Play Lady Play: foreign language lady-Dylan like you have never heard.

By Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood

Performance selection by Aaron; commentary by Tony

If you’ve got to go

Aaron: Following on from the Angela Aki version of Knockin On Heaven’s Door, which we both loved, I thought I’d look for more versions of Dylan songs by woman artists in a foreign language. I thought I would not give you too many details around the artists or songs (apart from the last one) and instead just let the music speak for itself.

So to start us off, here is the most famous one of all, Fairport Convention (with Sandy Denny on lead vocals) with Si Tu Dois Partir.

Tony: For a change a song selected by Aaron which I know about.  Richard Thompson told the story about wanting to translate the song into French / Cajun style, and asked for volunteers at a gig, and, he said, “About three people turned up, so it was really written by committee, and consequently ended up not very Cajun, French or Dylan.”

The studio version had Dave Swarbrick on fiddle, Richard Thompson on accordion and Trevor Lucas, who later formed Fotheringay with Sandy Denny, on triangle.   Joe Boyd, in “White Bicycles” wrote, “Martin created the Cajun washboard sound for ‘Si Tu Dois Partir’ by stacking some plastic Eames chairs and running his drumsticks along them. The percussion break was supposed to feature an empty milk bottle lying on the topmost chair, but when the time came it fell and smashed on the floor. I signalled frantically to keep playing. The crash of broken glass was absolutely in time and worked perfectly, a good omen for the session.” The song got to number 21 in the UK singles chart.

The cover photo is of Sandy Denny’s parents, Neil and Edna, standing outside the family home in Wimbledon, south London, with the band in the garden.

I can’t really review the song as I know it so well; it is still fine and quirky, which is what Fairport always wanted to be.

Next, Lill Lindfors – Låt Mej Va De E Bra

This arrangement is so unexpected that it took me a second or two to realise what was being sung.  It just didn’t want to compute in my brain!   The change of key and accompaniment as we go into the second verse is unexpected on a recording that is already going somewhere odd, which is why the transformation to a third key with a full (if gentle) backing lacks something.  If you are going to be unique, keep being unique.

The point is simply changing key by going up a tone (from C to D for example) is so old fashioned… but maybe that is the point.  The orchestral arrangement at the very end with the strings coming down the scale certainly amplify that point.

It’s cute, but I wouldn’t play it again.

Giusy Balatresi – Sei come sei

Oh I wish someone could eject that coconut playing percussionist – at least he/she does stop for a moment, but then we are back with them.

I personally blame the producer either for not stopping the percussionist or even worse, for thinking of the idea in the first place.

The lady has a lovely voice and when allowed to use it, the sound is really interesting.  She doesn’t need to double up the voice with recording with herself.   But really the arranger needs to be shot; by half way through I was utterly sick of the various effects.

The lady deserves better.

Reina Rodina – Learen Spaanske Skuon

This one had me guessing.  The percussive background is interesting, and then distracting but slowly I got to realise what the song was.  It was the last line of music in each verse that revealed it – which will also tell you that my Frisian is not that good. (You’re doing this on purpose aren’t you Aaron??!!!)

The literal translation of “Learnen Spaanske Skuon” is “Learn Spanish Shoes” – but by the time I’d got that sorted I’d heard the last line of the verse, and that told me where we were.

And I did have one bit of help, for we have written about Frisian versions of Dylan before with the review of De swalkers flecht    That version I loved, but this one, hmmm.  It is fascinating and I need to hear it a few times when not writing.  I am one of the people who really believe that traditional languages need to be retained and with very few still speaking the language, this project is something I welcome.   Plus I like the track.

Astrud Gilberto – Ti mangerei

Aaron pointed out that there is also an English version… “but I prefer the Italian version”.  The English language version is here.

After all the adventure of Learning Spanish shoes, this came over as a bit twee; singing without much depth.  “If you gotta go” needs some attitude in it somewhere, I think, and I don’t find it here.

Marlene Dietrich Die Antwort weiss ganz allein der Wind

Again, there is also an inferior English version.

Maybe I am getting less tolerant, but I want these cover versions to do something new, or at least to offer me a new insight into the song, but the backing here turns it into a 1950s pop song.  It is as if the 60s had never happened, which when it comes to a Dylan cover, is a fairly silly musical thing to achieve.  We all know the lady, and what she has done for music, but I wonder why she is doing this.


Trio Mei Li De Dao

Aaron: Last up, this time it’s an instrumental. There might be no words, however, musical it’s in a foreign language as it’s by an all female Taiwanese trio of musicians called Trio Mei Li De Dao and it’s their version of I Want You. This comes from the most interesting and diverse Dylan covers album you’ll ever hear called “From Another World”, which includes covers from artists from all over the world, including Iran, aboriginal Australian singers, India, Hungary etc, done in the traditional style of the region. The album is on Spotify and YouTube if you have an hour to check it out, I thought it was sensational.

Tony: I am stunned.  Amazed.  Shocked.  This is completely extraordinary.  I beg you, my audience (if you are still there) do not play a few seconds and give up.  Please listen, and please don’t think, “This isn’t ‘I want you’.”  Your continued attention will be rewarded.  The ending however is unexpected.

More Play Lady Play

One comment

  1. Loved your last clip..’ I WANT YOU’…i’m going to ask my wife ( she plays penny whistle in a celtic band ( out of alba,,they are on youtube, saddly not playing these days ) to ‘back’ me singing I want you ,,sometime !

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