Other people’s songs: Rank Stranger To Me

Previously in this series…

By Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood

Aaron: Bob’s version of Rank Stranger To Me appeared on Down in the Groove

Tony: This was written by Albert E Brumley, and I must admit I found myself completely without any knowledge of the composer of this wonderful song.  He was a tenant farmer (sharecropper) and so grew up picking cotton on the family farm.  But his musical talent took him away from the farm to Hartford Musical Institute in Arkansas.

Aside from Rank Stranger, he wrote around 800 songs (including the hymn “I’ll fly away”) and was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.   He died in 1977.

Aaron: Back in the day the song was recorded by all and sundry with the Stanley Brothers being the most famous.

Tony: Not knowing the song in any version other than Bob’s, it is a bit of a shock to hear this version – and I guess this is how it originally sounded.  I don’t know enough about the song to know if Bob was the first person to transform it as he did for “Down in the Groove” version, but my goodness he has put in a lot of power and passion into his version, which I don’t hear in the Stanley Brothers version.

Aaron: More recently the song seems to have fallen out of favor to cover. I only have one other version in my collection: Vic Chesnutt.

He was a quadriplegic with limited use of his hands but realized he could still play basic chords. He recorded 17 albums before his untimely death at just 45 in 2009. Check out his work if you have a moment, he was quite, quite brilliant.

Tony: This is an extraordinary sound with the guitar being dominant over the voices.  For me the rhythm feels too plodding, and it is Bob’s move away from this that makes his version seem so good in my opinion.  But the notion of making it sound this way is really interesting.

Aaron: The only other recent version was by tenor Alfie Boe on his 2012 album Storyteller.

Tony: This video isn’t playing for me in the UK [to explain, Aaron is in the USA and sends me his selection and comments and then I add mine in England], but I am guessing it works in the US so I am leaving it in.   But if it doesn’t work for you, please scroll down…

… for here is one that I have found that works in the UK

This is the Royal Albert Hall performance from 2013 (which I add in case this version isn’t available in your area).   The performance starts at around 1 minute 35 seconds.

And for me, this is the one performance that like Bob’s that gives me a piece that I want to listen to today – it delivers the power that the lyrics demand.

I wandered again to my home in the mountain
Where in youth's early dawn, I was happy and free
I looked for my friends but I never could find them
I found they were all rank strangers to me

Everybody I met seemed to be a rank stranger
No mother or dad, not a friend could I see
They knew not my name and I knew not their faces
I found they were all rank strangers to me

"Well, they all moved away, " said the voice of a stranger
"To some beautiful home on that bright, crystal sea"
Some beautiful day, well, I'll meet 'em in Heaven
Where no one will be a stranger to me

Everybody I met seemed to be a rank stranger
No mother or dad, not a friend could I see
They knew not my name and I knew not their faces
I found they were all rank strangers to me

These lyrics are incredibly powerful and they deserve a performance like this, or like Bob’s, to do them justice.

And oh, to have a voice like Alfie Boe’s!

Thanks Aaron as ever for launching us yet again into another fascinating musical journey.  I really do enjoy these journies of discovery.

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3 Responses to Other people’s songs: Rank Stranger To Me

  1. Larry Fyffe says:

    Gentlemen rankers out on a spree
    Damned from here to eternity
    God have mercy on such as we
    (Rudyard Kipling: Gentlemen Rankers)

  2. Loren Terveen says:

    Try Freakeater’s version!

  3. We are actively promoting a link to this interesting topic on The Bob Dylan Project at:
    https://thebobdylanproject.com/Song/id/517/Rank-Strangers-to-Me

    If you are interested, we are a portal to all the great information related to this topic.

    Join us inside Bob Dylan’s Music Box.

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