- Girl From The North Country (1963) part 1: He was a real magpie
- Girl From The North Country (1963) part 2: La Gazza Ladra
- Girl From The North Country (1963) part 3: Whatever “country” is
by Jochen Markhorst
IV À la fille, qui fut mon amour
Dylan’s foray into the Great American Songbook, the triptych Shadows In The Night (2015), Fallen Angels (2016) and Triplicate (2017) is special, but not unique; in this category, Dylan is, for once, not a trendsetter. As it is, any record shop can fill quite a bin with pop and rock stars venturing into the American Songbook, with quite a few Big Names too.
Rod Stewart delivers a whole series (four albums), Bryan Ferry scores as early as 1999 with As Time Goes By, Lady Gaga even reaches the No. 1 position with Tony Bennett (Cheek To Cheek, 2014), and repeats that feat a few years later with Love For Sale (2021), Annie Lennox, Sir Paul McCartney, Cindy Lauper… one bin is probably not enough in this record shop, in any case.
In 2007, record stores can add the next Big Name: Art Garfunkel’s tenth solo album is called Some Enchanted Evening, and is, as the title suggests, Artie’s take on “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face”, “I Remember You”, “Someone To Watch Over Me” and 11 more songs from the Songbook, the songs of Gershwin, Arlen/Koehler, Rodgers/Hammerstein, Burke/Van Heusen and Irving Berlin, the songs that rightly enjoy enduring popularity.
All too much Garfunkel cannot add, unfortunately. Well, his still crushingly beautiful, angelic voice, obviously – over which there is now a slight, not unpleasant rustle, by the way. Apart from that, though, the record is another staging post in the slow, gradual degeneration of Garfunkel’s records, which actually started from the first solo album, 1973’s successful Angel Clare: with each record, Garfunkel’s music becomes more sterile, ethereal and muzak-y.
Which, incidentally, is not just down to production; after the second album, the commercially and artistically successful Breakaway (1975), Art’s instinct for good songs seems to abandon him more and more. Breakaway still has only good to exceptional songs: Stevie Wonder’s “I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)”, a brilliant version of Antônio Carlos Jobim’s “Waters Of March”, Paul Simon’s gem “My Little Town”, Albert Hammond’s beauty “99 Miles From L.A.” and especially the stratospherical Beach Boys song “Disney Girls” – but after this album, the decline irrevocably sets in.
In both the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, however, Garfunkel is wise enough to let his setlists lean on the Simon & Garfunkel repertoire. Mainly the more light-headed, ethereal songs like “For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her”, “A Poem On The Underground Wall” and “Kathy’s Song”, but crowd pleasers like “Sounds Of Silence” and “The Boxer” still keep it balanced. And among the ethereal songs, “Scarborough Fair” has now won a permanent place.
Since 2014, “Scarborough Fair” has not been off Art’s setlist; from the 1970s until 2013, Garfunkel has performed the song some 30 times, since 2014 it has been performed more than 100 times. To which he then usually adds a remarkable coda: after the final words parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, the song gently flows, accompanied only by a single guitar, into
Remember me to one who lives there She once was a true love of mine If you go when the snowflakes fall When the rivers freeze and the summer ends Please see she has a coat so warm To keep her from the howlin’ winds If you’re travelin’ to Scarborough Fair When the winds hit heavy on the borderline Remember me to one who lives there She once was a true love of mine
… a music-historically perfect coda, of course, but Dylan’s song seems to have fascinated him for some time now anyhow. Back in 1981, Art Garfunkel sings a particularly sterile version of Jimmy Webb’s “In Cars” on his understandably flopped album Scissor’s Cut in which suddenly, again in the coda, we hear Art singing “Girl From The North Country” alienatingly and mixed far, far back, like a ghost in the attic. Too weird and vague to be labelled a cover, but the use of Dylan’s song live, in the coda of “Scarborough Fair” that is, makes up for a lot.
Real covers abound, though. Hundreds, if not thousands. Almost all of them beautiful; the song just cannot be broken. At the very least worth mentioning is Rosanne Cash, who, in 2009, began her late father’s homework. Johnny Cash once gave Rosanne a list of “100 essential songs”, and for her album The List she records the first fourteen of them; classics like “Miss The Mississippi And You”, “Long Black Veil” and “500 Miles”… and “Girl From The North Country”.
Fine, but lacking the intensity of, say, Joe Cocker (with Leon Russel on Mad Dogs & Englishmen, 1970), Rod Stewart (who actually always produces great Dylan covers, this one is on 1974’s Smiler) or – especially – the American guitar beast Walter Trout. The studio version (Prisoner Of A Dream, 1991) is superb, but truly goosebump-inducing are the many live versions, in which Trout seems to get into The Zone every time. Not too surprising; in 2017, when Walter against all odds has survived liver cirrhosis thanks to a liver transplant and has returned to the spotlights, he declares from the stage in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands, that he owes everything to three foundations under his work:
- The release of Bob Dylan’s first album,
- The Beatles’ performance on 9 February 1964 on the Ed Sullivan Show, and
- Listening to Paul Butterfield for the first time.
… by which he no doubt does not mean Dylan’s actual first album, given his decades-long, unconditional loyalty to the girl from the North, but rather The Freewheelin’. “Girl From The North Country” he usually announces as “my favourite song, a song written by my friend Mr. Bob Dylan” – and always he uses the song to demonstrate his exceptional skill with the pinky-swell technique. Usually in the second solo.
Walter Trout– Girl From The North Country live:
(sound-wise, the live version on No More Fish Jokes, 1993, is much better – but the intensity of this 1991 recording in Holland is irresistible)
Jimmy LaFave, James Last, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Waylon Jennings, Link Wray, Eels, Eddie Vedder… throw blindfolded a dart into the record shop, and you’ll always hit a bin where a cover can be found. And by far the majority of these don’t stray too far from the original -all of them staying close in terms of tempo, instrumentation and elegance. Though one might get some extra goosebumps if the song is sung by a real girl from the north, by the enchanting Ane Brun for example, with a chilling interpretation on the beautiful album Leave Me Breathless (2017).
(Editor’s note: The video Jochen supplied isn’t playing in the UK, so I’ve added a second version below. Hopefully one of these will work for you. This recording is unbelievably moving).
Ane Brun – Girl From The North Country:
For the truly special je-ne-sais-quoi, we will have to look not only across national borders, but across language borders. The song can – of course – be found in all languages, and even dialects thereof, and it might be obvious to go first of all to a North Country to find a perfect cover. Plenty of choice there, too. “Flickan från landet i norr”, “Hvis du reiser nordover”, “Pigen fra det højeste nord”… more than one cover can be found in the national language in every Nordic country. But they, like German, Czech, Hebrew and all the others, have to lose out to the languages that just happen to always sound good: Italian and French.
French wins. There may be plenty Ragazzi del Nord, but none of our Italian friends match the sheer beauty of Francis Cabrel, when he joins forces with Jean-Jacques Goldman in 1999, picking up Hugues Aufray’s translation, and recording a thoroughly elegant, ultimately moving “La Fille du Nord” for the charity project Sol En Si.
Si tu passe la-bàs vers le Nord
Où les vents souffle sur la frontière
N’oublie pas de donné le bonjour,
À la fille, qui fut mon amour
A-t-elle encore ses blonds cheveux si long, c’est ainsi que je l’aimais bien… In retrospect, it’s a shame Echo lived in Hibbing. And not in Quebec, over the borderline.
Jochen is a regular reviewer of Dylan’s work on Untold. His books, in English, Dutch and German, are available via Amazon both in paperback and on Kindle:
- Blood on the Tracks: Dylan’s Masterpiece in Blue
- Blonde On Blonde: Bob Dylan’s mercurial masterpiece
- Where Are You Tonight? Bob Dylan’s hushed-up classic from 1978
- Desolation Row: Bob Dylan’s poetic letter from 1965
- Basement Tapes: Bob Dylan’s Summer of 1967
- Mississippi: Bob Dylan’s midlife masterpiece
- Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits
- John Wesley Harding: Bob Dylan meets Kafka in Nashville
- Tombstone Blues b/w Jet Pilot: Dylan’s lookin’ for the fuse
- Street-Legal: Bob Dylan’s unpolished gem from 1978
- Bringing It All Back Home: Bob Dylan’s 2nd Big Bang
- Time Out Of Mind: The Rising of an Old Master
- Crossing The Rubicon: Dylan’s latter-day classic