Play lady play “Oh Mercy” (and some jazz)

by Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood

Just in case you’ve not encountered Play lady play before, it works like this.  Aaron in the USA selects recordings of Dylan songs by female performers, and sends them with a few notes to Tony in the UK, and as the track plays, Tony tries to write down his immediate feelings, usually on hearing the track for the very first time.  The idea is not to come up with a considered review but rather an immediate response to the songs.

Aaron: For this episode we’re going to look at female covers of tracks from Oh Mercy!

Here are the Carolina Chocolate Drops with their cover of Political World. They are an old time string band from Carolina and count among their members Rhiannon Giddens who was also a member of the New Basement Tapes Collective. Here she is on co-lead vocals on this track from The Chimes Of Freedom album (I really must get this CD at some point!)

We have a problem with the video – which works for Aaron in the USA but not for Tony in UK.   There doesn’t seem to be an alternative UK version, but the recording it is also available for free on Spotify.  It’s on disk four so scroll down.  You will need an account – but there is no registration cost, unless you want the all-singing Spotify.

Tony: Oh what a knock out.  This is a really tough song to realise because it is written on one chord.  So to cover for the lack of chordal movement what the band do is create a stunning movement, exciting accompaniment, gorgeous harmonies, and above all just such fun.

This album has an astonishing 76 tracks on it which makes it worth investigating but I don’t want to take anything away from the Chocolate Drops.  If by the end of the first verse you are not sold on this then my heart bleeds for you.  This is FUN.  And if this isn’t fun then I don’t know what is .

Aaron: Next… how about this version of Everything Is Broken by Louisa Rey from her 2009 album Turning Me Jazz

Tony: A challenging introduction into which Louisa Bey fits her vocals perfectly.  The accompaniment is evolving and moving all the time, and yet she is forcing us to hear the lyrics.

What I love here is that nothing is pushing me back to Dylan’s version of the song – Louisa Bey takes it as her own, and that feels absolutely right.

And then again there is simply the concept of doing this song as a modern jazz piece.  That is quite a leap, and yet it works perfectly.  And even when after around 2 minutes 15 she takes the excitement up, it still works, because the instrumentalists stick to their cause.  No one gets carried away.  This is where it is this is what we do.  It keeps going – which is exactly what these lyrics demand.

In the end we are certain, everything really is broken.  No doubt about it.

Aaron:  Now I’m going to include two versions of Ring Them Bells, just because I love the song, I love both versions…and because I can!

First up it’s Joan Baez and Mary Black from Baez’ excellent live album of the same name (get the 2 disc remastered version if you can!). I love the piano on this version.

Tony: I’m with you on the accompaniment Aaron.  This is terrific.  What makes it work is not only the virtuoso approach but the fact that pianist stays on task.  This is right, no one is getting carried away.  It rolls along beautifully.

Yes I still have the same old problem with Ms Baez’ excessive vibrato (or so it seems to me) but this really gorgeous.

Aaron: Then, next, one that I just stumbled on and I’d never heard before by Heart. We’ve not included them in the series before now, so why not! This is from their 1993 album Desire Walks On. I like it, and it’s completely different from any ones I’ve heard before.

Tony: Yep this is fine for me, but after such originality in all the pieces chosen so far in this selection, I am getting used to the unusual, the different, the challenging.

This is good, it works well, but it doesn’t take me to a new place, and the male vocal around 1 minute 45 seconds doesn’t give me a new dimension either

Truth is Aaron, in this series you have discovered such fantastic pieces I expect every song you present to us to be another work of amazing originality.  To me this is competent and perfectly playable, but in the end the vocalists are trying too hard.

Aaron: And now for something completely different. Man In The Long Black Coat by the Elmquist/Kallerdahl Kombo…


Tony: First thing if I heard this intro without being told what was coming up, I’d never guess.  Second thing, does that introduction have anything to do with the rest of  the song?  I fear not.

It’s a perfectly good and enjoyable modern jazz version of the song.  It doesn’t do much to me because this isn’t how I see (and by extension hear and feel) the man in the long black coat.   For me he’s always been more sinister, more threatening.  More scary than jazz.

And I suppose as we get to the improvised instrumental section I feel, “where is my man in the coat in all this?”   I think one needs to be much more committed to the modern jazz idiom than I am to appreciate this properly.  My failing, no one else’s.

Aaron: Last one today is a cover of Most Of The Time by Sophie Zelmani. There are a few covers of this but I’d never heard of this lady so thought I’d include it here, but you should also check out Bettye Lavette’s version (I’ve included her several times so though it only fair I skipped her for this one!)

Tony:  Now this does intrigue.  It is a tortuous song which I suspect gets inside the skin of everyone who has recently had a lover walk out.  I like it, but somehow I wanted a little more.   But somewhere around 2 minutes 45 seconds the accompaniment started to sound like Lou Reed doing “Take a walk on the wild side”.   Which of course it isn’t at all, but there’s a rhythm in there that is so strikingly like Lou Reed that it put me off.  Not because I don’t like Lou Reed, I most certainly do, but because this is not “Take a Walk”.

It disappears after a few moments, but then I had another problem – the band is taking it as far as they can go (before taking it back down) but the singer isn’t.

This is a super piece of music and there are some gorgeous moments here, but I just think the production is wrong.  But then, I’m not a musical producer, so that’s probably just me.  Yet when around 4’50” Take a Walk on the Wild Side rhythm comes back, I think, “well, what were you trying to do here guys?”

And answer came their none.

There is an index to the other entries in this series here.

And you will find the series on the Untold Dylan: The Youtube channel


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