By Tony Attwood
I must admit I approached this classic with trepidation. Of course it is a masterpiece of the genre, but it is just that I don’t think I’ve chosen to play it and listen with any sort of contemplative focus that I think the song needs to appreciate it, since I first bought it. That failing is of course mine – the song is widely regarded as one of the greats, and yet I find I don’t want to give it 11 minutes of my time. I bought the album in 1966 and dutifully played it a few times – and of course have listened a few times since, but it just doesn’t move me. Work of genius it might be, so I guess the failings are all mine.
However in 2017 along came 50 Years of Blonde on Blonde – the album of the Old Crowe Medicine Show recorded the year before. And then I discovered the composition properly. But I’ll have to leave that recording to last in my little selection of Lowland covers, because for me it is such an overwhelmingly brilliant re-working of the song everything else falls into the shade. Yet some of the covers deserve far more than that relegation.
And as I often try to say, that is just “for me.” My response to music is always initially emotional, and I am sure that for everyone else it has always been a masterpiece, and perhaps Dylan’s original recording is still often listened to and noted as being a great work. And indeed others have looked, listened and successfully taken the song elsewhere, and I’ll try and show in this little selection.
But if like me, the song is not for you, you are excused a complete run through all these tracks (although they are excellent), although if I may I would you not to skip everything but to go to the end of the article, for the final version in this collection really is beyond everything else. (Although really I think you might get some enjoyment from the other versions that come before the grand finale.)
Jessica Rhaye and the Ramshackle Parade give us rhythms variations and harmonies that take us from the constancy of the original, without losing the message – but now the music brings us the thought that life does indeed go on, no matter what, and the memories of the past can be a useful bridge to the future. Sometimes.
Moving on, I was very hesitant about including a solo version of the song, but Juliana Daily does carry it off through the restrained passion of her performance. A memorable version indeed.
Weyes Blood keeps the feel of the original… at first but keeps my interest with the build up of the accompaniment and gives us an extra chorus and verse without lyrics at the end – which is a brave notion. I didn’t think it would, but it does indeed work as a conclusion.
A solo guitar instrumental version of Sad Eyed Lady? Surely that is impossible given that it is five identical musical verses (each of three sections) and what keeps us going are the lyrics… and yet it has been done – and again to my surprise, with success. Although largely that is because it is by Ken Navarro. And indeed this version really did invoke another re-think of the whole song.
But I must admit everything above is building up to this moment. Old Crow, as you perhaps well know, did the whole double album some years back, in their own style. And in fact they start “Sad Eyed Lady” by playing… yes their version of “Visions of Johanna”…. which amazingly does become “Sad Eyed Lady”. It is a stunningly brilliant idea, and gives a completely new insight and meaning to the whole song. In fact it virtually is a new song, except that when we get to the title line we know where we are.
Until I heard this version I really didn’t connect “Sad Eyed” with “Visions” and yet having heard both in the Old Crow versions, I suddenly realised they are both about the same woman. OK she might not be real (how would I know?) but the image is the same.
So, back to “Sad Eyed”, the harmonies Old Crow find are extraordinary, in that they sound obvious, and yet I am not sure anyone thought of them before.
But most of all, this arrangement changes the entire meaning of the song. The sadness is replaced by vigour. Now the singer is fighting back. He’s not defeated, he’s moving on, because he’s the one with life and vitality and a future. The answer to “should I wait?” suddenly becomes “NO! Absolutely not, there’s a world out there and it is waiting for me.”
So, the song now says, you are your own problem, not my problem. I am moving on. What a brilliant revision.
I have been so grateful over the years for a number of Old Crow reworkings of Dylan and I’ve noted these quite a few times on this site, but I think this one is the best of them all.
And if you have been lurking around Untold for a while you may recall my writing before the Old Crow’s version of “Visions” was how song was always meant to sound. The same is true of “Sad Eyed Lady”.
And just in case you haven’t had enough here’s Visions by Old Crow
- The Dylan Cover a Day series
- The song with numbers in the title.
- Ain’t Talkin
- All I really want to do
- Apple Suckling and Are you Ready.
- As I went out one morning
- Ballad for a Friend
- Ballad in Plain D
- Ballad of a thin man
- Frankie Lee and Judas Priest
- The ballad of Hollis Brown
- Beyond here lies nothing
- Blind Willie McTell
- Black Crow Blues (more fun than you might recall)
- An unexpected cover of “Black Diamond Bay”
- Blowin in the wind as never before
- Bob Dylan’s Dream
- You will not believe this… 115th Dream revisited
- Boots of Spanish leather
- Born in Time
- Buckets of Rain
- Can you please crawl out your window
- Can’t wait
- Changing of the Guard
- Chimes of Freedom
- Country Pie
- Crash on the Levee
- Dark Eyes
- Dear Landlord
- Desolation Row as never ever before (twice)
- Don’t fall apart on me tonight.
- Don’t think twice
- Down along the cove
- Drifter’s Escape
- Duquesne Whistle
- Farewell Angelina
- Foot of Pride and Forever Young
- Fourth Time Around
- From a Buick 6
- Gates of Eden
- Gotta Serve Somebody
- Hard Rain’s a-gonna Fall.
- Heart of Mine
- High Water
- Highway 61
- I am a lonesome hobo
- I believe in you
- I contain multitudes
- I don’t believe you.
- I love you too much
- I pity the poor immigrant.
- I shall be released
- I threw it all away
- I want you
- I was young when I left home
- I’ll remember you
- Idiot Wind and More idiot wind
- If not for you, and a rant against prosody
- If you Gotta Go, please go and do something different
- If you see her say hello
- Dylan cover a day: I’ll be your baby tonight
- I’m not there.
- In the Summertime, Is your love and an amazing Isis
- It ain’t me babe
- It takes a lot to laugh
- It’s all over now Baby Blue
- It’s all right ma
- Just Like a Woman
- Knocking on Heaven’s Door
- Lay down your weary tune
- Lay Lady Lay
- Lenny Bruce
- That brand new leopard skin pill box hat
- Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts
- License to kill
- Like a Rolling Stone
- Love is just a four letter word
- Love Sick
- Maggies Farm!
- Make you feel my love; a performance that made me cry.
- Mama you’ve been on my mind
- Man in a long black coat.
- Masters of War
- Meet me in the morning
- Million Miles. Listen, and marvel.
- Mississippi. Listen, and marvel (again)
- Most likely you go your way
- Most of the time and a rhythmic thing
- Motorpsycho Nitemare
- Mr Tambourine Man
- My back pages, with a real treat at the end
- New Morning
- New Pony. Listen where and when appropriate
- Nobody Cept You
- North Country Blues
- No time to think
- Obviously Five Believers
- Oh Sister
- On the road again
- One more cup of coffee
- (Sooner or later) one of us must know
- One too many mornings
- Only a hobo
- Only a pawn in their game
- Outlaw Blues – prepare to be amazed
- Oxford Town
- Peggy Day and Pledging my time
- Please Mrs Henry
- Political world
- Positively 4th Street
- Precious Angel
- Property of Jesus
- Queen Jane Approximately
- Quinn the Eskimo as it should be performed.
- Quit your lowdown ways
- Rainy Day Women as never before
- Restless Farewell. Exquisite arrangements, unbelievable power
- A Dylan Cover a Day: Ring them bells in many different ways
- A Dylan cover a day: Romance in Durango, covered and re-written