Selections by Aaron Galbraith, commentary by Tony Attwood
Please note, past episodes of this series can also be heard on our YouTube Channel
Intro: Just in case you have not seen the Play Lady Play series before, here’s how the game goes. Aaron (in the USA) selects a number of performances of Dylan songs by women, and send them, occasionally with an explanation, often without, to Tony (in the UK).
Tony plays each track and tries to write a commentary on his thoughts during the playing of the track. Extra time for tidying up the commentary is allowed. There is an index to most of the articles in this series here.
It’s all meant to be a bit of fun, and if you enjoy such things, a way of discovering some of the re-interpretations of Bob’s work, with an emphasis on some of the more unusual such adventures – all of course with female rather than male singers.
Occasionally we find the annoying situation in which Youtube links to the songs work in one country and not in another. Where we find that we try and put in a second link.
For this instalment I thought I’d look at female covers from the Time Out Of Mind album. I’m just going to list these in the order they appear on the album, as that’s how I searched for them! I’ve got two with a couple of versions just to show the differences in arrangement.
I’ve purposely not included any versions of To Make You Feel My Love, as there are so many, many fine versions of this song, and so I thought I’d compile those for a future episode of the Play Lady Play series.
Lucy Kruger with Love Sick
Tony: Oh now this does take experience, control, style and talent; it is one hell of a lot easier to shout than it is to whisper. And what a perfect voice for this type of performance! I could listen to this over and over. And oh, that ending. It pulls me apart. If you play this a second time, focus for a while on the guitar – it is utterly exquisite. Take the way she plays the accompaniment to the lyrics “I’m sick of love.” Oh yes.
Not much of a review, I know, but I was just sitting listening. It’s wonderful. I’m off to listen to more of her work after finishing this article.
Bonnie Raitt with Standing In The Doorway
This is one of the songs that I often find going through my head when I’m driving and not listening to an audio, or having a conversation. And the heart of that brain driven recollection is the heart of the song – lines five and six, which effectively take us into a new key.
I’m a bit taken aback by the percussion; it seems wrong for the message, or maybe because I can’t even think if there is any percussion in the original (and by the rules of the game I’m not allowed to go back and check), but I can recall that the live versions of this song that I like have the gentlest of a snare drum keeping the beat, nothing more.
The point is that (as I intimate above) these lines are at the very centre of the song – we have four lines, these two central lines in what those of us who like to show off call the “subdominant” and then back to where we were.
I got no place left to turn I got nothing left to burn
I know I can’t win But my heart just won’t give in
Dylan gets the placement of these midway lines perfect, but I really don’t think this version sees them as central lines; they are just two more lines So there’s my problem – I’ve come to understand the song in one way, with lines five and six being the core of each verse, and then if a performer understands it differently, I am thrown out. On one hearing I can’t re-orientate quickly enough.
I’m also a bit taken aback by the percussion; it seems wrong for the message, or maybe because I can’t even think if there is any percussion in Dylan’s original. I’m sure there must be, but it doesn’t get in the way.
Now Chrissie Hynde with the same song
Chrissie always makes every song her own and that full grand piano accompaniment shows this rendition is no exception. And from the off I’ve got the feeling she understands the construction of the song, the way it works, and the musicians are with her.
The only problem I have is that the piano is so dominant at the very start it has nowhere else to go, and if anything I’d like it to move in and out of the other instrumentation. As we get to the instrumental verse we’re getting sounds from all directions, and I want more space in this song.
But Chrissie does create one hell of an ethereal sound which I am loving, but I just feel that the arranger could have given us a little less dominant piano from the off. By the end it sounds more like a fight than a lost love tragedy. And I’m sad about that, because I do love Chrissie’s work normally.
Next, Bonnie Raitt, again, with Million Miles
Ah, now this really is my scene. What is right is that accompaniment and the singing both feel the lyrics; melody, accompaniment, lyrics – it all makes sense. The percussionist still gets a bit too much limelight for my taste, but the musicians and the vocals express the headhung sadness of the breakup to perfection. It really says, “I tried, I tried, I tried” in every dimension known to womankind, and then some.
And after the instrumental verse, Ms Raitt still has something new to give us which means when she comes to the “Rock me” verse we are willing to be rocked. When the blues dance clubs re-open (they are all of course shut due to some sort of pandemic or other – not sure what, I haven’t been paying that much attention) I’m going ask the DJs for this every night.
Lucinda Williams – Tryin To Get To Heaven
If the link below doesn’t work try this one. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Rn2eVoapcI
Lyrics are there to be expressed by the vocalist, but there is a point where the singer is just trying too hard, and at the start of Ms Williams’ recording I felt that was happening. It calms down but I don’t find I’m being given any new insights at all.
“Trying to get to heaven before they close the door” is one of the most astonishing lines in Bob Dylan’s oeuvre but here it seems to be treated as if there is a door which is going to be shut at 6pm so the shop keeper can go home. And maybe that is what Bob meant, but I’ve never seen it that way and I don’t find I can adjust now.
Shelby Lynne & Alison Moorer – Not Dark Yet
Since I first heard Dylan’s recording of this utter masterpiece I wondered what else could be done with it. In my imagination of working out what I would do if I were still in a semi-pro band, my first decision was that those two pesky extra beats must always be kept.
Then the thought, what happens if we add harmonies. And here’s my answer – it really works. And it works because the harmonies come in to perfection, in exactly the right place. But oh, that instrumental verse… it sounds like a toy piano, and with that I also became exasperated by the over excited percussionist. Sure, the double beating works, but it doesn’t have to be that central. (OK maybe I should be blaming the producer, not the drummer, so I could be very unfair here, but the result on the recording is spoiled. The drummer’s rhythms are superb and add a lot, but they are just that bit too prominent.)
Ruby Amanfu – also Not Dark Yet
If the video below doesn’t work try this link… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RUp42utZAtE
OK, there ought to be a dictum put out among the percussionist community: if you are asked to work on this song, talk with the producer about how your work is going to be used. Again what the percussionist does is superb, it works brilliantly, but it is mixed in at too high a volume. This is not meant to be a tumpity thumpity tumpity thump track. It is a song relating to the gentility yet hopelessness of old age.
And this is a great shame for Ruby Amanfu, who puts in a superb performance and has a voiced so perfectly suited this song. She does get rather explorative in terms of where her voice can go in the penultimate verse, and really I don’t think the lyrics ask for this. When you find the line “Every nerve in my body is so vacant and numb” I think the poet has taken us into the land of the ghosts, and care and caution should be the watchword. But even so it is a superb re-working of the masterpiece.
Deb Callahan – Cold Irons Bound
So off and on I’ve be a real old grouch today, more negative than usual I know, and therefore I really wanted to like this final performance, not having heard it before. The opening is an interesting inter-twining of sounds, and then suddenly we get a rhythm. Not a raucous rhythm that we’ve been experiencing through these tracks but something more restrained.
And to top it Deb Callahan, who really has a superb range, uses her talents to the full. She’s travelling her own road and letting the band go their way, and it really does work. This is the track out of all of today’s ventures that I want to go back to, even though it is a long way from being a particular favourite Dylan track as far as I am concerned.
When she tells us the road is rocky, we know it is true. A believable performance indeed. Thanks for putting his at the end Aaron, even if it simply was by chance. Oh just listening to those opening lines from the vocalist. Yes, yes, yes.
Thanks Aaron. I really enjoyed that.
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