Not Dark Yet 5: The greatest recordings

by Jochen Markhorst

When he is told in early 2017 that he has only a few months left to live at most, Jimmy LaFave does not consider that an excuse to shy away from action. He continues to perform, he remains committed to the Woody Guthrie Foundation, he continues to record songs and he continues to honour his other great hero, Bob Dylan.

He performs until three days before his death (May 21, 2017), but his intention to record another hundred of his favourite songs doesn’t materialize – the counter remains stuck at twenty. 

These recordings are released July 13, 2018, more than a year after his death, one day after his sixty-second birthday. The double CD Peace Town is arguably his most beautiful album, a crushing testament of a great musician, who audibly fights the approaching death. The tumours in his chest are already pressing against his windpipe, which makes his emotional, hoarse voice even more poignant. The three Dylan songs are, as always with this great, great Dylan interpreter, breath-taking and now, in this context, get a new charge: “What Good Am I”, “My Back Pages” and, number 18, “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go”.

The well chosen final, Tim Easton’s “Goodbye Amsterdam”, with the now heartbreaking opening line Goodbye Amsterdam, I didn’t want to leave just yet and the beautifully sad last words, literally the farewell words:

When there’s no destination
You just keep going ‘til your time runs out
If it is to be then it’s up to me
Now goodbye Amsterdam

“Not Dark Yet” would have been appropriate, obviously. But LaFave already recorded it, for his album Cimarron Manifesto in 2007.

The perfection of that particular recording, LaFave wisely concludes, cannot be improved. The unique phrasing of the hoarse, high-pitched voice he achieves is matched in his latest live performances (Grollo 2015 is on YouTube and is brilliant), but the production, the arrangement, the organ sound and the tantalizing slide guitar solo… no, that’s unmatchable. We have to put this recording on LaFave’s posthumous farewell album Peace Town ourselves. As the opening number, perhaps.

Tuva, Cherie & Severa

In general, nine out of the ten most beautiful covers are made by ladies. A cover of the untouchable “Tangled Up In Blue” is actually only tolerable when it is done by the Indigo Girls  (live, on 1200 Curfew), the unsightly Basement ditty “Clothes Line Saga” is polished to eighteen carats by The Roches, nobody sings “I Believe In You” as heart-breaking as Sinéad O’Connor, Barb Jungr has been building a breath-taking Dylan catalogue of dozens of covers for decades now and she delivers the most beautiful “Is Your Love In Vain?”, Emmylou Harris (“Every Grain Of Sand”), Mary Lee’s Corvette’s smashing song-for-song cover of Blood On The Track, Norah Jones’ “Heart Of Mine”, the “Mississippi” by the Dixie Chicks… we could go on and on.

The ladies enrich, in short, Dylan songs more often than the gentlemen. 

The same goes for “Not Dark Yet”. Without wishing to give offence to Jimmy LaFave or Eric Clapton, but they are of course more or less in the same corner as Dylan’s original: same cadence and same tempo, a carpet of guitars and (LaFave) remarkable phrasing. 

The ladies dare to step off the beaten track more often.

Rightly praised is the charming performance by Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer. The accompaniment is beautiful, but not too spectacular (resounding Bridge Over Troubled Water grand piano and two acoustic guitars). The magic is provided by the ladies’ singing together – a similar marvellous harmony as The Roches and The Everly Brothers.

They miss the Top 3 by a few inches, though.

A sober, superb rendition can be heard in the Swedish film Små mirakel och stora (“All It Takes Is A Miracle”, 2006). The film is only moderately successful, but halfway there’s the scene where “Love” (a supporting role of the actress Tuva Novotny) sings “Not Dark Yet”. In a café, very lonely with just a guitar. Afterwards, the filmmakers realize that this is the real highlight; the song is chosen to embellish the credits.

Novotny sings it herself. Technically she’s not a great singer, on the contrary, but certainly with Dylan songs that is hardly important; it’s all about the emotion, after all. Which Tuva Novotny provides excellently. All the regret, resignation and fragility that even a Dylan can only bring at his best moments.

 

Even further away from the world of professional artists is the unknown nonprofessional Cherie Girard, who uploads her special, somewhat Massive Attack-like trip-hop songs to Soundcloud. Girard’s “Not Dark Yet” is accessible. Cheap electronics, minimal production and chilling vocals – and a brilliant dramatization after two minutes and eight seconds on London and gay Paree (and again after four minutes, in the coda); it’s actually quite staggering how much suspense can be evoked by crackling electronics, a clinical drum machine and Cherie’s inventive, echoing vocal arrangements.

https://soundcloud.com/cherie-girard/sets/cheries-songs

Scroll Down – Not Dark Yet is track 2.

 

However, the most dazzling cover comes from Slovenia: Severa Gjurin contributes a perfectly produced “Not Dark Yet” to a charity project on the occasion of Dylans seventieth anniversary: Projekt Bob Dylan Postani Prostovoljec (2011).

Again minimally dressed up, in a classic, slow-flowing arrangement, and the simple bass drone is a great enrichment for the melancholy atmosphere, but the real driving force, the anchor is Severa. Subterranean, veiled voice that she apparently can fully control; a slight vibration in a last syllable, then again threatening to break, and in the wonderful finale a subdued, controlled suite of three or four restrained Severa vocals.

Severa does bring mehr Licht. 

Untold Dylan: who we are what we do

Untold Dylan is written by people who want to write for Untold Dylan.  It is simply a forum for those interested in the work of the most famous, influential and recognised popular musician and poet of our era, to read about, listen to and express their thoughts on, his lyrics and music.

We welcome articles, contributions and ideas from all our readers.  Sadly no one gets paid, but if you are published here, your work will be read by a fairly large number of people across the world, ranging from fans to academics who teach English literature.  If you have an idea, or a finished piece send it as a Word file to Tony@schools.co.uk with a note saying that it is for publication on Untold Dylan.

We also have a very lively discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook with around 5500 active members. Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

You’ll find some notes about our latest posts arranged by themes and subjects on the home page of this site.  You can also see details of our main sections on this site at the top of this page under the picture.  Not every index is complete but I do my best.

But what is complete is our index to all the 604 Dylan compositions and co-compositions that we have found, on the A to Z page.  I’m proud of that; no one else has found that many songs with that much information.  Elsewhere the songs are indexed by theme and by the date of composition. See for example Bob Dylan year by year.

 

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4 Responses to Not Dark Yet 5: The greatest recordings

  1. denise konkal says:

    Tony,

    I really enjoyed your article there is a lot of depth and great references with your write ups and selections of covers: The late Easton, Lafave, Tuva Novotny. Cherie Girard’s cover is not one I warm up to. Severa Gjurin on the other hand does the best cover of all, her voice and delivery is stunning!
    Thanks Tony I really enjoy your article and when you share your music too!

    denise

  2. denise konkal says:

    Oh Tony,
    I wanted to mention a girl that does wonderful Dylan covers in case you are not aware of her. Her name is Sophie Hunger. I don’t think she covered |It’s not Dark Yet” but she does others including “It’s alright Ma”

  3. jas says:

    Thank you! Jochen, I had a great evening reading your article and listening to the covers you selected. Thank you for this post, Tony!

  4. Jochen Markhorst says:

    Thanks jas and Denise.
    Yes Denise, we do shine a little light on the wonderful Miss Hunger, every now and then. Indeed, in an article on “It’s Alright, Ma” (https://bob-dylan.org.uk/archives/8779), and in an article on “Dirge” (https://bob-dylan.org.uk/archives/9811), for instance.

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