In the Play Lady Play series Aaron selects the music, and Tony on the other side of the Atlantic writes the commentary on it. There is a list of earlier episodes from this series at the end of the piece.
Aaron: This time I took a look at instances when a woman covered a Dylan song, with Bob in her band! I was able to find just a few instances, so I’ll give you the background on each track and what Bob is doing.
First up, and to keep things complete (maybe someone, somewhere will use this list as a complete account of Dylan appearing on Female led covers of his songs, who knows!) we’ll start with one we’ve already covered, and which Tony did not like too much, but maybe he’ll change his mind when he discovers it’s Bob on guitar and harmonica.
Stevie Nicks – Just Like A Woman
Tony: Obviously I spend my time running Untold Dylan because I am a great admirer of Bob’s writing, and indeed his performances of his own material – including his regular re-working of his own songs.
Bob came into music in an era when the norm was for bands to play their hits on stage exactly as it sounded on the record, while on TV often simply miming to the record, and of course he went in the opposite direction, finding new dimensions in the songs he performed live.
So I continue to look for new dimensions in the songs when they presented by others, and still coming back to Stevie Nicks – even knowing Bob was in the band – I just don’t find that extra something in there that makes me want to play the track twice. It’s ok, but it doesn’t add anything new for me.
Aaron: Next up, from her 1976 album “Songs For The New Depression” it’s Bette Midler with Bob on backing vocals and guitar on her version of “Buckets Of Rain“.
Tony: From the off this is exciting – we can hear what the song is even if no one tells us in advance, but this instrumental opening is really interesting, as is the vocal introduction.
So this is a perfect example of a re-working that is, for me, worth it. It takes the old song and transforms it while leaving just enough for us to remember where we started. And in doing so it gives new insights into and meanings of the lyrics.
Basically it sounds like fun; even the instrumental breaks are interesting, amusing, challenging… and so it goes on, with Bette’s long fade out … OK I don’t want the musicians to sound like they are having fun when singing “Desolation Row” but here, yes I do. Even the corny bit of singing “Bobby, Bobby” works.
Aaron: Now, as an added bonus, something I just stumbled across, is this practice session between Bob and Bette. Wonderful to hear. I love stuff like this!
Tony: Oh that is a find and a half – I’ve never come across this before. What is so interesting is how much fun they are having in the rehearsal. That must be where I went wrong – my band’s rehearsals were always too serious. If reincarnation is actually real, I’ll try and remember that next time around.
Aaron: Next up, it’s Nanci Griffith’s with “Boots of Spanish Leather”. Not only was this recorded in Dylan’s home studio, but he plays the harmonica. From her 1993 album, “Other Voices, Other Rooms”.
Tony: Can you imagine playing in Bob’s own studio? I mean, just the thought of that would make me play everything wrong. Well, ok no change there, but more wrong than normal.
Now, this is interesting indeed because I have gone on and on about the need for a recording of a Dylan song to bring something new to the song, to make it interesting and worth listening to. I love this version (and not for the harmonica part which I find unnecessary) but I can’t work out why. What does Nanci Griffith bring to this song that we didn’t know before? The addition of the percussion later on is interesting, but it is not that.
I think it is that her voice is utterly suited for the song, and she doesn’t try to do anything special – she just sings. Perhaps it is the wistfulness in the lady’s replies to the offers of something being brought back from Spain – I really believe her when she says there is nothing she wants other than your sweet kiss.
It is an extraordinary feat to carry off what is a long two part conversation in song in this way. But no matter how well we know the words, when this lady sings “The same thing I would want today I will want again tomorrow” it goes straight to my heart, not least because we all know what comes next. And even here she doesn’t change her voice, and yet it is still perfect. Yes there is a moment of additional edge in, “I’m sure your mind is a-roaming”. But even “I’m sure your thoughts are not with me” is perfect.
I don’t think I have ever heard a better version of this song, and if I need to offer just one line to show why, listen to the very last line. Of course we all know every line of this classic off by heart but somehow, by making no change in the way she sings that final line, there is an extra 2000% in the line.
Truly, I don’t know how she’s done it, but I am once again utterly moved by a song I have known most of my life, and have heard a million times. Amazing.
Aaron: Next, and this is one I really like, so be kind Tony, it’s Carlene Carter with her cover of “Trust Yourself”. Bob appears on backing vocals and guitar. He mainly sticks to the background but you can hear him clearly around the 1:10 mark. This is something of a rarity. It was only released in Germany (I believe) as an extra track on the 1994 CD single “Sweet Meant To Be”. It might have appeared later on the 1996 compilation album, “Hindsight 20/20” but as I don’t own the CD I’m not sure about that.
Tony: Yes Aaron, I get it. And it works because the singer / arranger / producer / director whoever has gone back to the meaning of the song and started from first principles to make it a new song.
The opening tells us this is going to be a fully produced piece with lots of overlays; sometimes that can make me groan, but each and every diversion raises issues that add to the fun.
The harmonies too are great fun; in the wrong hands some of them would be horribly corny but no, they just keep us going. Even the little technique of stopping after “if you want somebody you can trust” and then stopping, works. After the heart-pulling exquisite pain of Spanish Leather, this was quite a relief! And an enjoyable one.
Aaron: Now, I’m sure Tony has covered this one before, but again for the sake of completeness let’s finish up with Lone Justice, featuring Bob on guitar and harmonica.
Tony: Did you know that Maria McKee is related to Bryan MacLean who was part of Love who recorded “Forever Changes”? I thought I’d mention that as I saw Love on their final tour just before the passing of Arthur Lee, playing in a small night club in Birmingham.
I just throw that in as it is one of my all-time enduring memories – and yes I know I said the same thing in the in the original review but well, that was a little while back. There’s quite a bit of background on the song and the connection between Dylan, Bryan MacLean and Maria McKee – as I explored last time. It’s fun, I do enjoy it.
Thanks Aaron. That was a really interesting selection.
- Play Lady Play: Shot of love, Infidels, Empire
- Play Lady Play: foreign language lady-Dylan like you have never heard.
- Play Lady Play: Time out of mind
- Play Lady Play: the alternative rockers
- Play Lady Play in the 21st century
- From “me me me” to exquisite interpretations
- Play Lady Play: the joyful remembrance of staggering performances
- Play lady play: Bettye LaVette – and a kiss on the mouth
- When a woman sings Just like a woman and beats the bass issue
- Play lady play: I believe in you.
- The strange the eccentric and the beautiful
- Play Lady Play: A simple twist of fate
- Play lady play: the strange ones, the eccentric, and the beautiful
- Knocking the pony with the sisterhood
- Play Lady Play: female cover versions of Basement Tapes songs
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