Dylan Released and Unreleased: Girl From the North Country

This series involves Aaron looking back to recordings of Dylan songs from unusual formats or situations, and then, having dug them out, handing over to Tony to write a commentary.  Tony has no say in what is chosen, Aaron has no say in what Tony writers.

This time it is the musical, “Girl From the North Country.”

Aaron: Did you ever get a chance to hear any of the cast recordings from the play? I thought these would be right up your street! I got goose bumps listening to some of these…I hope the links work for you! Here’s just some of the performances. I think I need to pick up the cast album. I think you might get a kick out of these.

Tony: A spot of introduction, just in case anyone missed it all.  The advertisements proclaim it as “THE DOUBLE OLIVIER AWARD-WINNING WEST END AND BROADWAY SMASH-HIT RETURNS TO THE UK AS PART OF A MAJOR INTERNATIONAL TOUR.”   (Theatre people like to write in capitals.  I keep telling them it is not an effective way of grabbing attention, but they just won’t listen!)

“Celebrated playwright Conor McPherson (The Weir, The Seafarer) boldly reimagines the legendary songs of Bob Dylan, like you’ve never heard them before, in GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY. A heart-breaking and universal story about family and love, hailed by the Observer as the ‘NO.1 THEATRE SHOW OF THE YEAR’.”

It is interesting that I come to listening to these while I am also running the daily “Dylan Cover of the Day” series, which takes in not just full bloodied studio recordings but also lesser known bands.  What we have here are top rated classical musicians and musical performers working on arrangements of Dylan.

So of course what we also have is emotionally gripping, perfectly realised virtuoso performances and singing of the very highest order.   And indeed listening to this reminds of us just how much one can do with a song of the highest quality.  Nothing sounds overplayed, no matter how many flourishes the vocalist inserts.  Also the simplest of arrangements for the orchestra can still have an utterly overwhelming effect.

Indeed listening to the work of the greatest arrangers is a perfect reminder of just what is possible – with every single detail of the overall sound considered, worked, rehearsed, reworked… What is so interesting here is the simplicity of the piano accompaniment – all the fascinating musical twists come from the vocalists and a tiny amount of percussion.

This is what you get from years and years and years of training and rehearsing, no moving on because it doesn’t work, no “it will all right on the night”, but a ceaseless drive for perfection.

With each performance I fear I am going to repeat myself in terms of just what you can get with the greatest musicians and director, and time to rehearse.  Whoever, before hearing this version of Duquesne Whistle, could have imagined it could sound like this, and take on this new set of meanings?

Well, obviously some people could, but certainly not me, and not in a million years.  And I do like the theatrical arrangements enormously.

I’m in serious danger of just repeating myself – I’m used to listening to so many covers, not just through “Cover of the Day” but also selecting the covers for the Dylanvinci code series, but really, thoroughly enjoyable as those recordings are, they are nowhere near the musical standard or standard of innovation of what we have here.

I was also wondering – if I had never heard “I want you” and then heard this performance in isolation would I have thought, “that must have been written by Dylan”.   I think not.   Maybe there is something in the lyrics and the music that is essentially Dylan, but no, I really don’t think I would have guessed.


All I could try and say I suppose is that I am still, even at my advanced age, a better dancer than they are in the video above… but of course these professionals are actually sublime dancers, putting on a style of dancing to make themselves look like regular folk on a night out, just for the performance.  That’s why I only lasted four years in the London theatre – I really wasn’t up to it.  Although my dancing was ok.

Which is probably why I am in such awe of not just these actors, but also of the arrangers, director, and producer.  I know how far below their standards I was – and I thought myself pretty good at the time.

These arrangements and performances are brilliant.  How could anyone improve on this (although I know someone will).


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  1. Have you had enough time to discover if there are any major differences betwen The Old Vic versions of 2017 (Sony Music) and the new Broadway versions? Wonder how many of the cast are the same or if it is completely different.

  2. You are right about the cast. I have just checked on Wikipedia, which has a breakdown of the five different casts who have been involved since 2017. Have not been able to ascertain if the musical director is still the same, but suspect Simon Hale is still in charge.
    The Old Vic versions of 2017 are still very good.

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