Beautiful Obscurity – A Smorgasbord of Delights?!

By Aaron Galbraith (in USA) and Tony Attwood (in UK)

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.

Aaron: Hi Tony.  I had a bunch of covers that I couldn’t find many other interesting versions of the songs but still wanted to present them to you for your opinions! So I thought I’d put together this smorgasbord of delights to see if any of these are to your taste!

First up it’s Senegalese musician Youssou N’Dour with Chimes Of Freedom. He treats the song as an anthem for African’s struggling to survive.

 

In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine described him as, “perhaps the most famous singer alive” in Senegal and much of Africa.[3] From April 2012 to September 2013, he was Senegal’s Minister of Tourism.

Tony:  I absolutely love this man’s work.   And he doesn’t disappoint – ever.  The way he treats the rhythm is extraordinary, and he changes the chord sequence, but only from time to time.  Plus his sense of orchestration is extraordinary.  So many subtle touches.  After I have finished writing this I am going back to play this a dozen times over just to get every nuance that he puts within the song.

This is surely the best ever Chimes of Freedom version ever isn’t it?  Of course by the rules of this series I have to write the commentary without looking lots of things up, and it is hard to think of other versions while listening to just this one, but this is absolutely a knockout.

Aaron:  Next up, from one of my favorite Britpop era bands, Kula Shaker with Ballad Of A Thin Man. This was released as a bonus track on their greatest hits compilation.

Tony: You have the advantage of me Aaron, as I don’t know the band (although that doesn’t mean anything – I don’t know most bands).

The problem for me is that by going in with all guns blazing as they do for the first verse, there feels like there isn’t going to be anywhere else to go.   And that is a problem for me because we all know the song so well.  And now we’ve heard their full-on approach from verse one.

The same is true with the instrumental break, we know where it is going to go.  It is the opposite of the Youssou N’Dour version where he throws in so many unexpected variants I can’t stop listening.

Aaron:  Another one exclusive to an artists greatest hits compilation is Its Alright Ma by Terrence Trent D’Arby.

Tony:  Now that instrumental intro is a surprise – how are they going to run the lyrics against such a beat?  But they do it ok, and it is fun, but something is lost, because in the original slower version there is a wonderful contrast between the first part of the verse and the second part (But don’t fear if you hear…)

It’s fun, but it sounds a little bit of trying too hard to be different.  By which I mean that he music doesn’t flow naturally from the lyrics, but rather the aim is to do something that has never been done before.   Which is ok but not enough – in my view.

It’s a bit like the three runs at “It’s all right ma” – ok the first time around, but thereafter… I’m not sure.  I was rather glad it was only three and a half minutes long.

Aaron: Beck next, who covered Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat on the War Child presents Heroes album (surprisingly great album all around!)

 

Tony: a shout in the very first half second doesn’t bode well for me, but the notion of doing this as a dead standard 12 bar blues is fun, and actually works for me.

And why is that?  Do you know, Aaron, I really am not at all sure.  It is just so unexpected I suppose, and the beat is so unusual for this type of song.  The instrumental break is a real treat too.   The percussionist was having great fun too without simply getting louder and louder.   Yep, this is genuinely inventive while at the same time having a real understanding for the original song.  Fun ending too.

So far then, this song and Youssou N’Dour are winning hands down.

Lastly for now it’s Buckwheat Zydeco with On A Night Like This. I’ve actually came across a couple of Zydeco covers of Dylan tracks but this one is the best

 

Tony: Yep, the accordion fits well with this song, and its a bouncy, fun piece in this version.  I’m not sure it adds too much to the original but it doesn’t offend either.

Aaron: To keep the fun going here’s a slightly faster paced live version.

Tony: More fun – shame I couldn’t quite make out the sound made by the washboard.  What’s the sound engineer doing to earn his cash?

Although it’s a strange extra sound to want to add.  It’s fun, it’s bouncy, it’s ok.  Yes it’s ok, but it doesn’t keep me from doing the washing up.  However I do rather think they were miming…

But thank you for reminding me of Youssou N’Dour.  Time to dig out all the other recordings of his work I think.

 

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