Untold Dylan

Beautiful Obscurity: such different renditions of Spanish Leather


By Tony Attwood

A new look at the best ever cover versions of Bob Dylan’s songs.  In the series this far…

When I start these series on Untold I really have no idea where they are going to go.  Am I going to find something in them that makes me think the notion is worth following; are the readers going to enjoy it?  Ideally both of those get a yes, but I’ll go along with one out of two.

So far I’m not sure about the readers, because I’ve had very few comments, which rather makes me think I’m doing this for myself.  But as I just said, one out of two keeps me going, so I will do, even if (not for the first time) I am simply talking to myself.

This time we have Boots of Spanish Leather, wherein two versions were suggested when we did the original “Best covers” series a few years back.

Patti Smith, suggested by Mike Rude

This appears to be recorded in a near empty concert hall and yet the acoustics really do something – the echo just sends shivers through me, as if the two distant lovers are not just apart from each other, but somehow trapped in this empty environment.  It’s weird – I am not drawn back to playing it over and again, but oh, it will stay in my thoughts.

Dylan på svenska

The second contribution last time came from Jesper Fynbo.  Boots of Spanish Leather on Dylan på svenska which is on Spotify.  First please don’t turn away just because it is not in English, don’t turn away because you’ve got to get your Spotify account sorted out and don’t turn away because it sounds just like another straight singing of the song.  No, this is not that… please do play it; you know the lyrics so you can just enjoy a completely different way of performing the piece.

Now the one’s I’ve found…

Mandolin Orange. 

From the off we know this is a standard rendition of the music, and yes of course the guitar is spot on, as is the lady’s voice.  But then it is clear that we are getting the two characters singing to each other, and this is what makes it so worth listening to.  Because they are not going through motions – they really are singing to each other.

OK you might say so they should be, but believe me this is so much harder than it might seem just by looking and listening.  Yes they really are communicating.  What’s more they resist the temptation to bring the strings in too early.  But when it comes in, it is perfect, as is the final harmony.

What could have been a simplistic idea of two instruments and two singers becomes a rendition that makes me learn the song afresh.  I am so indebted to these two performers.

Trevor Willmott & Juliana Richer Daily

Here the harmonies are utilised at once and the impact is immediate, because the harmonies at the end of the verse are not those expected.  This is goose pimple land, heightened by the glorious range of the man’s voice.

One of the points about this type of performance is that the artists need to be able to be restrained – exactly the opposite of the rock band with cheering fans.  This is gentility to the nth degree; “how can how can you ask me again?” needs this completely, and they deliver.

I smiled all the way thought.  I like to think this was / is / would be Bob’s reaction to hearing this setting of his song as well.

Tyler Hilton

Strumming the guitar from the start is an interesting choice, because it gives a different feel.  They take up the emotion straight away because of that and the effect is a real conversation between the two.  The lady’s voice really is perfect; she gets every nuance from the performance; I feel they really are talking to each other.  How different from the version before.

Kiersten Holine

The idea of holding back the harmonies and then using them sparingly is an excellent idea – the song is so open to the harmonies makes it harder to show restraint, but there is a real power in the idea.

She is so sad when she looks at the camera it is almost unbearable.  Even though I have known the words by heart for so many years that I don’t want to remember how long this moves me as if I had never heard it before.

Dan McCafferty

This is another choice from Jochen made during his in-depth review of the song.  It is fascinating to hear the song wherein at certain times all we have is the percussion and a bass guitar as accompaniment.   I can just see the production meeting where Mr McCafferty announces that for this song, he’s going to sing part of it with such a limited accompaniment.   “I think not Mac,” says the producer.

But he makes it work, and the introduction of instrumentation and build up of his voice never goes too far.   It’s not my favourite, probably by this time all my goose bumps have been used up before I got here – but it is certainly worth exploring.


I had great fun doing this little piece.  If you would like to create a collection of versions of a Dylan song and then add your own commentary, or if you prefer, just send them to me, allowing me to comment, let’s try it.   Any Dylan song except the one’s we’ve already tried in this little series.

Thanks for listening.

What else?

You can read about the writers who kindly contribute to Untold Dylan in our About the Authors page.   And you can keep an eye on our current series by checking the listings on the home page

You’ll also find, at the top of this page, and index to some of our series established over the years.  Series we are currently running include

  • The art work of Bob Dylan’s albums
  • The Never Ending Tour year by year with recordings
  • Bob Dylan and Stephen Crane
  • Beautiful Obscurity – the unexpected covers
  • All Directions at Once

You’ll find links to all of them on the home page of this site

If you have an article or an idea for an article which could be published on Untold Dylan, please do write to Tony@schools.co.uk with the details – or indeed the article itself.

We also have a very lively discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook with getting on for 10,000 members. Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link    And because we don’t do political debates on our Facebook group there is a separate group for debating Bob Dylan’s politics – Icicles Hanging Down



One comment

  1. Have a listen to Dan Mcafferty with band (Nazareth)’s version of ‘Hollis Brown’ on 1973’s ‘Loud n Proud’. Now that’s what I call a Bob Dylan cover version.

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