by Alan Bisbort
1. Phil Ochs: The fact that this wholly original singer-songwriter—and contemporary of Dylan—was accused of being a “new Dylan” may have been what, in addition to despair over politics, drove him to suicide. He could never shake that shadow.
2. Donovan: The first “new Dylan” to actually climb in the ring with the heavyweight champ, only to be humiliated (see Don’t Look Back). Perhaps because of that bitter experience, Donovan reinvented himself as the “Sunshine Superman” and didn’t look back again.
3. Tim Hardin: Top-seeded among a host of Greenwich Village opponents, Hardin wrote some haunting tunes (“Hang on To a Dream,” “Reason to Believe,” “Red Balloon”) then surrendered to chemical dependency far too early.
4. Barry McGuire: McGuire had a certain style that let you know he knew he was full of shit. Plus, he did good songs by another “new Dylan” (P.F. Sloan). He wasn’t as egregious in his mimicry as Sonny Bono, but it was the same idea.
5. Tim Buckley: Not really a “new Dylan” (though he was courted by Hal Ashby to play Woody Guthrie in Bound for Glory), Buckley was unfortunately lumped in with other singer-songwriters under that banner. Oblivious to the hype, he went on to create some of the most pioneering music of his time and, before dying to heroin at age 27, fathering another silver-throated singer, Jeff Buckley.
6. Steve Forbert: The tousled hair, the harmonica holder, the flannel shirts, the rural/exotic upbringing (Mississippi?!), Forbert seemed like the reincarnation of you know who. He hit the bigtime on his first outing, Alive on Arrival. Happily, that first album still sounds great and Forbert is still touring 30 years later.
7. Billy Bragg: British folksingers before him were accused of “New Dylan” tendencies (Roy Harper, Al Stewart), but Bragg was the most approachable of the lot. The spirit of Woody Guthrie seems to have also inhabited him, and he’s stayed relative true to his principles.
8. Buffy St. Marie: She strummed, emoted and looked severe enough to be a female Bob Dylan, or at least to single-handedly change the world. She had a hit with “Universal Soldier”, then disappeared onto a semi-permanent “where are they now” folk music circuit.
9. Suzanne Vega: New York-style (read: arty) folksinger who lucked into someone who knew how to produce albums. A friend of mine did an excellent parody of Vega’s hit single “Luka,” replacing Luka with the Queen of Porn, Seka. He’ll sing it for you if you want.
She continues to record and tour the world.
10. Tracy Chapman: Straight outta, uh, Cambridge, Chapman burst on the national radar just weeks after leaving her previous gig of busking in Boston subway stations. Enigmatic, husky-voiced, seemingly humbled by her success, Chapman never quite reached the peak of her first album