Other people’s songs: Man of Constant Sorrow

Previously in this series…

Intro note – in case you have not come across any of these articles before.  Aaron is in the USA and Tony in the UK – Aaron selects the theme and sends the videos to Tony who then tries to write up his commentary while the music is playing.

Aaron: Here is Bob’s version of “Man of Constant Sorrow” from the debut album.

Aaron: I must have heard hundreds of versions of the song over the years.

Tony: This was a central part of my performance as a teenager in the folk club in Bournemouth (England) in the days when I still thought I might make it as a professional musician (something I singularly failed to do).  I used to play a couple of songs from Dylan’s first two albums copying Dylan note for note, and then throw in one or two of my own.  Those were the days!  But back to the point …

Aaron: Here’s three of my favorites

Ginger Baker (Cream) & Denny Laine (Moody Blues/Wings)

Tony:  Oh from the off I love this, perhaps it is such a contrast from the Dylan song that has been a part of my life, for most of my life.  But then I’m not sure about bringing the chorus in and then keep on building up and up with the vocals getting more and more excitable before the instrumental break.

I know it is something that producers love to do – the whole “let’s start real soft and make it build up” but the latter part of the instrumental break is, for me, just a mess, and then by the return of the vocals I just hear everyone fighting each other.   Of course, the percussion needs to have prominence because it is Ginger, but really…   the vocals on that last verse are just too much for me.   There is no thought at all in any way about the lyrics.  He’s singing “I am a man of constant sorrow” for goodness sake.  It certainly doesn’t sound like he’s in sorrow.    Shoot the producer, go back to the start and listen to how good the opening is.

(Actually, I like that phrase about “shoot the producer”.  I wonder if it is possible to write a song called “Shoot the producer”).

Aaron: Soggy Bottom Boys – from the O Brother, Where Art Thou? movie. The original idea was for George Clooney to provide the lead vocals but when it was obvious his take wasn’t convincing enough Dan Tyminski stepped in. Jump to 1:15

Tony: Actually I disobeyed the instructions and watched the whole thing, which is, what shall I say… actually I don’t know.   But the music is superb – it is a great rendition of the song with superb accompaniment and brilliant harmonies.  Everything the Baker Boys couldn’t do.

Aaron: Home Free – believe it or not this is completely a cappella, everything you hear is made by a human voice!

Tony: Wow.   Aaron are you really sure everything is made by a human voice?   OK I’ll your word for it, but no, surely there are drums in use here!   But either way it is a great version.

And now I’m going to be cheeky and throw in one other recording.

According to Wiki, the song was originally called “Farewell Song” in a songbook by Burnett dated to around 1913.  I think this is about the earliest recording there is – it comes from 1928.

Times change, but the message is still as valid as ever.


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