Play Lady Play: the joyful remembrance of staggering performances

Songs selected by Aaron Galbraith; commentary by Tony Attwood

  1. Laura Marling – Hard Rain

According to Wiki, “Peaky Blinders is a British period crime drama television series set in Birmingham” (England’s second city).   “It follows the activities of a family living in the city in the aftermath of first world war.  The song was used in the last episode of series four.”

“Period crime drama” doesn’t really tell you too much about the utter brilliance of the show, but at least it serves as an introduction.  In the UK it has become so big there are (or were before the virus took over) Peeky Blinders club nights being held in every city.

According to me, this is one of the great, great versions of the song, and indeed is right up there with Thea Gilmore’s “Drifters Escape” which I have managed to sneak into many a commentary on a variety of different subject.

It is the pulse that is established from the off which makes this “Hard Rain” work where so many others have simply plodded through the lyrics.  The contrast between the sweetness of the voice, emphasised by the harmonies in the second verse, and the spikey accompaniment is a magnificent achievement.  Full marks to singer, producer and the band.

Quite often I find it hard to disconnect music used in a TV series from the visuals.  Here, much as I have adored Peaky Blinders from the off, the music is so utterly sublime in delivering an overall sound appropriate to the lyrics I find the series forgotten and I am back to walking to the depths of the deepest dark forest where the people are many and their hands are all empty where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison and the executioner’s face is always well hidden where hunger is ugly, where the souls are forgotten where black is the colour, where none is the number…

And don’t stop the video just because you think the song has ended.  Let it roll those last 30 seconds.

2.  Alicia Keys – Pressing On

Ladies who take Bob’s original melody and go for long extemporised meanders to whatever far distant reaches of the audible spectrum they can reach in order to show off  their range are not really my favourites.

Many of them do it however, and Bob obviously took a shine to Alicia Keys one way or another by mentioning her in passing and wondering where she could be, so I guess that gives her every right to do whatever she wants.

But somehow it doesn’t add to the song, whereas Laura Marling (above) adds so much I start to wonder how there was room for anything there in Dylan’s original of this particular song.   Sorry, not for me.

3) Norah Jones – Heart Of Mine

Norah Jones however always seems to know what restraint and control is all about, and never more so than in this gorgeous rendition.  The first “Don’t let him know” is so held back one almost misses it, and is totally in keeping with the lyrics.

If I’d been producing I would have cut the percussion’s volume by 50%, but then by and large people don’t ask me to produce, so what do I know?  But really, the drummer’s not doing anything interesting or unusual, so why give him so much prominence – and why keep it going all the way through?   And Ms Jones has such a delectable voice.

4) Miley Cyrus – You’re Going To Make Me Lonesome When You Go

I do like this video, but having come straight from Norah Jones’ recording what I love mostly is the extremely laid back percussion.  That is how it should be.  Let the lady sing; let the lyrics shine.

Nice slide guitar too – and unexpected in the first run through.  Clever stuff, and gorgeous harmonies which come in most unexpectedly.   And there is such a terrific bounce through the build up before they take it all back down.

A fabulous version.  Inventive and controlled.  Full marks all round.

Baby, I’m in the Mood For You – Miley Cyrus

Miley doesn’t have the greatest ever Dylan lyrics with the “Mood” song but she and her arranger do the best possible with what they have up until she descends into hell with the chit chat.  Oh for goodness sake!   What follows after the mid-song nonsense taking the accompaniment down to a single guitar is really good.   Public execution is no longer legal in most countries, which has probably saved the arranger.

5) Ke$ha – Don’t think Twice

We have two versions of this song below as there is a growing issue with videos that can be played in one country and not another.  And with Aaron being in the United States and Tony in the United Kingdom this is cropping up occasionally.  Hopefully one of them will work for you.  If  they both work, play it twice.


The opening of verse of this version came as a profound shock, my finding the exaggerated hurt of the voice too much to take.  But the addition of the cello in the second verse removed the edge somewhat, making the third verse with just the single high note by way of accompaniment making for remarkable (although uncomfortable) listening.

Stay with it at the end (or at least at the end of the version I could listen to in England) for the band to take over.

It is an adventurous production and one that I will remember.

6) KT Tunstall – Tangled Up In Blue

There’s no mention of “Tangled up” on KT’s Wiki page, which is a shame because it is a thoroughly enjoyable and listenable version.

I think the key to this is that the energy is kept under control without there being any feeling that she is trying to do this.  Yet verse by verse she holds us, even though we’ve all known the lyrics off by heart for however many years it has been.  (I’m not counting any more, I don’t need to know how old I am).

But seriously that’s the trick – it is all so artless, so that when we get to the mostly unaccompanied half verse, it just feels like the most natural thing in the world.  Indeed making the performance seem like this was what the song was written for really seems to be what it is all about.

7) Adele – Make You Feel My Love..I guess we can’t not mention this one!

I’m not normally too interested in what has happened to a performance vis a vis the charts, TV shows and all that guff, but the tale of “Make You Feel My Love” by Adele is quite interesting, and it is a remarkable performance.

It was the only cover song on Adele’s first album, and was apparently included because her manager badgered her to do a Dylan song – which she didn’t want to do.   She apparently only agreed after hearing Dylan perform it in New York; this version has Adele on bass.

The recording made various entries into the UK singles chart because of coverage on the X Factor, and within Comic Relief and ultimately became the 48th best selling single in the UK two years after it was first released.  But it carried on selling, eventually passing the million sales mark in the UK in 2017.   Readers in other parts of the universe will have their impression of UK confirmed – we can be a bit slow off the mark.

“Next time we will look at some of the most legendary female performances of all time!” says Aaron in his sign off note to me.  I’ve no idea what he’s going to deliver, but I shall do my best to explore whatever turns up, without too many complaints.

Was that ok Aaron?

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  1. One does get by the expression in her voice that – kinda – just perhaps – maybe – could be – that Kersha doesn’t think that “it’s alright” – suppose??

  2. That’s Eric Gardner playing the drums, shamelessly loud through, over, under and in front of Norah Jones’ exquisite singing. That guy played with Iggy Pop, Rage Against The Machine, MC5, Slash (to name just a few). I guess there’s no way Eric plays softly & tenderly & breezy. I love the old-fashioned kettle sound of his snare drum, though.

  3. lovely comments Tony. Glad you heard what i heard in the KT version, great stuff

    This was my attempt at choosing more modern female singers…i realise at my age that my idea of a modern female singer, which is “anyone since Britney Spears”, is way out of date..but here we are!

    I actually like all of these performances…even the Alicia Keys take, but i like the Norah Jones one best, she has done a couple of others but i though this was the most interesting one as it came early in her career

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