By Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood
One of the great things about having a website that has been running since 2008 (which now seems to me to be an awfully long time ago) is that over that time we have come up with all sorts of ideas, which have amused us for a while, and then run their course, but which upon re-inspection, still seem worthy of dusting down and considering again.
So it is with the “Why does Dylan like” series which to my amazement when I looked up the index has 45 entries in it.
Thus Aaron has come up with the idea of looking at the theme (which is pretty much explained by the title) once again, and suggested we take a look at Easy and Slow to start with. Here’s Bob’s version:
Aaron: Dylan only tried it once, at a rehearsal in 1975 and as you can hear, it’s just him and his guitar. The version was included on the 14 disc Rolling Thunder box.
It had been suggested that Dominic Behan wrote (or maybe he simply “collected”) the verses in the 40s. The Dubliners as well as the Clancy Brothers popularized the song in the late 60s, and that’s probably where Bob knows the song from.
Tony: It is interesting that this is at a rehearsal, in that there is applause at the end. At rehearsals, people don’t normally applaud each other – and the number of people clapping sounds far larger than one would expect to be at a rehearsal. But maybe it was all different with Bob.
Bob clearly knows the song very well – he’s obviously played it through many times, has the lyrics perfect, and the accompaniment sounds like it has been played often. That doesn’t mean it’s particularly complex but rather it has that easy feel of a guitar part that is now an old friend. The harmonica fits in neatly as well.
I am often amazed at Dylan’s recollection of lyrics; he picks them up so quickly and even when he has changed the lyrics between on-stage versions he rarely slips. Believe me, it is much harder than you might think and needs total focus, even when playing a song that one has played 500 times before.
For me this is staggeringly beautiful both in terms of the arrangement and the performance. It is sad it is not better known.
Tony: I do admire the Dubliners both for their persistence in maintaining the traditions of Irish folk songs. But for me the accompaniment isn’t right – it doesn’t add anything to the performance or the delivery of the vocals. I just don’t have the need to go on listening.
Now of course I know that in the days when the traditional songs were written, each verse was performed in the same way – but then normally without accompaniment so even the slightest extra emphasis here or pause there was important musically. However …
Frank Harte suggests that Dominic Behan was the first to popularise it, and that what he did was take the verses from Sean O’Casey’ play “Red Roses for Me” in the 1940s.
So maybe not as old as it is made to sound.
Tony: My opening reaction is “What a silly picture”. Of course that is by the way, but really these guys don’t need something as naff as that.
But, I don’t know, maybe it’s because I am a Dylan fan, maybe it’s because I listened to his version first and then came to these earlier versions, it is the Dylan version that I much prefer.
Indeed in this version, adding the beat just before the three minute mark seems rather like the producer saying “come on guys can’t we have something else in here, it’s getting tedious.” Maybe not, but as a musical arrangement it really does seem false, and the best arrangements are those that instantly sound completely right and natural.
Yes I can see the point of the harp and pennywhistle, and maybe if I hadn’t listened to the earlier versions I would have been more receptive, but once you know the story, it just sounds to me as if they are desperately trying to find a way to keep the song going.
Actually, I can imagine sitting in a folk club where the audience is appreciative, attentive and above all silent, and being drawn into this by the atmosphere of the club and the quality of the singing, but on record, sitting here, looking at the wind blowing the trees in the autumn sunshine, no, it doesn’t quite get there.
Back to Dylan I think. Try the recording here…
This one says on the internet “Easy and slow 1975 – Bob Dylan club Norway – Facebook”. The album says “Seacrest Motel Rehearsals, Falmouth, MA – October 1975”. Probably not Norway then. Or is there a Norway in MA?
My time is almost up on this one, but from listening to each recording once while writing I’d say they are both the same. Can anyone give a definitive source of information?
And so, to end by answering the question, “Why does Dylan like Easy and Slow” – it is a beautifully crafted song, very much reminiscent of past days, and with lyrics that allow the emotions of the song to come through without being overplayed in the performance. It just tells the tale as it was, and the sadness is for us to take or leave. Played as Dylan plays it, it is beautiful. Really, really worth a listen. Forget the other versions.