Dylan re-imagined 7: North Country, Down along the Cove, Dont think twice (twice)

By Paul Hobson and Tony Attwood

This series of articles looks at Dylan’s reinterpretations of his own work, with video examples from his concerts.  The videos are selected by Paul and the commentary is by Tony.

Details of previous articles in this series are shown on the index “Dylan re-imagined”

Here we look at Girl from the North Country, Down along the cove, and two version of Don’t think twice.

Girl From the North Country late 90s

Bob gives us a long introduction, and it is unfortunate that the double bass is overloaded on the mix at the ends.   Interesting too that the audience cheers as he starts singing – how could the audience not know what this was just from the intro?

Dylan plays with the lyrics in a most curious way.  It seems to distance him from the woman rather than expressing his love for her – which is odd given the sympathetic accompaniment.  It almost seems from the singing like he is a dissolute old lover remembering a much younger women, while the music doesn’t reflect this at all.

The music indeed seems to say, yes I am doing well, everything is fine, but oh I remember those old times and I hope she remembers me as I remember her.  But somehow the voice doesn’t quite capture the same thought.

But… for the last verse – the repeat of the first verse, yes it does all work.  The instrumental section before that final verse does set us up perfectly, Dylan now sings with much more sympathy, and then plays a lovely coda with a repeated phrase before moving onto the harmonica.   This is performance is utterly worth hearing for this last quarter – as the band builds behind the harmonica we know that the singer is out there doing his thing, but behind all the bravado and fun he can still have positive thoughts for the old days.

Down Along The Cove 2006

In this version “Down along the cove” starts like a 12 bar blues and then suddenly goes a bit odd, and that is always how the song has been, for it is a song that seems to have no connection with the rest of John Wesley Harding.

Here the lyrics are almost unintelligible… is that deliberate?   Possibly so because the originals are not, in my opinion, Dylan’s most inspired lines…

Down along the cove
 We walked together hand in hand
 Down along the cove
 We walked together hand in hand.
 Ev’rybody watchin’ us go by
 Knows we’re in love, yes, and they understand 

What is interesting is that Dylan gets a seven minute performance out of what was originally just ten lines of very simple lyrics.  He does this of course by adding extra verses, and I think the puzzle here is simply, why?   Why reprieve this simple song and extend it so much?

My guess is that this must be the performance from the Cap Roig festival and Dylan chose the piece in relation to the setting.  I’ve not been, but the pictures look fairly cove like to me.   If you know, please do write in.  And if I am wrong, tell me gently.

Don’t think twice

But now with our final selection today, there can be no doubt why Dylan sings this over and over.  It is a staggeringly beautiful, sad, magnetic, hypnotic song.  In the first version below Bob just about makes it to the microphone in time.

This version reflects the utter sadness of the song.  But still a song where the key lines are jump out and (if you are of an emotional turn of mind) bring tears to your eyes.

“I gave her my heart but she wanted my soul” indeed – and just listen to the audience singing along – a sing along out of sheer and utter devotion to this complete masterpiece.  The musical accompaniment is almost jolly, reflecting the length of time those of us in the older generation have know this song from the moment it first arrived on Freewheelin’.

But even all this doesn’t prepare us for the harmonica, played so gently and perfectly in keeping with the feeling generated by all that has gone before.   What a beautiful version.

And now compare and contrast that version from 2000 with this from 2019.

After that opening verse I must admit that I was expecting the beat to come in to carry the song forward through the rest of the verses.   I am not sure if Dylan’s voice carries this slow version all the way through, but of course that is a matter of taste.  To me it sounds to too much like a lost soul thinking of the past, while the original (and the pervious version above) mixes the regret with the determination to move on in a much more balanced way.

And of course our own interpretations are always part of our own lives.  I think one needs to have love and lost in order to see the total depth in this “moving on” song.

But it is an extraordinary version, and I’m really glad to have had the chance to hear it.  And I loved the piano solo – and the way the lights go out at the end.

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