Dylan Cover a Day: New Pony. Listen where and when appropriate

by Tony Attwood

The trouble with the 12 bar blues is that there are so many millions of them around it is hard to do much that is new – although of course the great musicians most certainly still achieve novelty and interest within this most restrictive of musical forms.

Bob Dylan did indeed create an interesting piece with “New Pony”, but it is such a distinctive piece within the 12 bar format (even with the variant that Dylan introduces by having the repeat line using the same chord as the first line, and the “how much longer” line added) that those who wish to cover the song now have a double problem: the format and Dylan’s inventiveness.   The format is fixed, and Dylan’s inventiveness knows no bounds.

As a result not too many have tried to make a cover version of this song.

Jenna Silverman tells us from the off that this is going to be a pretty straight copy by giving us an introduction that is almost a complete reproduction of Dylan’s arrangement.  And that turns out to be quite clever as her voice is so distinctive and seductive it is quite a contrast to the overall format, and so it turns out we need little else.

No matter that the backing singings do their part as a straight copy, the interest is built up, and when the saxophone comes in for its solo I’m still there paying full attention.  And indeed it is excellent playing by the saxophonist.  A great ending too.

The Dead Weather with Jack White is the cover version I particularly thought of when contemplating this little piece before actually playing any of the videos.   The band seems to take on the notion that Dylan’s version is a mere gentle introduction to what could be done with a 12 bar variant, and in such a situation the percussionist just goes off and has a field day.

The trouble is I’m writing this at 9.30am on a sunday in a peaceful Northamptonshire village, after dancing last night with one of my favourite dance partners, until midnight, and I’m not really sure my environment really helps me appreciate this to its fullest extent.  Mind you I have had breakfast, so that helps.

Maria McKee has a voice that takes us elsewhere, and a nice elsewhere it is.  Except I wonder about the need for a female chorus with the “How much longer” with McKee’s fine vocals running the show.  I wonder what it would sound like with a male chorus?

But I find the instrumental break a disappointment – surely the pianist can do more than hit the tonic chord over and over again.

However, the drop-down “voodoo” verse is a really neat idea which I’ve not heard elsewhere.   Although going straight back into the full-bloodied edition immediately after is perhaps a little too obvious for such a talented group of musicians.   But maybe playing it at midnight Friday/Saturday might help, rather than this calm and peaceful autumn morning.

Outside there is the faintest breeze moving the top of the poplar trees and the sun just slightly shines through the wispy clouds.   In fact I really think I am playing the wrong piece of music for this day and this time of day.   But that’s not their fault.

Do listen to the end – it’s a simple idea but very much worth hearing.

The Dylan Cover a Day series

One comment

  1. By far, my favorite cover of “New Pony” belongs to Robbie Fulks. The studio cut can only be found on his treatment of “Street Legal,” which in turn can only be had on vinyl, but a fantastic live version exists on YouTube.

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