Dylan Revisited

2021

MOJO and UNCUT always come with a “free” CD. I normally prefer the CDs that contain a selection of songs from new releases but occasionally, one of the magazines will produce a themed CD with covers of a well known artist. I don’t normally like these as I find myself pining to hear the originals, but this is a truly outstanding exception. Every interpretation is interesting and allows me to listen to the original with renewed interest. All of these songs (apart from Track 1) have been specially recorded for this compilation. The consequence is that, because the pandemic has made it difficult for musicians to collaborate, most of the arrangements are simple with only a few instruments. This allows the strength of the songs and the vocal mastery of the performers to shine through. “Dylan Revisited” comes with the June 2021 issue of UNCUT. At £5.85, it’s a bargain!

Track 1: Too Late by Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan’s “unreleased” songs have been drip fed to a hungry audience over the last 30 years. The latest incarnation (Volume 15) was released in 2019 and the fact that most albums include multiple CDs means that nearly 40 discs of music have been issued under the sobriquet, “Bootleg series”. It’s astonishing to think that there are more releases in the pipeline because, surely, everything worth hearing has been issued. But no! “Too Late” has never been officially released and dates from the sessions for “Infidels”, released in 1983. It is an early version of another unreleased song, “Foot Of Pride” which Lou Reed covered when he performed at a concert to celebrate 30 years of Bob Dylan as a recording artist in 1991.

Track 2: This Wheel’s On Fire by Richard Thompson

“This Wheel’s On Fire” was recorded by Bob Dylan and The Band in the basement of “Big Pink”, a house rented by Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel in Woodstock, New York in 1967. The theme of the song might well refer to the locked wheel of Bob Dylan’s motorbike which caused him to crash in 1966 and brought a temporary halt to his career. In Shakespeare’s “King Lear”, one of the couplets is “Thou art a soul in bliss but I am bound upon a wheel of fire, that mine own tears do scald like molten lead”. A version of this song by Julie Driscoll and Brian Augur’s Trinity reached Number 5 in the U.K. singles chart in 1968. There have been many other covers of the song and Levon Helm used the title for his 1993 autobiography.

Richard Thompson was a founding member of Fairport Convention. He has released 18 solo studio albums and six albums with Linda Thompson. Along with Dave Rawlings, he is the most technically accomplished and emotionally innovative guitarists I have ever heard. In the article in UNCUT to accompany this album he writes “Covering a Dylan song is quite difficult because his personality is interwoven into the songs“. He performs this song with an acoustic guitar and it is a good, if unspectacular version until the final minute when his guitar solo is unbelievably brilliant and unique, thus including a personal aspect of his own into this well known song.

Track 3: To Ramona by Courtney Marie Andrews

“To Ramona” was released on “Another Side Of Bob Dylan” in 1964. The melody has strong similarities with a 1937 song by Rex Griffin called “The Last Letter”. This is a dramatic song in which we hear the words of the singer’s last letter before killing themselves.

“To Ramona” is one of Bob Dylan’s most enchanting songs. Whilst purporting to be a love song, the narrator is keen to point out the frailties and weaknesses of his loved one. Whilst sympathising with her unhappiness, he is content to let her continue as she is and, indeed, if need be, he will come to her in the future and seek help and support. Whether or not his viewpoint is as selfless and supportive as it could be, is open to question. In Joan Baez’s autobiography, “And A Voice To Sing With”, Joan Baez claims that Bob Dylan used to call her Ramona.

Courtney Marie Andrews has a magnificent voice with a range that effortlessly moves between quite sensitivity and strong determination. She is firmly in the “country” singer-songwriter tradition, and her music offers a very enjoyable emotional connectivity. She has released eight albums, the last of which. “Old Flowers” was released in 2020.

Track 4: Lay Lady Lay by The Flaming Lips

“Lay Lady Lay” was released on “Nashville Skyline” in 1969. I never liked it. It always seemed to be a song that appealed to people who don’t like Bob Dylan. For example, Madonna has said “I’d lie on my bed and play that song and cry all the time. I was going through adolescence; I had hormones raging through my body. Don’t ask me why I was crying – it’s not a sad song. But that’s the only record of his that I really listened to“. It reached Number 5 in the U.K. Charts in 1969. It was originally intended to be on the soundtrack of “Midnight Cowboy”, but was submitted too late. There is a story that The Everly Brothers turned down the opportunity to record the song because they thought the song was about lesbians. In fact, the song is a simple love song – he wants to wake up next to his loved one. The bitterness of “Like A Rolling Stone” has gone. Having her cake and eating it too is not to be sneered at but to be celebrated.

I’ve never liked The Flaming Lips. They always seemed to me to be more interested in self-promotion rather than investing in producing good quality music. Listening to this, I think I have misjudged them and should explore further. When I saw that one of my least favourite artists were covering one of my least favourite Bob Dylan songs, I was ready to be unforgiving but this version is really excellent. There’s a curious echo throughout the song which enhances the impact and, in particular, really improves the chorus.

Track 5: Precious Angel by The Weather Station

“Precious Angel” was released on “Slow Train Coming” in 1969. At a concert in 1980, Bob Dylan explained that the song is directed at the woman who threw a cross at him in a concert which resulted in his conversion to Christianity. Some of the lyrics make specific biblical references. In 2 Corinthians, the light of Christ is contrasted with the darkness of the devil. In the Gospel of John, a blind man can suddenly see. The Book of Isaiah contains a description of people who used to walk in darkness, now walking in light. Whether or not you find Bob Dylan’s Christian period easy to listen to, there’s no doubt that the weedy production on “Slow Train Coming” makes it a difficult song to warm to. The two versions on “Trouble No More” are much more enjoyable with wonderful singing.

Tamara Lindeman released an excellent album last year, called “Ignorance“. She releases albums under the name “The Weather Station”. Her version of this Bob Dylan song is languidly slow, accentuating her beautiful vocals and the only musical accompaniment is her own piano playing. When artists cover someone else’s song, they have a choice. Copying the original arrangement is not very interesting and makes me wish I was listening to the original version. When a new arrangement is forthcoming, as is evidenced here, it’s possible to view the song in a different light.

Track 6: I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You by Cowboy Junkies

The most recent Bob Dylan song on this compilation is taken from “Rough And Rowdy Ways“, released in 2020. As always with a Bob Dylan song, there are various interpretations of the lyrics. The simplest way of looking at this song is to regard it as a simple devotional song, a romantic love song directed to one individual. However, Chris Willman wrote in “Variety” that he feels this could be a song directed to all his fans who watch him play live, on his so-called “Never Ending Tour”. By contrast, Paul Haney, in “Glide”, suggested that this is another religious song with Dylan professing his devotion to a higher power.

Cowboy Junkies are a Canadian band who have released 18 albums since 1986. Their last album, “Ghosts”, was released in 2020 and listening to this amazing version, I’m very tempted to give it a listen. I guess that this is the point of all these artists contributing to a “free” CD – publicity. I have two albums by Cowboy Junkies. “The Trinity Sessions” was recorded in the Church Of The Holy Trinity in Toronto and benefits from the acoustics found in a large church in the same way as Gandharva by Beaver And Krause. It includes a great version of “Sweet Jane” by The Velvet Underground. “The Caution Horses” was the follow up album and was even better with another great cover; this time it’s “Powderfinger” by Neil Young. Apart from anything, whenever I see a horse box with “Caution Horses” on the back, I want to point out the omission of the indefinite article. Siblings Margo, Peter and Michael Timmins form three quarters of the band and the most distinctive aspect of their sound is the laid back vocal style of Margo Timmins. Her voice is not dissimilar to Gillian Welch in its combination of world-weariness and prettiness. Their version of “I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You” lasts for six and a half minutes but it’s a real disappointment when it ends because of the seductively languid groove.

Track 7: Buckets Of Rain by Thurston Moore

“Buckets Of Rain” was the final track on “Blood On The Tracks”, which was released in 1974. The rest of the album depicts the breakdown of a relationship in obscure detail, but this song confirms that Bob Dylan still finds much to love about his ex. I scoffed when I read that the melody appears to have been “borrowed” from “Seaside Shuffle”, released in 1972 by Terry Dactyl and the Dinosaurs (Jona Lewie), but now I’m not so sure.

Thurston Moore was the lead singer in Sonic Youth, who were formed in 1977 and have been largely inactive since 2011. Sonic Youth produced 15 alternative noise rock albums but Thurston Moore’s version of “Buckets Of Rain” is tasteful, melodic and soulful with only an acoustic guitar for accompaniment.

Track 8: Blowin’ In The Wind by Fatoumata Diawara

In September 1960, while supposedly studying at The University of Minnesota, Bob Dylan borrowed a copy of “Bound For Glory”, Woody Guthrie’s autobiography. He became obsessed with Woody Guthrie and one of the reasons that he gave up studying to move to New York in January 1961 was to meet his idol. In “Bound For Glory”, Woody Guthrie compared his political sensibility to newspapers blowing in the winds of New York City streets and alleys and this may have been the inspiration behind the lyrics to “Blowin’ In The Wind” which was released on “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” in 1963. Musically, the melody is similar to “No More Auction Block”, a song sung by former slaves after the abolition of slavery.

Fatoumata Diawara is a singer-songwriter, guitarist and actress from Mali, currently living in France. She has received two Grammy nominations for her albums; it is entirely appropriate that she chose to cover “Blowin’ In The Wind”, a song that is one of the best known protest songs; her songs cover such topics as the struggles endured by African women, the suffering caused by religious fundamentalists and the horror of female circumcision. This version is amazing: it is up-tempo and joyous with incredible singing and magnificent guitar playing.

Track 9: One More Cup Of Coffee by Brigid Mae Power

Originally released on “Desire” in 1975, “One More Cup Of Coffee” tells the story of two young people. She is a beautiful girl from an itinerant family and he is madly in love with her. Unfortunately, his feelings are not reciprocated and he begs for one more cup of coffee before he leaves her forever. The song has been covered by many artists, including a magnificent version by The White Stripes on their debut album.

Brigid Mae Power was born to Irish parents in London and moved to Galway when she was 12 years old. After a failed relationship in New York she returned to Ireland in the late 2000s. As a single mother, having worked day jobs to make ends meet, she began playing music full-time in 2013. She has now released three albums, including “Head Above The Water” in 2020. Her version of “One More Cup Of Coffee” is haunting and showcases her lovely voice.

Track 10: Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door by Low

Taken from the soundtrack to “Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid” (released in 1973) this is Bob Dylan’s second most popular song on Spotify, after “Like A Rolling Stone”, with over 220 million plays at the time of writing. “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” was used in the film to accompany the scene where Pat Garrett (played by James Coburn) shoots and kills Sheriff Colin Baker (played by Slim Pickens). The song with Bob Dylan singing was used in the 1973 film but in the 1988 film, an instrumental version of the song is used. However, in the 2013 reissue, the vocals are put back in.

Low are a “slowcore” band from Duluth, Minnesota, which is the town that Bob Dylan was born in. They have released 12 albums in the 28 years that they have played together. Founding members Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker are married and are both Mormons. This is an ultra slow version of the song.

Track 11: Dark Eyes by Joan Shelley And Nathan Salsburg

In 1985, Bob Dylan released an album called “Empire Burlesque”. It was followed by “Knocked Out Loaded” in 1986 and “Down In The Groove” in 1988. I don’t think I’m being too controversial by claiming that this run of his three albums is a real low point for Bob Dylan. In particular, “Empire Burlesque” features a deliberate attempt to record in a contemporary musical style which simply doesn’t work. However, the last track on the album, “Dark Eyes” is sung with only a guitar and harmonica accompaniment, and is the standout track on the album. In his (so-called) autobiography, Chronicles, Bob Dylan writes about the inspiration for the song. “As I stepped out of the elevator, a call girl was coming toward me in the hallway—pale yellow hair wearing a fox coat—high heeled shoes that could pierce your heart. She had blue circles around her eyes, black eyeliner, dark eyes. She looked like she’d been beaten up and was afraid that she’d get beat up again. In her hand, crimson purple wine in a glass. ‘I’m just dying for a drink’, she said as she passed me in the hall. She had a beautifulness, but not for this kind of world. Poor wretch, doomed to walk this hallway for a thousand years”.

Joan Shelley is a folk singer from Louisville, Kentucky and she frequently records with musicologist Nathan Salsburg. They have produced a lovely cover of this song in a traditional folk style.

Track 12: Blind Willie McTell by Patterson Hood & Jay Gonzalez of Drive By Truckers.

Before the run of three inferior albums mentioned above, Bob Dylan released “Infidels” in 1983. There are some good songs on the album but there were many fantastic songs that were recorded at the time that he decided to leave off the album including “Foot Of Pride”, “Lord Protect My Child”, “Someone’s Got A Hold Of My Heart”, “Tell Me” and, especially “Blind Willie McTell” which is probably the greatest unreleased song of his career. Unreleased, that is, until the advent of “The Bootleg Series“. The song describes the horrific past of the USA and suggests that the blues are an important way to process the maltreatment of so many of its citizens.

Drive By Truckers are one of my favourite bands. They have released 13 studio albums in 23 years since their formation. Patterson Hood has said that this may be his favourite song of all time. It’s very appropriate for members of Drive By Truckers to cover this song as their albums have always contained songs that point out the injustices and evil that are prevalent in some parts of American society. The sinister guitar and keyboards on this version provide a suitable context for Patterson Hood’s strong vocal delivery.

Track 13: The Times They Are A’Changin’ by Frazey Ford

In the liner notes to “Biograph”, Bob Dylan told Cameron Crowe that “this was definitely a song with a purpose. It was influenced of course by the Irish and Scottish ballads. ‘Come All Ye Bold Highway Men’, ‘Come All Ye Tender Hearted Maidens’. I wanted to write a big song, with short concise verses that piled up on each other in a hypnotic way. The civil rights movement and the folk music movement were pretty close for a while and allied together at that time.” It’s a timeless song with universal relevance as evidenced by its use in a trailer for Season 3 of “The Crown”. It was released on “The Times They Are A’Changing” in 1963.

Frazey Ford is a former member of The Be Good Tanyas and she released a wonderful album last year called “U Kin B The Sun”. She has a phenomenally soulful voice which does justice to this classic song.

Track 14: Most Of The Time by Jason Lytle

In “Catcher In The Rye”, Holden Caulfield tells his story from the perspective of a teenager with mental health problems. In “The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn”, Huck helps a runaway slave, Jim, but he feels that he is wrong to do so. In “I’m Not In Love” by 10cc, the singer claims that it’s just a phase, he’s not really in love. These are three examples of an unreliable narrator and Bob Dylan is also an unreliable narrator in “Most Of The Time” . He claims he feels content and he can handle his emotions but by adding “most of the time” to these claims, he reveals that, truth be told, he is still hurting. The song was released on “Oh Mercy” in 1989 and also featured in the soundtrack to “High Fidelity”.

Jason Lytle is an American musician best known for his work in the indie rock group Grandaddy. As with most songs on this CD, this is stripped back and lays bare the emotions behind the song.

Track 15: Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands by Weyes Blood

As if releasing a double album (“Blonde On Blonde“) wasn’t revolutionary enough in 1966, Bob Dylan gave the whole of one side to just one song which lasted eleven and a half minutes. Four takes of the song were made in a Nashville recording studio at around 4:00 a.m. after Bob Dylan had finished writing the song. He has said that the song is a love song to his wife Sara Lownds (“Lownds” is a shortened version of “lowlands”). Her first husband, Hans Lownds, was a photographer for a magazine and her father was a scrap metal dealer. These are referenced in the lyrics (“your magazine husband” and “your sheet metal memories of Cannery Row”).

Natalie Mering has recorded four albums under the name Weyes Blood, the name inspired by the novel “Wise Blood” by Flannery O’Connor. Her album, “Titanic Rising”, was UNCUT’s Best Album of 2019. She claims that her biggest influences are church music and The Velvet Underground. Her dramatic and baroque singing brings this remarkable album to a suitably outstanding close.

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

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