Beautiful Obscurity: You angel you

In this series Aaron Galbraith based in the USA picks out interesting cover versions of Bob Dylan’s songs and Tony Attwood in the UK 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.

Today we look at “You Angel You”

Aaron: The first cover came in 1974, the same year Dylan released his own version. It was by the New Riders Of The Purple Sage, from the album Brujo.

Tony: Love the illustration above, what a brilliant cover.  One presumes those volcanoes are inactive.

They are taking it quite a bit faster than Bob did on Planet Waves, (I’m saying that from memory, don’t shout at me if I’m wrong) and that gives them a problem, because as I hear it in my head, Bob is able to really give the middle 8 an extra boost, (that “Oh I can’t sleep at night” is really the highlight), but this is all a little lightweight.  They do try their best with that B section, but they are going too fast really to get that much out of it.

They also do the Dylan thing of having an instrumental break without any instrument taking a solo.  Dylan can pull it off, but I am not quite sure this band can.   So overall I find it very pleasant but rather lightweight.

Aaron: In 1976 three members of Bob’s Rolling Thunder Revue band, T Bone Burnett, Steven Soles & David Mansfield formed The Alpha Band. Second album Spark In The Dark contained their cover with a certain Mr Ringo Starr on drums.

Tony: Oh someone help me out, what does that drum rhythm at the very start remind me of.   Is it Sheila by Tommy Roe?  I could be way out but I’ll stay true to the format and not look it up.

And Ringo does have another little extra part in the middle 8, which helps but it all seems rather lightweight.   Once again I miss what Dylan does with his off the beat singing.   “I can’t sleep at night…” does work well, but for me it’s not enough really.

But still good to hear another little burst from Ringo – except he seems to have got rather fixated on it and brings it in too many times.   No, sorry, for me, “lightweight” is the best word.

Aaron: Manfred Mann’s Earth Band released their version in 1979 on Angel Station and as a single.

Tony: This is one of those videos that seems to have regional restrictions, Aaron was listening to the copy below, which in the UK I can’t access, so I’ve added the one above.

Tony: When I saw this was Manfred Mann I hoped for more (and more and more) but it wasn’t there.  Is it really impossible to bring the sort of extra life that Bob got into the song?  All the differences that each band introduces seem trivial, or in this case, horribly unrelated.  What on earth are the guys trying to say with those strange sound effects and variations that basically aren’t variations at all, but completely new musical thoughts?

Very rare for me to say this about the Manfreds, but I thought that was rather horrible.  Shoot the organist.  (Actually I rather like that phrase.  Maybe I could write a song called that.  My previous piece – unheard in the world at large except by a tiny group of friends who have learned to be polite – was “What would Jane Austen say?”  – but enough, back to the matter in hand, as the performance has now finished).

Aaron: Their lead singer Chris Thompson released his own version in 2011.

Tony: So why does Chris have to shout “1 2 3”?   This is a much better rendition than the Manfreds because it has the power and drive that the song really needs.  It’s got a few everyday moments from the band, and in the instrumental break the excellent solo guitar seems quieter than I would like, but maybe that’s my ears in old age.

I like the pause before the “Here we go” and the change of instrumentation.   I’m not saying that this is a great, great rendition, but it is the best of the collection, because Chris has used his profound imagination and only once descended into the obvious with the “more and more and more” at the end.

Not at all bad.

Aaron: The last cover I’d like to present is from 2012 by Eryn Shewell & Pat Ruh.

Tony: That was a good idea to leave the most laid back version til last Aaron.  And as it happens, for me, by far the most enjoyable.   Before I got to this I was thinking Chris Thompson’s version was the best of a modest bunch but this rendition really gets the essence of the song.

It is the voice and style of Eryn Sherwell that carries it through with that relaxed beat.  The opening lines are so seductive even though I have just listened to four versions of the song without being at all impressed.   She carries out the middle 8 perfectly with those delicious harmonies – the “never did get up and walk the floor” now really does mean something.

So it turns out that what we really need is gentleness – and a delicious voice to die for.   Plus a superb guitarist who knows that more doesn’t always mean better.

Lovely voice, excellent lead guitar behind – that’s what this song needs and that’s what she gives.

And now having got here, I just had to hear Bob’s recorded version again.

There are such extraordinary elements in this version – just listen to what he does in the middle 8 compared to the verses, and the way the accompaniment is held in place by the producer, even though everyone is doing their own thing.   The guitar and organ are both vying for attention in the instrumental break, which gives us the real excitement of the final version.  Which is very clever because all the instruments are vying for attention by the end.

Great choice Aaron – really enjoyed that selection.  Oh and leave that final video running, just to show that Bob didn’t know how to get it right at first.

One comment

  1. if you were to shoot the organist in Manfred Mann’s Earth Band then they’d have to change their name to Earth Band! LOL

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *