A Dylan Cover a Day – To Ramona: unexpectedly yes!

By Tony Attwood

Next on the list of Dylan songs (in alphabetical order) which have been covered more than once or twice, we come to “To Ramona”, and somehow I had it in my mind that this hadn’t been covered much – and that perhaps there wasn’t really that much to cover.

But yet another mistake on my part.   It has been covered lots, although sadly quite a few of the covers are nothing other than the artist singing the song pretty much as Dylan sang it, and using a very simple accompaniment in the way Dylan did.

And that is pretty inexcusable since Bob has himself played it over 380 times on the Never Ending Tour – and he managed to find a lot to do with the song.  This version is from 2015 (NET 2015 part 1).  It makes me think we should do a feature on the song in the Tour for the NET Extended series.

But it has been a bit of a struggle to find such variance in the work of other artists.  (If only people wanting to cover Dylan would read Mike Johnson’s brilliant series of articles – they would surely get some inspiration and understand: the songs are there to be changed not repeated.)

However this series is committed to covers, and there really are some interesting ones out there aside from all the straight copies, which I am not going to bother with.

Wilko Johnson goes in full burst complete with an accordion doing its accordion thing…

And that’s not really what I was hoping for, because this is not a rock song, so let’s move on.

Leoni Jansen gets the feeling as I think it should be, keeping that singular lilting 6/8 time (which runs 123,123 throughout).   And as the accompaniment grows it stays in keeping with the song, and with the chosen approach. I think it’s a marimba that is brought in around 1’23” – and for me although it is repetitive, it is highly effective and totally in keeping.

These United States surprised me because their rhythmic background which is utterly different from anything Dylan imagined.  They are back in 4/4 time but with that percussion playing eight beats to the bar behind the vocals.

I love this not just because I find it a great listen, but also because it is so unexpected.  Yes, I could imagine one doing this to the song, but I couldn’t imagine it could be made to work (which obviously shows my musical limitations in old age).

The band has given itself a huge problem, in introducing the radically different rhythm from the start, and it is hard to build onto that, but they do it very effectively until suddenly taking us back down at around 2’50” (I’ll forever talk to you).

This is one of those great experiments that against all the odds (as I see them) actually works.   As does the sudden stop without the vocalist going over the top for the last line.  Unexpected, and superb.

Total contrast is needed and Piers Faccini takes us back to the original but travels in the opposite direction from These United States.  There is the occasional extra line of music, but in essence this is a very gentle version of the original, with the concept of that first Dylan version kept in tact.    It’s one of those performances that works totally if you are in the mood… but if not, well, it is still beautifully performed – and you can always save it until you are in the mood.

Dylan Revisited had Courtney Marie Andrews sing this song; the harmonies are of course perfect but restrained, the emotion is there but kept under control… it is gorgeous.  I would urge that even if you know this version, do listen again and just focus on those lines that have the vocal harmonies in.   In a sense they can just pass by as part of the song – but if you can seek them out, they are stunningly done – utterly perfect in every way.  Brilliant musicianship all round.

And finally Sinead Lonan.   In a sense by this time I was thinking, “is there anything more to add?” but I recalled Jochen picking out this cover – and I can see why.  If nothing else just listen to what happens between (and sometimes behind) the vocal lines.   It has to be the version to finish with.   This is musical reinterpretation at its finest, both from the orchestrator as well as the performers.   I am just left thinking, “What a gorgeous song this is.”

Of course I hope one or two people will have read my ramblings and listened to these cover versions, but even if that is not the case, I’ve been brought back to the song, and I’m grateful that has happened.  It is a superb song.


Here’s the rest of this series of reviews of Dylan covers in the Cover a Day series.  Over 150 of them, so not enough to keep you going all year, but still, quite a few.

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