapped somewhere in the song.

Donovan just sounds like Dylan on this song. Though he later took his work in a more psychedelic direction, the internet is littered with sites claiming "Catch the Wind" is a Dylan song. It's an easy mistake to make, but Donovan's got a much better singing voice than Dylan, even if he borrowed a bit from Dylan's "The Chimes of Freedom" to achieve the lilting grace of this song.

Loudon Wainwright III --the father of Rufus and Martha-- didn't mind the Dylan associations, it would seem. His own songwriting has held up, at once humane, sly, and cutting."Talking New Bob Dylan" wishes Dylan a happy 50th Birthday, detailing Dylan's discography and referencing the debt Wainwright's career, along with that of Steve Foubert, John Prine, and Springsteen, owes Dylan, noting "We were new Bob Dylans, your dumb ass kid brothers."

Speaking of Prine! Though ostensibly more of a country guy, Prine's lyricism and story telling ability indeed landed him a record deal as record companies snapped up Dylan-like artists. Prine's voice has a certain reedy quality, much like Dylan, and has continued cranking out records even has he's battled cancer.  

In the '90s, Beck was viewed by many as the next Bob Dylan. It isn't so much that he sounds like Dylan so much that, like Dylan, Beck assimilates disparate genres blues, country, folk, hip-hop, and pop into his songwriting, often employing oblique metaphors and surreal imagery.  One Foot in the Grave, his junk-blues record, is a perfect example, where traditional songs like "He's a Mighty Fine Leader" are cast in a new, slightly confusing light.

At Coachella this year, I heard countless festival-goers speak of Kristian Mattson, known by his project name The Tallest Man on Earth, as "just like Bob Dylan" or "this generation's Bob Dylan." Of course it's silly to say so, but just in the way that Dylan mimicked Woodie Guthrie, Mattson certainly takes a bit of his style from Dylan, with furious acoustic strumming and a distinctly nasal voice.

Of course these are just a few of the artists given the title by music writers anxious to have someone to talk about the same way we talk about Dylan (see Tracy Chapman, The Counting Crows, Billy Bragg, or hell, even Bob's own son Jakob). It's foolhardy to ask for another Dylan, but these artists are certainly interesting ones, and while calling any of them "the next Dylan" may be pointless, it's pretty fun to do.
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Jason P. Woodbury is a music and pop-culture writer based in Phoenix. He is a regular contributor to the music blog Aquarium Drunkard and co-host of the Transmissions podcast.

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