Play Lady Play is a collection of articles relating to interpretations of Bob Dylan’s songs by lady performers.
Throughout the recordings are selected by Aaron Galbraith, based in the USA. Aaron then sends his selection to Tony Attwood in England who then writes the commentary – and tries to complete each set of notes while the track is playing (although he does sometimes cheat).
You can find links to previous episodes of this series on the Play Lady Play homepage.
All of the episodes are on line as YouTube videos at the Untold Dylan Video Channel
Aaron: For this episode I thought I’d look back at Dylan’s first 3 studio albums of the 80s, Shot Of Love, Infidels and Empire Burlesque and pick two female led covers from the three albums.
Shot Of Love
Aaron: Nana Mouskouri – Every Grain Of Sand. I thought I’d hate this when it first started, but I grew to kinda love it as it went along…it’s just so deliciously 80s! I think it came out in 1986. A second play is recommended!
Tony: It’s a very personal thing but for some reason I don’t like the excessive use of the vocal vibrato that seems to be part of Ms Mouskouri’s style. But I have to say this is an extraordinary rendition of this song. The harmonies are staggeringly beautiful, and the orchestral arrangement is brilliant.
This is is exactly what one hopes for in a re-arrangement of a Dylan piece, bringing out the pure genius of the music and lyrics as a unity, rather than using the performance as an excuse for piggy-backing on Dylan’s genius. I do want arrangers and performers to recognise that they are utilising works of brilliance, and add their own abilities to this – and when they can, the results can be exquisite.
Just listen to the line “Sometimes I turn, there’s someone there, other times it’s only me” – what they do is so simple, so relevant to the piece, so brilliant, so beautifully executed.
Aaron: Chrissie Hynde – In The Summertime. Very laidback…I wondered how they shot the video, any ideas?
Tony: In terms of shooting videos, my work in TV was a writer, which meant the guys making the shows would threaten the likes of me with death if I got anywhere near the studio, the editing room, or the set. So no idea.
But it is a fantastic video, and it is so good to see the creative team being given the chance to make a video that is worthy of the song, and this certainly is. In fact I forgot to keep writing and just watched the vid all the way.
This is one of few recordings that made me need (not want, but need) to go back and listen to Bob working on the song. Just in case you get the need to do that here’s where I went .
It just reminded me how much more Chrissie and co have put into this recording, not just in the video but in the music. And here again I am hearing the lyrics as I have not understood them before.
Strangers, they meddled in our affairs Poverty and shame were theirs But all that suffering was not to be compared With the glory that is to be And I'm still carrying the gift you gave It's a part of me now, it's been cherished and saved It'll go with me unto the grave And into eternity.
Oh goodness me – that is good. (OK I am being naive and simplistic now, but what else can be said about lines like that?)
I love this recording. Certainly one of the ones I want to come back to. Thank goodness of the Untold Dylan Video Channel.
Judy Collins – Sweetheart Like You.
Aaron: Unusual. Breathtaking vocals. I closed my eyes whilst listening to “get in the zone” and just went with it. Excellent.
Tony: OK so I have declared my love for Judy Collins’ music many a time – but nooooooooo I do not take to lyrics spoken not sung. They are there to be sung not there to be declaimed; for me it never works.
I guess there must be a lot of people in the world who actually like hearing song lyrics declaimed against music. “You know you can make a name for yourself….” just listen to that line here spoken not sung. What is the point?
And then at around 2 minutes 33 seconds the percussion comes in and I thought what?????? I even went back and played the vid again, not able to believe my own ears. What is going on here?
"Hey guys, I know, let's do everything they don't expect us to?" "But why? What's the point?" "It's different."
Yes it is different. But that’s not enough. In fact that is quite often just the opposite of what is enough. Sorry Aaron. I think it’s awful.
Eliza Gilkyson – Jokerman.
Aaron: Nicely restrained, slightly countrified version. I enjoyed it.
Tony: Goodness I must be in a bad mood today – although I didn’t think so when I woke up. But “A nod to Bob” ????????????????????? What person thought that this was a good name for any album, let alone an album of women singing Bob Dylan songs.
But she’s the sister of a member of Lone Justice, which puts her up there worthy of special attention in my book. Yet somehow this version of the song doesn’t seem to do justice to the lyrics, in the way that Bob does. It made me pondering what it is in the original that really makes the song work so well. Is it the way the bass players quavers through the verses, against the laid back approach of the other instruments? I suspect so.
If you (dear reader, not Aaron) have the inclination go back to Bob’s original version, and instead of listening to Bob and the lyrics, listen to what the band is doing and then see how they link the verse to the chorus. It gives the song a rare magic, and I think that is lost here. Maybe that “Nod to Bob” nonsense put the band off.
Bob doesn’t do choruses that often, but when he does he tends to put in something very special, and that needs to be considered carefully if one is going to offer a new version – in my opinion. But then, that’s probably just me.
Aaron: Bettye LaVette – Emotionally Yours. Surprising arrangement. Unsurprisingly great. Love it, especially the second half.
Tony: You’re cheating Aaron, we’ve been through the Lavette Dylan song book and I’ve already slipped in the track I really love (“Things have changed”), and I know how much you like the music of this lady. But here’s another song used by the singer to show off her vocal acrobatics, even when they are not part of the song.
No, sorry not for me, but beyond any doubt our readers will be knocking out more of those emails suggesting you take over the site and push me into the garage (not I hasten to add, to make an album of my own but to try and work out what that strange knocking sound is everytime I start up the exceptionally old and now rather decrepit Mercedes).
Aaron: Thea Gilmore – I’ll Remember You. Wow. Man, what a voice. And that trumpet part towards the end. Genius, just genius.
(Two versions here, one of them doesn’t work in the UK but does in the US)
Tony: Now this is at the other end of the scale. This is so wonderful, Aaron I forgive you all your meanderings into the strangeness. She has a beautiful voice which she utterly understands, and an arranger who knows how to make instruments fit around her.
If you play this more than once then try this: play it once just taking in the music, play it the second time listening to the exquisite vocalist and then play it again listening to one of the most unusual accompaniments ever put together for a Dylan song. Somewhere around 2 minutes 37 seconds and onwards. Oh that is so good, so clever, so unusual. This is why I moved from being a musician to become a writer – I knew I could never have dreamed of putting that sort of arrangement together.
And just go on and listen to the subsequent instrumental break. I know we are here to consider the work of the ladies, but oh that arranger is so utterly brilliant – she/he has the percussion taking the same routine over and over and yet it never sounds like mere repetition.
Genius all round. (Incidentally, the second of the two videos (the one I can get to play in the UK) continues with the rest of the album – I don’t want to send you away from this article, but maybe come back later and play the whole album).
Aaron: Now let’s finish this episode the way Dylan signed off the Empire Burlesque album with this bonus track..
Judy Collins – Dark Eyes.
Tony: After my rude comments about Judy above, I hesitate. Judy it seems knows how to move me to tears and also has me tearing what is left of my hair out.
This one I am sorry to say, doesn’t move me at all (so at least no more hair loss). It is the twinkly piano that puts me off. Dark Eyes is a dark song, and that piano is so twee. It is not the wonderful Judy’s fault of course, I am sure she didn’t write the orchestration, and she probably doesn’t have the power to sack the arranger and demand someone else comes in.
It can work with a piano accompaniment to the fore, but not like this. When the violins come in I thought it could be salvaged, but no.
I would say, just look in total silence at these lines, and then ask, does that twinkly piano at the end fit?
Oh, the French girl, she’s in paradise and a drunken man is at the wheel
Hunger pays a heavy price to the falling gods of speed and steel
Oh, time is short and the days are sweet and passion rules the arrow that flies
A million faces at my feet but all I see are dark eyes
Aaron: Hope you enjoyed at least some of these selections!
Tony: Oh yes. This is such fun. Even if we have no audience left because they’ve got totally fed up with my negativity, can we do it again?
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. 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 7000 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. Tony Attwood