Dylan re-imagined: One too many mornings, Mama you’ve been and Hard Rain

 

Performances selected by Paul Hobson, commentary by Tony Attwood

This series takes live performances of Bob Dylan, in which he has re-worked three of his songs to give them a new direction or new meaning, or simply a new sound or feel.  Here we start with “One too many mornings”

 

For a while Dylan there was a time within the Never Ending Tour, in which Dylan seemed to be intent on making many of his songs sound the same, by changing the melody from the recorded version of each song so that it was now mostly one note, ending with a near falsetto high note – over and over again.

I am not at all sure why he did that – it didn’t seem to me to add anything to the songs, nor indeed to the concert.   And on listening to this recording for the first time I feared we were going to get another such rendition.

But then in this 1999 version of “One too many mornings”, Bob changes the feel of song, the melody returns and then the piece concludes with a real crowd pleaser with a harmonica led coda.

Leaving aside what Bob does to the melody at the start (which isn’t at all bad, it is just the memory of those concerts with this effect used for every song, dampens my enthusiasm somewhat) the feel of the song in this performance is magical, switching from the urge to move on which can be felt in the original recording on to a much deeper feeling of regret.  He still has to move on, but really he has had enough of this and wishes he could find another way to live his life.  It’s not the travelling that gets him, its the sadness that drives him on.

But by the end with that harmonica solo he’s got his resolution back – yes he knows he is stuck in this world of endlessly moving on, but his bag is packed and he is once more on the road, and yeah, the sadness will fade in the end.

Our second choice in this outing is from the late 1990s but has a much jauntier feel despite the apparent sadness of the words: Mama you’ve been on my mind.

By the instrumental break we really are bouncing along, with the percussion having that fine laid back feel that really works with Bob’s acoustic guitar.

Bob then does some oddness with his voice, before giving us another instrumental verse – and for me it is the instrumental verses that really make this version worth hearing.  It is as if he is saying well yes, you have been on my mind but I’m really not letting this get me down – I’ve just been thinking about you, that’s all.

And that really is what the song is all about.  A reminiscence of times gone by.

Finally in this outing we have a version of Hard Rain like I had never heard it before.  Indeed on hearing it for the first time without seeing what the song was I actually had no idea where we were, from the first two lines that Dylan sings.

Not every re-working of a classic by Bob works for me – and of course there is not reason why each one should, after all he’s not re-writing just for me.   But this is one that doesn’t for me although it does have its moments – such as the “What did you hear” verse with the roar of the wave that could drown the whole world with its emphasis on the first beat of each three.

Musically Bob is by this stage in the performance emphasising the fact that he has changed the timing of the piece into what musicians would describe as 6/8 – six beats to a bar with the emphasis on the first and the fourth.

I am not sure if Bob has done this anywhere else – change a 4/4 song to a 6/8 song, and it certainly does give the whole piece a new twist, but I am not too sure quite what the 1-2-3 1-2-3 emphasis in the second part of each verse really gives us.  Does it give me a new insight into the lyrics that we all know so well?  No, I can’t really say it does.  To me it sounds like an idea, maybe worth trying out, but not really one that works.

But of course that is just me.  Perhaps I know the song too well, as maybe we all do.  But that is never a reason not to start singing.

The index to all the Dylan reimagined articles is here.

 

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