A Dylan Cover a Day: When the ship comes in

By Tony Attwood

This is probably the most frustrating of all the episodes of Dylan Cover a Day, that I can remember, because I think this is a superb song, and thus it ought to be possible to generate a few brilliant cover versions of it.

But in the end after listening to 20+ covers I found myself playing a few bars of each version and then giving up, because once again the performers had not found something quite different to do with the song.  (Although please keep going because it did come right in the end).

And maybe it is not the artists’ fault.  After all they are performing the song as they hear it, and as they feel it can be developed – not for the sole purpose of doing something quite different with the song.

To try and understand a little more as to why this is the case with this particular song I’ve just spent an hour at the piano trying to write my own variant version and yes I came up with something, but not something I particularly want to foist upon you at this time!   So yes indeed it is harder that it might at first appear.

For this is a song in which the nature of the song itself determines how it should be sung.  And Dylan himself must have realised the problems there are with doing something with this song in public, for in fact he has only performed it himself three times between 1963 and 1985!

So what we have is a small collection of performances from other people, and just three from Dylan – none of which I have a copy of.   That surely tells us something – most likely that it is a song that has to be sung as Dylan sang it.  There is not much else one can do.

Except, not, please don’t stop, because there is something else one can do.  It just took me a while to find it.

But to start at the start as it were.

Gene Cotton takes a brave approach and varies the rhythm, and to a fair extent this does work.  But the urgency of the song is now lost – the great celebration of the Second Coming, or whatever the occasion is that causes the ship to arrive now seems awfully relaxed, which isn’t the idea at all.

Heron gives us seagulls, and I almost stopped at that point.  I mean, if that is the best the producer or musical arranger can do he/she surely now give up and stand before the firing squad (not literally!).   Along with quite a few other versions this one just loses me after a few moments.  It is all too ploddy.

Now The Chieftains know a thing or three about working with this type of song, and yes I do get a feeling that they appreciate what this is all about.   And they do make this grow without destroying the essence of the songs.   The addition of the violin and the percussion are there supporting the singer, and the build-up seems to work well.  But…. oh that instrumental break has nothing much to do with the essence of the song.  It’s just the Chieftains throwing in their own format into a Dylan song.   Worse they change key for no reason other than it is because what the Chieftains do.

Annie Patterson gets into my little selection because the harmonies work without destroying the song.   But between verses there is a twinkly twinkly bit which also creeps into the verses.

And this is a problem I think a lot of performers and their musical directors have.  Recognising the strophic nature of the song they feel that changing lyrics are not enough to carry the performance so they throw in some extras.  The twinkly bits here end my interest.

So, pretty hopeless from my point of view having reviewed covers of around 170 or so Dylan songs (see the list below) but then Grace Notes grabbed my attention with a completely different approach.  And surely the point of cover versions of songs we all know is to give us something new.   And yes this is it.  The harmonies are unexpected but exquisite.  The piano is delicately played, and from the very start I have the clear understanding that the arranger and performers actually listened to and thought about the lyrics they are singing.

This comes from the album Northern Tide and it is the only moment in this review where I wanted to hear more.   Indeed I hope you too not only enjoy this but also want to learn more.   Take a look at their website.

At this stage I can’t write more about them since I’ve only just discovered them, but having listened to “Just the way you look tonight” I’m taken.   It was worth the journey.

Previously in the 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
  130. Shelter from the Storm
  131. Sign on the window
  132. Silvio
  133. Simple twist of fate
  134. Slow Train
  135. Someday Baby
  136. Spanish Harlem Incident
  137. Standing in the Doorway
  138. Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again
  139. Subterranean Homesick Blues
  140. Sweetheart Like You
  141. Tangled up in Blue
  142. Tears of Rage
  143.  Temporary Like Achilles. Left in the cold, but there’s still something…
  144. The Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar
  145. The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
  146. The Man in Me
  147. Times they are a-changin’
  148. The Wicked Messenger
  149. Things have changed
  150. This Wheel’s on Fire
  151. Thunder on the mountain
  152. Till I fell in love with you in the north of Norway
  153. Time Passes Slowly – just sit down and close your eyes
  154. To be alone with you
  155. To Ramona: unexpectedly yes!
  156. Tombstone Blues
  157. Tonight I’ll be Staying Here With You
  158. Too much of nothing
  159. Trouble as you have never been troubled before
  160. Tryin’ to get to Heaven
  161.  Unbelievable
  162. “Up to Me” and a return to earlier days
  163. Visions of Johanna
  164. Walking down the line
  165. Whatcha gonna do
  166. Well Well Well
  167. Went to see the Gypsy.
  168. What good am I
  169. What was it you wanted
  170. When I paint my masterpiece
  171. When the night comes falling from the sky

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