Dylan Cover of the Day 15: Blowin in the wind as never before

Previously in this series…

By Tony Attwood

Now it gets tough.  When I started writing this piece I couldn’t think of any cover version of “Blowin in the wind” that really stood out for me.  And then searching around for cover versions that I might not know I found over 500 available.  Which may seem like quite a few but that’s the iceberg on the tip of… or whatever the phrase is.  There’s thousands of the things out there.

And worse (and this is of course just my opinion) most of them add absolutely nothing to the original.  OK they might add strings or a female chorus, so in that sense they add, but in terms of the feeling one can get from the piece, or the depth of understanding, or the emotional experience… no there is nothing new.

But I started this series, and it would be ludicrous not to have a cover of Blowin’ so I started with the original from the Chad Mitchell Trio recorded in 1962.

So that’s how it was first seen – humming backing and plinky plink banjo, with strict tempo and standard, but perfectly executed harmonies.   Yes that is how it used to be.

Now when we did a previous venture into Dylan covers, featuring those kindly submitted by Untold Dylan readers, we did have one that I remembered, and playing it again it still sounds good…   I haven’t gone back to this for several years, but it really is refreshing and gives me new faith in musical arrangers.

So what I decided to do, in the absence of anything in my memory that made me say, “This is the greatest cover” was to pick out a few unusual versions of the song from modern times.  Or at leat from the 21st century.

2003 delivered the String Quartet Tribute – which changed the key from the major to minor, which is interesting in itself.  But then it suffers from the fact that the song is strophic (which is to say verse, verse, verse) and chordally based, so you end up with the chug chug chug effect of the chords, from which we are not released until the third verse.

2008 brought a guitar version of Pierre Van Dormael – by no means the first instrumental edition, but one that stands out for me because of the space it allows for us to appreciate the simple but highly effective representation of the chords without playing any.

2010 saw the song travel much further, and really you only have play a few seconds to know this is beyond any previous edge imagined for the song in times past.  But I would beg you to stay with it at least for 30 seconds just to appreciate what is going on.   This is one of the renditions that really does something for me – it honestly gives me insights into what there is in the piece which I never had before.

Moving forward a little more to 2013, as you’ll see from the cover of the album below this is a solo guitar.   Even if by now you are getting a bit bored with all the oddities please do give this a chance – once again it takes us on a journey not imagined when Dylan wrote the original, but still one worth travelling.

And now 2018, which is what this whole meander has built up to – if a meander can ever be said to build up.   This is a vocal version that really gives me something additional.  The Mayries offer something so plaintive that I wonder how I could ever not have understood that this is how this song deserves to be played.

and to show that it is not a one off here are the ladies playing It ain’t me babe.

And because the whole of my country is gripped by the combination of a new outbreak of the pandemic and thoughts about Christmas I thought I would add this.

This ability to re-arrange and deliver performances of such simple elegance and beauty is a rare talent indeed.   This of course isn’t Dylan – it’s a Joni Mitchell song, and I got here by chance.   But that’s really what this is all about.   Just having an after-lunch meander.

What else does one say during a pandemic?  “I wish I had a river I could skate away on,” feels about right.

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