Beautiful Obscurity: Things have changed

In this series Aaron Galbraith picks out interesting cover versions of Bob Dylan’s songs and Tony Attwood attempts to write a review of the performance while the song is playing, and without looking stuff up.

There is a list of some of our earlier articles in this series here.

Curtis Stigers

Aaron:  From his 2012 album Let’s Go Out Tonight. I read a review which states “Stigers’ version captures just the right mood for the lyrics”. Let’s find out if Tony agrees.

Tony: I’ve listened to this song so many times (and two of us actually worked out a modern dance routine for it during lockdown – which is a really good way to get to know a song and not a bad way to pass the days when there’s nothing else to do!) so I approach this from the inside.

And when that happens it is the details that get to me – like why put in castanets?  I find that a little annoying, but by and large I enjoy this.   The sax solo certainly does work for me although maybe the beat is a little plodding after a while.  But no, I think I am getting a bit picky.

There is indeed something very laid back here with the instrumentation so that by the time we get to the wheel barrow, there is a really delicious contrast between the broken-downness of putting a body in a wheelbarrow and the way the music moves along works really well.

I just worry for that bass player plodding away with just two notes to play all the way through.

The Persuasions

Aaron: It’s a fairly long song to sing acapella but the Persuasions “boom-boom” their way through the whole song.

Tony: Now this I am looking forward to, simply because of the audacity of the idea, and my goodness this works.  Whoever would have imagined that.  And bringing in the full chorus for the “last train” and the “people are crazy” line – ah … yes this works wonderfully for me.

At least it works first time through, because as the song progresses, I find I have got used to the idea.  It’s still a good listen but would one want to come back and play it again?   Or come to that will I want to pass this on to a few friends and say “you must listen to this”?

Probably not – it is a great sound, but it doesn’t actually add to my understanding of the song.  I think if I didn’t know the song yes of course I would listen all the way through, but now I know it so well… no.   And that is the key thing for those who want to re-work Dylan – the audience will know the song so well that something different needs to happen to the music as it works through, not just as an overall idea.

String Swing

Aaron: Here’s a nice swinging version – will Tony think this is a danceable version?!

Tony: Wow that’s a surprising start instrumentally, and I love the vocals too.  There’s a nice mix of the instrumentation, without everyone trying to get to the fore when it’s not their turn.  I guess I must have told you about working out how to dance to this before, Aaron.   Actually, by a strange coincidence, I was doing a little piece for BBC radio this week and mentioned dancing to this song in that (not that anyone would notice).

Indeed I love the instrumental break – now that does really give me an extra insight into the song.  Suddenly “I used to care but things have changed” means something new; I can walk away from all this with a swing in my step.

And it gets better and better as it goes – which is really what I want from a reworking of a Dylan song I know so well.   The instrumental breaks really work too.  Oh sorry I already said that.

Oh and what a great ending too!  Love it.

Waylon Jennings

Aaron: One of the first to cover the song was the late great Waylon Jenning. He was doing the song in concert as early as September 2000 (It was first released by Dylan in May 2000). It became a regular part of Jenning’s set list throughout his final tours in 2000-2001.

Tony: “You may have not heard it, you maybe have” (or words to that effect).  What kind of an intro is that?   Well, yes given when he way playing it, I can see what he means, so I’ll let that go.

The inter-verse breaks really do work, but I think the vocals are worked too hard to play with the lyrics.  Again it is that problem of a recording made around the time when many listeners won’t know the song too well, but now coming back to it knowing the song so well, it doesn’t always work.

It is that issue of listening to a song we know so well, and focusing on it rather than using it as background – as if it came on the radio while we are doing something else.  But the sudden arrival of the female voice wakes me up and refocuses me.

It’s not earth shattering, but it’s well done – and a damn site better than anything I could ever have done (just to put it in perspective).

 

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