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Thursday 27 June 2019

He's a chip off the old rocker

Singing their own song: Bob Dylan's son, Jakob has had mixed review for his latest album
Singing their own song: Bob Dylan's son, Jakob has had mixed review for his latest album

Nick Kelly

History has shown that being the child of a famous musician is more of a curse than a blessing when it comes to following in their footsteps. The fact that the aspirant progeny already has the industry at their doorstep - and access to a readymade A-list contacts book -- appears to count for very little.

The chances are that having a rock star for a mum or a dad often hangs like a millstone around the neck of the child hoping to forge their own musical career. The more famous the parent, the larger the shadow they cast.

Last week, the sons of two of rock's most iconic artists released their own records, to varying degrees of fanfare. Bob Dylan's son Jakob, 38, has just released his debut solo album, Seeing Things. And Dhani Harrison, son of Beatle George, released his debut as one half of the band thenewno.2 (titled You Are Here) via iTunes on his 30th birthday (August 1).

Jakob received mixed reviews for his opus.

Having tasted a degree of success fronting LA rockers The Wallflowers in the 1990s, Dylan Junior found himself without a label when their contract with Interscope ran out. Decamping to Columbia -- the record company which has had a fruitful 40-year relationship with his dad -- Jakob has turned to Rick Rubin, the superstar producer who revived the careers of Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond. But the reviews this time around have been decidedly mixed.

Taken on its own merits, the songs are perfectly fine -- intelligent singer/songwriter fare, delivered in a strong voice that is shorn of his father's nasal whine -- but which crucially lacks the depth of character of his old man's ageless rasp.

Comparing Jakob with his legendary pa may seem lazy and trite, especially given that he has never tried to piggyback on Dylan Sr's reputation -- father and son have never appeared together on stage, and the only time they were on the same bill was over 10 years ago at a corporate gig for semiconductor company Applied Materials (that's a subject for another column).

But the comparison is unavoidable because the finger-picked acoustic folk/blues of Seeing Things is clearly in the same ballpark as so much of Bob's material. But whatever about the musical similarities, the physical resemblance between the two is uncanny. Mean'n'moody and dark'n'brooding, the photos of Jakob on the cover and throughout the sleeve artwork show that he is his father's son. Sporting shades and carrying an acoustic guitar, Jakob looks every part the serious young man with the weight of the world on his shoulders that Bob did at his age.

Jakob's problem is that no matter how good his own material is, the arc of his life story can never compete with the mythical tale of his dad's biography. Being born in New York to millionaire parents and becoming a fixture on LA's rock scene cannot compete with the story of a Minnesota hobo jumping on and off trains to meet hero Woody Guthrie, becoming the epicentre of the folk protest movement while sharing a stage with Martin Luther King and helping to invent modern rock with the Judas kiss of 'going electric' ...

If your father has re-invented the wheel, what's left for you to do? Dhani Harrison faces the same problem. There has been very little press attention surrounding thenewno2 record -- the band have their own website and MySpace page and you can check out their videos on YouTube, but one suspects that the project may be more of a hobby for Dhani than a serious tilt at stardom.

His low profile thus far suggests he may have inherited his father's famous reticence -- George, after all, was known as The Quiet Beatle.

But his fellow 'sons of Beatles' have struggled to forge their own identity away from their Fab Forefathers: Julian Lennon started brightly with the hit single Too Late For Goodbyes from the commercially successful album Valotte in 1984, but his star faded badly thereafter.

John Lennon's eldest son took an eight-year sabbatical from the music industry but, according to a message on his MySpace page, is about to re-enter the fray later this year with an album titled Conscious. Julian writes: "I needed to think about a life outside the industry. I've always been interested in architecture, interior design, photography and cooking, but in the end I started playing again because of my love of music -- and I didn't want to walk away from it all with the last four albums as my legacy!"

Julian's half-brother Sean (son of John and Yoko) has been more persistent. But lately, he has been increasing involved in scoring film soundtracks and producing other artists than trying to have his own name in lights -- although he is said to be working on a new solo album.

Leonard Cohen's son, Adam, has also found it hard to live up to escape his father's long shadow. He hasn't been heard of since 2004, when he recorded a French-language solo album, Melancolista, and a record with his band Low Millions (titled Ex-Girlfriends).

However, he has been happy to embrace his father's musical legacy -- check out the clip of him singing Bird On A Wire on YouTube. That said, he may have been echoing the thoughts of Jakob, Julian, Sean and Dhani when he sang that famous line in the chorus: "I have tried in my way to be free."

nkelly@independent.ie

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