By Tony Attwood
The trouble with highly emotional, slow songs is that there is a temptation to go over the top with the expressiveness of the vocalist, as if to say, “you won’t understand these lyrics unless I show you what the emotion within them is”.
But this is nonsense, for as Bob showed in the version below it is completely unnecessary. By taking out the emotion from the performance and singing it in a dead straight way, it becomes much more powerful as this recording shows.
I’m not saying this is a perfect rendition of the song, but by adopting this approach Bob gets us to think about and feel the desperate sadness of the lyrics, in a way that is hidden when vocalists try and express the meaning as sound rather than letting the words and the simple melody speak for themselves.
The trouble is few producers would ever dare to allow a vocalist to take on this approach. So what can very decent performers they do with the song?
Jimmy LaFave takes it very gently with a beautiful and delicate instrumental opening. And although he puts in a fine and varied vocal, he manages to stop it going over the top. Thus he retains the original feel of Dylan, but with the melody restored rather than removed (as in the Dylan version above).
As a result, the rendition is beautiful indeed…
It is the ladies who seem drawn to this type of song, and Amy LaVere is to be congratulated by keeping the simplicity of the song. However the break up of the rhythm might seem necessary because they have made so much of that rhythm earlier, but it doesn’t actually help – that double beat near the end of the verse is grating.
Fried Green Tomatoes keep the accompaniment under control, which is really what is needed, and even the harmonies are kept within the context of the song, but the build-up with the female vocalist improvising lines over the music is ludicrous. You don’t need a shouted-out, “Oh yes I did” in a song like this. In fact it is the absolutely last thing we need.
Thea Gilmore however normally has a much deeper understanding of what Bob’s songs are actually about, and either she has an arranger utterly sympathetic to what fits her voice or else she is telling the arranger what to do. Either way it works very well indeed.
This really is how it should be done – even the harmonies in the middle 8 (“Didn’t I try”) which is the part where arrangers normally go over the top, are beautifully done.
Generally however the notion that “Keep it simple” is a valid concept when making a recording, is one that is lost on most producers.
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