by Tony Attwood
This recording comes from 23 October 1997.
Now of course not only are the performances that I choose for this series a very personal reflection, they are also reflections that change from day to day. So I must admit that my inclusion of this version of this song is slightly influenced by the fact that I found myself writing about Blind Willie McTell just the other day in the “Lyrics and Music” series.
But I’ve gone for this version as my favourite, because of the way the backing track with its four-chord accompaniment after each line of the verse is maintained throughout. It gives us a solidity to the song which wasn’t there before. Which is not to say that other versions are not excellent musically, but rather that this arrangement goes that little bit further.
If one listens, for example, to the “God is up in His heaven” verse which is more gentle than the others, that backing music is still there at the end of each line. What’s more, the follow-up line “And we are what was His” seems to take on a much greater meaning here.
I think what really works for me is the entanglement of the instruments here, symbolising (to me if to no one else) the entanglement of the concepts of the almighty God and His creation.
But going right back to the beginning I think also that Bob gets a feel in his singing that is not always there, from the very start with
Seen the arrow on the doorpostSaying this land is condemned
We also get a couple of instrumental breaks which I think work really well, but as ever that seems to be done at the expense of a couple of verses. I’ve mentioned this before in these articles: it appears that Bob has a concept of how many verses there are going to be, so if a couple of them are instrumental, then that means a couple of the sung verses are dropped.
Is there a logic in that? I can’t see it, but Bob of course knows, and it is after all his piece. But just so you know (not that you don’t know anyway) what we lose are
Seen them big plantations burningHear the cracking of the whips Smell that sweet magnolia blooming See the ghost of slavery ship There's a chain gang on the highway I can hear them rebels yell And I know no one can sing the blues Like Blind Wille McTell
Of course, this is not a song where each verse follows the other – it is a song of atmosphere and consideration, not of logical sequence. But I guess I just always want more and more.
But at least thanks to those who make the recordings, and to Mike Johnson for curating them, we do have the recordings.
The Absolute Highlights series
- 1: John Brown 1987
- 2: Desolation Row. 1990.
- 3: She Belongs to Me
- 4: Tangled up in Blue
- 5: I and I – power without meaning
- 6: It ain’t me babe – go lightly.
- 7: Perfection in desolation – Gates of Eden
- 8: Girl from the North Country.
- 9: When He Returns
- 10: It’s alright Ma
- 11: Satisfied Mind
- 12: Visions of Johanna
- 13: Dark Eyes
- 14: Man in the long black coat
- 15: Don’t think twice (2000)
- 16: Silvio (1998)
- 17: Gates of Eden (2000)
- 18: One Too Many Mornings 2001.
- 19: It’s all over now baby blue 1994
- 20: The Wicked Messenger
- 21: Positively 4th Street (1994)
- 22: I and I
- 23: Restless Farewell
- 24: Botony Bay