Play lady play: the strange ones, the eccentric, and the beautiful

Research by Aaron Galbraith, Text by Tony Attwood

In this series of articles, Aaron casts his net across the range of lady signers who perform Dylan songs, and offers Tony a number of video links with the instruction, “review these”.

This time Aaron wrote,

“The first four are pretty “out there” in terms of arrangements and the last four are edging towards the far reaches of Dylan’s discography… the last, in particular I hesitated to include but then I though what the hey…this is Untold Dylan after all and I’m pretty certain not many will know that this is a Dylan co-write and even less who would know that someone actually covered it!

“I’m sure some of these you are going to hate! But maybe some you will love, who knows! Looking forward to seeing what you come up with for these! Enjoy!”

And now, if you don’t want to read Tony’s chit chat comments you can just listen to the music on the Untold Dylan: The YouTube channel


And Tony answers…

What is the point of singing Dylan like Dylan?  Or indeed of having the same accompaniment as Dylan has chosen?   After all, it has already been done.  By Dylan.

So I fully applaud each and every attempt to take Dylan song into another dimension.  The one thing I wish I was party to is the discussions by each band and vocalist into exactly what they are going to do.

Take Diva De Lei with “Senor” – where did they start in working on this arrangement?  The vocal, the accompaniment, or the introduction of the backing chorus?  What is so amazing is that the song starts at such a pitch of intensity it is hard to imagine it can get much higher.

But oh my, it most certainly does.  I love it.

And so moving on, is there any way of following that?

This is Patti LaBelle with “Forever Young” at Live Aid.

Now if you have been following this series, you may recall my criticisms concerning the way some lady singers use the songs to show off their vocal ranges in a way that seems to have little relationship with the song itself.

This is just my problem, and I find it again here as the meaning of the song vanishes in a sea of vocal acrobatics.  By the three minute mark we could be listening to any song;  the meaning has gone, the lights have gone out, the door has been shut, the audience has gone home, the planet has left its orbit, the sun has dimmed…

Obviously not for the audience here.  It’s my failing that I just don’t get it.  And I do love the song.

Angela Aki – Knockin On Heavens Door

Now I don’t have such problems with foreign languages – I don’t need to hear the lyrics in English, and indeed the sound of the lyrics in a foreign tongue that I can’t speak raise all sorts of possibilities.

Here we get the occasional line in English, but that’s neither here nor there.  What is utterly exquisite is the piano playing, the change in emphasis, and the later introduction behind the piano of the band, who know exactly where they should be – behind this magnificent lead musician.

I even love the extension of the title line in the grand fortissimo section around the three minute marker.

And what a beautiful combination is her voice and piano performance; my goodness this lady really does have it all, and she uses it all to fulfil the meaning of the song.  Now she is a performer I would travel to see.

MB14 & Tamara – Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door

Where do we go next?

To a totally different arrangement and a different understanding  of the song.  And it is good indeed to hear this street band who are phenomenally resourceful in their use of resources.

I never once get tired of  the singer’s voice, nor the way the band use their resources.  I found myself wondering if the lady singer could actually perform in any voice other than this.   But just as I was wondering, we get to the harmonies that conclude the piece.  Oh that is clever.  That is really good.

Are they really a street band, or was that just an act for the video?  Probably, but hey, it was a good act.

The Omagh Community Youth Choir – Love Rescue Me

This is one of those videos which seems  to have a copyright problem in different countries, so here are two approaches – hopefully one will work where you are.

One version

The alternative is here

School and community choirs are not what we are normally about but this should be an exception because of where the choir is based and what the community had been through.  The point was, they clearly got everything out of making this recording, and surely that is what a community choir is all about.

And the sound is beautiful.

Lily Kershaw – Wagon Wheel

One of the problems with trying to write a review of each of these songs is that there are going to be occasional Dylan songs performed that I don’t care for, and others I really do hold in my heart.   Not to mention performers I like, and others that are not my first choice.

Here we have personal choices in both zones – one of my favourite Dylan pieces, and Lily Kershaw does it for me.

Now of course one of the absolute must-not-dos is to quote oneself in reviews, but well, Untold is about breaking rules, so this is what I said in my original review

“He knocks out a few lines and makes up a few more plus the accompaniment and melody on the spot, he does a very hard to understand rough recording, and then they don’t use the song in the film.   Except it gets picked up years later and becomes a monumental hit.”

And yes I still think that but somehow this version never takes off in the way that Old Crowe makes it work.   Why is that?  The harmonies in the Old Crowe version for one thing.  The combination of violin and banjo for another.  And then the harmonies again which change here and there as the piece continue.  And it is one of my favourite videos too, but let’s not dwell on that.

There’s nothing wrong with Lily’s version, it is just that one either has to do something very different or a lot more with a Dylan song to make a big mark, or outshine earlier versions, and I don’t think she does either here.

Maria Muldaur & Mavis Staples – Well, Well, Well

Well, well, well, is another song I gave a rave review to and again I’m struggling to keep my interest.  This is a clever and well thought through treatment of the song, but this doesn’t do anything for me, other than leaving me thinking it is clever.  Come the end I don’t want to play it again (which when I do is surely is  the mark of a great rendition).

If you haven’t heard the original click on the review link, skip forward through  the co-composer’s chit chat and give yourself a treat.

Silvia Braga – Vomit Express

Aaron’s note to me says, “Apologies for presenting that last one and for making you listen to it..maybe it will make you appreciate the original a little bit more now!”  The original is available on Untold’s earlier review (which in case you need them, contains the lyrics).

These two versions are completely different from each other, but my reaction is, “why bother?”  It wasn’t so much that I didn’t like the original, as I didn’t and still don’t see the point of the song.  If it were not for the fact it was written by Bob and Alan, would anyone remember this?   Nice tenor sax though.

But I really didn’t want to end of this little piece on a negative.  So instead I went back to what I, in my strange little world, in a village listed in the Domesday book, tucked away in the Northamptonshire countryside in middle England, find to be a really moving performance of a beautiful song…

Angela Aki – Knockin On Heavens Door

Aaron, thank you, I really enjoyed this selection.

And to you, dear reader and listener, having got this far, thank you.  I hope you enjoyed it too.


You can find the selections from all the previous editions of Play Lady Play on the  Untold Dylan: The YouTube channel what you’ll find there

Play Lady Play: earlier editions

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One comment

  1. Some info…

    Tamara was on the French version of The Voice

    The Omagh Choir track was released on the album Playing For Change

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