A Dylan cover a Day: Shelter from the Storm

By Tony Attwood

A strange moment to be writing this: despite this being a mid-morning in July and thus the English summer, there is a huge storm raging and the rain is teaming down.  Rather appropriate in a way.  Thunder rolls in the background, but the temperature is pleasantly warm.

And I choose (by chance) this moment to comment upon one of Bob’s simplest songs in a musical sense but one with complex entwined lyrics (what are we to make of “the deputy walks on hard nails and the preacher rides a mount”?), that can be easily overlooked because of that repetitive simplicity within the music…

'Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and bloodWhen blackness was a virtue the road was full of mudI came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form"Come in," she said, "I'll give ya shelter from the storm"

The rhymes are simple (blood/mud; form/storm) the construction is simple, the accompaniment is simple; the meaning is, well, possibly very simple, the meaning is increasingly obscure.  What is the cover artist to do with this complex simplicity?

Cassandra Wilson and the production team add to the accompaniment while keeping the idea of openness and she manipulates the melody beautifully and elegantly with the occasional but appropriate pauses.  Even when she adds extra emphasis it stays within the context, and keeps within the bounds of the song.

We also get some interesting manipulations of the chordal background especially in the inter-verse pauses.   Of course one can be critical of some of the variations, but if there are no variations at all then what is the point of doing a cover?

Personally, I am not sure about the coda and fade out, but then, it’s her production…

Rodney Crowell has taken us further back to the basics with the two-person harmonies from the off, and I think they have made the right decision by not overplaying the part.  We can get used to the way the whole piece is worked through before they unexpectedly change key for the female vocalists.    But what really makes this work is that everything is under control.  OK the return to the original key when the male vocal returns is obvious and expected, but this is a simple song with its repeated line at the end of each verse.  The expected is fine.

Personally, I think the song can live without extra guitar effects, but this is a delicate version of a beautiful song that we all know intimately.  And for me it really works.

The only bit I am really going to complain about is the spoken verse.  Lots of singers try it, but (once again, for me) it never ever works.   Maybe that’s just me, but really, it is a song, not a recitation.

The song in fact is so simple that listening to lots of covers it is clear that many performers and arrangers don’t quite know which way to look.

The notion of slowing the whole thing right down as per Steve Adey, is interesting, but I think the problem is that I know the song so well, it is now too much to take.   Maybe if I were just sitting at home with nothing to do and wanted to drift into another place this would work, but in the morning at home, watching the rain pour down, it still seems to have gone too far.

If I had just come across Barb Jungr without reference to any of the above I am not sure what I would have made of this version, but this is now interesting….   I particularly like the “I was burned out from exhaustion, buried in the hail, Poisoned in the bushes an’ blown out on the trail” verse.

But way beyond everything above the version by Tom Lum Forest (of whom I know nothing) is just out on its own.  Everything is perfect – accompaniment, vocals, harmonies, the progress of the music through the whole piece…

Jochenn’s review is of course still on this site and he notes, “The approval of the master himself only Cassandra Wilson receives, even before he has heard her version. In the Time Magazine interview with John Farley, September 2001, Dylan sings, unrequited, her qualities:

“Among the few contemporary acts that excite him is jazz singer Cassandra Wilson. ‘She is one of my favorite singers today,’ says Dylan. ‘I heard her version of Death Letter Blues—gave me the chills. I love everything she does.’ He says he would like to see her cover some of his songs.

Cassandra does not give him a chance to change his mind. Immediately on her next album, Belly Of The Sun (2002), she performs a chillingly beautiful version of “Shelter From The Storm”, full of pent-up suspense, a slightly hoarse, muffled and most of all sensitive, lyrical execution.

And really I can’t argue with that. although maybe on my desert island, I’d still take Tom Lum Forest.  But I’m willing to try Cassandra again.

The Dylan Cover a Day series

  1. The song with numbers in the title.
  2. Ain’t Talkin
  3. All I really want to do
  4.  Angelina
  5.  Apple Suckling and Are you Ready.
  6. As I went out one morning
  7.  Ballad for a Friend
  8. Ballad in Plain D
  9. Ballad of a thin man
  10.  Frankie Lee and Judas Priest
  11. The ballad of Hollis Brown
  12. Beyond here lies nothing
  13. Blind Willie McTell
  14.  Black Crow Blues (more fun than you might recall)
  15. An unexpected cover of “Black Diamond Bay”
  16. Blowin in the wind as never before
  17. Bob Dylan’s Dream
  18. BoB Dylan’s 115th Dream revisited
  19. Boots of Spanish leather
  20. Born in Time
  21. Buckets of Rain
  22. Can you please crawl out your window
  23. Can’t wait
  24. Changing of the Guard
  25. Chimes of Freedom
  26. Country Pie
  27.  Crash on the Levee
  28. Dark Eyes
  29. Dear Landlord
  30. Desolation Row as never ever before (twice)
  31. Dignity.
  32. Dirge
  33. Don’t fall apart on me tonight.
  34. Don’t think twice
  35.  Down along the cove
  36. Drifter’s Escape
  37. Duquesne Whistle
  38. Farewell Angelina
  39. Foot of Pride and Forever Young
  40. Fourth Time Around
  41. From a Buick 6
  42. Gates of Eden
  43. Gotta Serve Somebody
  44. Hard Rain’s a-gonna Fall.
  45. Heart of Mine
  46. High Water
  47. Highway 61
  48. Hurricane
  49. I am a lonesome hobo
  50. I believe in you
  51. I contain multitudes
  52. I don’t believe you.
  53. I love you too much
  54. I pity the poor immigrant. 
  55. I shall be released
  56. I threw it all away
  57. I want you
  58. I was young when I left home
  59. I’ll remember you
  60. Idiot Wind and  More idiot wind
  61. If not for you, and a rant against prosody
  62. If you Gotta Go, please go and do something different
  63. If you see her say hello
  64. Dylan cover a day: I’ll be your baby tonight
  65. I’m not there.
  66. In the Summertime, Is your love and an amazing Isis
  67. It ain’t me babe
  68. It takes a lot to laugh
  69. It’s all over now Baby Blue
  70. It’s all right ma
  71. Just Like a Woman
  72. Knocking on Heaven’s Door
  73. Lay down your weary tune
  74. Lay Lady Lay
  75. Lenny Bruce
  76. That brand new leopard skin pill box hat
  77. Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts
  78. License to kill
  79. Like a Rolling Stone
  80. Love is just a four letter word
  81. Love Sick
  82. Maggies Farm!
  83. Make you feel my love; a performance that made me cry.
  84. Mama you’ve been on my mind
  85. Man in a long black coat.
  86. Masters of War
  87. Meet me in the morning
  88. Million Miles. Listen, and marvel.
  89. Mississippi. Listen, and marvel (again)
  90. Most likely you go your way
  91. Most of the time and a rhythmic thing
  92. Motorpsycho Nitemare
  93. Mozambique
  94. Mr Tambourine Man
  95. My back pages, with a real treat at the end
  96. New Morning
  97. New Pony. Listen where and when appropriate
  98. Nobody Cept You
  99. North Country Blues
  100. No time to think
  101. Obviously Five Believers
  102. Oh Sister
  103. On the road again
  104. One more cup of coffee
  105. (Sooner or later) one of us must know
  106. One too many mornings
  107. Only a hobo
  108. Only a pawn in their game
  109. Outlaw Blues – prepare to be amazed
  110. Oxford Town
  111. Peggy Day and Pledging my time
  112. Please Mrs Henry
  113. Political world
  114. Positively 4th Street
  115. Precious Angel
  116. Property of Jesus
  117. Queen Jane Approximately
  118. Quinn the Eskimo as it should be performed.
  119. Quit your lowdown ways
  120. Rainy Day Women as never before
  121. Restless Farewell. Exquisite arrangements, unbelievable power
  122. Ring them bells in many different ways
  123. Romance in Durango, covered and re-written
  124. Sad Eyed Lady of Lowlands, like you won’t believe
  125. Sara
  126. Senor
  127. A series of Dreams; no one gets it (except Dylan)
  128. Seven Days
  129. She Belongs to Me



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