Cover versions of Just Like a Woman

by Tony Attwood

My eternal complaint about Dylan covers is that so many artists just perform the song of their choice as it is written or recorded, ignoring the fact that Bob himself clearly thinks that just because a song is recorded one way, that doesn’t mean that is the fixed or “proper” version.

After all, if he can play a song of his half a dozen different ways, then surely other performers ought to be able to find at least a few more ways of playing.

Take Los Cenzontles – they not only play with the instrumentation they turn the whole rhythm of the song inside out with so many off beats it’s hard to keep up yet all the time staying in the 12/8 time signature.  It must have been enormous fun to work this out and rehearse it.   But it must also have taken so long…

Travelling a completely different route is Old Crow – the band who on tour performed what is for me the ultimate version of Visions of Johanna.

They don’t play with the timing, but here I find new life in a song that until I heard this version was never one that I really felt at home with.   What do they do?

They give it a sort of gentleness that I don’t find in most other versions… somehow it drives through what feels like its natural style and speed.   And I do utterly love the instrumentation.

Enzo Pietropaoli however goes somewhere very, very different… and this works wonderfully well for me for the simple reason that I know the music so well.

But if anyone had said before I heard this, “How about a version of ‘Just like a woman’ played on a solo double bass?” I really would have laughed.  Please do listen all the way through – it is extraordinary, delicate and beautiful.

Less idiosyncratic but as interesting and beautiful is the Guitar Dreamers version, because once again they are re-imagining the work, not just saying “Hey let’s do ‘Woman’.”   For the right moment on the right day, this is there just to be put on, to have one’s eyes closed, and to say, “Yes I can stop this crazy helter-skelter of a day, and reflect for a while on where I am and why I am and what the hell I am doing here.”

And, at least for me, that is never a bad thing to do.

Last one, and I nearly didn’t get to hear this one because of the word “grass” – it just shows how prejudice can take over even a seasoned listener.  (I thought it might be bluegrass, which I really find rather hard going.)

But this is beautiful and relaxing.   I could do with a collection of songs played in this way.  And indeed if you have a Spotify account, do type in the band’s name and listen to “Tangled up in blue”.  It’s not a case of one version being better than another, it’s just that on a day when so far I find I haven’t smiled that much, I’m now just grinning all over my face.  (Oh and do listen to that track all the way through – no dropping out after a while).

Here’s a list of most of the articles from this series…

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