There are a few multi-artist Dylan comps on the market, notably A Nod to Bob: An Artists' Tribute to Bob Dylan on His Sixtieth Birthday
and the decent 30th anniversary concert soundtrack, the latter recorded long before his late 90's artistic revival when his new recordings again became as indispensable as his 60's and 70's output. Then there's compilations by individual artists like the Byrds, the Hollies, Richie Havens, Joan Baez, the Dead, and recently Brian Ferry, which aren't always spectacular either. Joan Baez, in my mind, is the greatest interpreter of Dylan's work; she can make each song her own like no one else.
Baez doesn't appear on this album, and neither do the remaining members of the Band. Perhaps they've developed and have been developed to such an extent by Dylan that an interpretation by either would be almost worthless. It's far more interesting to see an artist with an entirely different style, like Sonic Youth, Steve Malkmus or Cat Power, come along and modernize an old Dylan song.
Cat Power covered Dylan on her first Cover's Album, but her version of 'Stuck Inside a Mobile..' is not only recognizable, but up-tempo and very non-Cat-Power-like (almost happy). Former Pavement front-man Steve Malkmus has three songs on the album, as do Calexico. Both sets of contributions are outstanding; Steve Malkmus channels Dylan's vocals without leaving his own Lou Reed-influenced delivery far behind and Calexico may be an ideal backing band for Dylan himself if he didn't work so much in country and rockabilly; instead they play behind Willie Nelson, Roger McGuinn, Iron & Wine, and Jim James (of My Morning Jacket). Sonic Youth's cover of the title track, an obscure song, presumably off the basement tapes, with the original included at the very end of the second disc, sets the tone of the album along with a pretty good Eddie Vedder take of (the Jimi Hendrix interpretation of) All Along the Watchtower.
Other surprises include Yo La Tengo's profoundly gorgeous take of the early gem, Fourth Time Around, the Hold Steady's cover (not that great, but entertaining) of the early B-side "Can You Please Crawl Out My Window?", Jeff Tweedy's passionate delivery on Simple Twist of Fate, and perhaps the most profoundly moving cover on the album was done by an actor in the movie, a young african-american kid named Marcus Carl Franklin, one of the several actors who portray Dylan.
There aren't any big disappointments. Tom Verlaine's (of Television) cover of Cold Irons Bound comes to mind as one that could have been reworked a little so that it wouldn't drag as much. I skipped past Jack Johnson on my last couple listens, so I can't say much about that. Antony (of Antony & the Johnson's) sing Knockin on Heaven's Door just as you'd expect, but without adding much to note.
After all that, there's still a lot of artist contributions to comment on, but the nicest thing about the collection is that it doesn't sound like a bunch of disparate recordings patched together on one album. The arbitrary differences in production on most movie soundtracks and collections can cause them to fall apart if not well-sequenced. These songs all sound like they were recorded in the same studio under the same conditions, and the result is largely a sense of cohesion and purpose that's lacking on most tribute albums (even including Dylan's own tribute to Jimmy Rogers).
So, if you're going to get one collection of Dylan covers, this would be it. Now I can't wait to see the movie...