Denver Irish Band Avourneen to Cover the "Best Breakup Record," Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks

Avourneen plays Swallow Hill on Sunday, November 20.
Avourneen plays Swallow Hill on Sunday, November 20. Courtesy Avourneen
When Avourneen’s Adam Goldstein polled his friends on the best breakup records, two made the top of the heap: Beck’s Sea Change and Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks. The latter is one of Goldstein's favorites. He’s played it for years as a solo artist, and now Avourneen is offering its traditional Irish take on the record.

The Denver-based Irish band will play through Blood on the Tracks at Swallow Hill Music on Sunday, November 20, with Goldstein teaching a class ahead of the concert. The band, often comprised of Goldstein on vocals, guitar and bouzouki, CL Morden on violin, mandolin and piano, and Alice Alister on bass, will bring on drummer Christopher Rose for the occasion.

“I’ve always had a soft spot for Bob Dylan,” Goldstein says. “[I remember] when I was twelve, playing Dungeons & Dragons with my friends, pulling one of his vinyls out of my parents' bookshelves, listening to it and just falling in love immediately.”

He reflects that he's mostly drawn to Dylan’s lyricism, and Blood on the Tracks is a record that, track by track, summons a personal connection every time he hears it. “Every song on the record has a resonance with some kind of incident in my personal emotional life from the age of fourteen up to this year,” Goldstein says. “It’s just what I go back to for comfort and insight and commiseration.”

He adds that Dylan, who was divorcing at the time he made Blood on the Tracks, is at his height lyrically on the album, and pulls out some of his best moments from his long career. “It just hits hard,” Goldstein enthuses. “It always has. In spite of this journey over the past decade of really delving into Irish music, it’s always been a part of my core.”

The band will interpret the songs in the traditional Irish style that Avourneen traffics in, but Goldstein has performed them on his own in coffee shops with just harmonica as an extra accompaniment for nearly ten years. When he began to play with Morden, Goldstein proposed that Morden play organ on some songs to layer the sound. “The best-known tune is probably ‘Tangled Up in Blue,’ and he plays the fiddle," says Goldstein, "and [the organ] just adds a layer to it that makes it warmer and deepens it a little bit.”

He adds that bassist Alister, who uses they/them pronouns, was new to Celtic music when joining Avourneen, but had prior experience with rock and pop music, so Blood on the Tracks has been easy to take on. “When we play with Avourneen, they are on the acoustic bass,” Goldstein says. “This gives them the chance to get back to their electric bass roots.” And the addition of a drummer for the concert, he says, allows the original trio to explore aspects of its music that it wouldn’t normally delve into.

Goldstein feels there is a line connecting Dylan and Irish music, which he discovered when he was about eighteen years old. He bought a cassette of some anonymous band playing in some forgotten pub in rural Ireland from God knows when. It was the kind of tape you'd find at the bottom of a dollar bin at a record store, but he took to it immediately.

“It was the stories,” he says. “It was the energy. It was the narrative of the whole thing. And that’s what still brings me to Dylan: It’s a sound that’s kind of rough around the edges, but as heartfelt as you could ever want.”

Goldstein adds that his interest in the instrumental side of Irish music came later, but it continues to grow. He says some of the best guitar, bouzouki and fiddle players he’s heard have been at Irish music jam sessions. The fusion of music and storytelling makes for an amazing combination. "The songs are just these epic stories that have these themes that have been passed down generation after generation,” he explains. “There are songs that feel like epic poems, and that’s what always gets me about Dylan, too.”

Goldstein says that in addition to Blood on the Tracks, he considers Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue period, during which he recorded songs such as “Isis” and “Hurricane,” to be peak Dylan. Avourneen plans to play some songs from that period as a “bonus section” for its upcoming Swallow Hill show. “I’m actually going to play the electric guitar, which is something I don’t get to do that often with the configuration of Avourneen,” Goldstein adds. “I’m going to re-create my own ‘Dylan goes electric’ moment.”

As is the band’s custom, they will likely play at least one other iconic Dylan song. There are plenty to choose from, as Goldstein says Dylan has reinvented himself numerous times with little or no regard to commercial success or how he might be received by his fans. His turn from acoustic folk to electric in the mid-1960s angered much of his fan base, but he didn’t seem to care all that much. Dylan famously played a loud, acerbic version of “Like a Rolling Stone” to a booing and hissing crowd at a 1966 appearance in Manchester, England, yelling at his band to “play it fucking loud!”

Goldstein has always admired Dylan for his lack of concern about what people think about him. He admits that even a dedicated fan like himself doesn’t dig everything Dylan releases.

“There are moments where I’m like, ‘Okay, this is not at the top of the list for me,’” he says. “But I know he could probably give two shits if I went and complained. That’s what he’s been doing since he started.”

Avourneen, 8 p.m. Sunday, November 20, Swallow Hill Music, 71 East Yale Avenue. Tickets are $17-$19.
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