Martin Carthy on Dylan: ‘You can’t do that! It’s a musical instrument, man.’
For my brother Phil

Covering Bob

Andrew Curry writes: It’s Bob Dylan’s 83rd birthday today—Happy birthday, Bob!—and to mark the occasion we’re enjoying some of the fine covers of Dylan songs done by folk artists down the years. Perhaps with some Beaujolais before we hit the harder stuff.

This isn’t a version of the Dylan Neat or Dylan Beat feature that Colin has run from time to time on Salut! Live—although there are quite a lot of those posts if you want to hear Dylan versions, and decide whether Colin made the right call or not.

IMG_5950(Thea Gilmore reworked John Wesley Harding, track by track)

It’s a birthday, so we’re in celebration mode. We’re just enjoying the music.

If we’re talking Dylan covers, of course, Martin Simpson is almost in a category of his own. He’s kept coming back to the Dylan songbook down the years.

There’s a version of Buckets of Rain on his most recent record, Skydancers, which we mentioned when we reviewed his King’s Place concert last year.

I first saw Simpson play in the early 2000s, after he’d come back to the UK from America, and the Bootleg USA set that he was touring at the time included a couple of Dylan versions, one his towering version of Highway 61 Revisited, which he paired with the original song that inspired Dylan.

That record also included Spanish Boots of Spanish Leather, which I’ve always thought of as one of Dylan’s finest songs. Simpson talked about this version in the extended interview he gave to Tradfolk last year for his 70th birthday. The site had the smart idea of getting other musicians to nominate their favourite Simpson songs, and then asking him to talk about them (there’s a playlist on Spotify).

Jim Moray picked Spanish Boots of Spanish Leather, and Simpson had this to say about it:

(W)hen I arranged this... I’d just go miles out of my way to avoid playing regular American fingerpicking. My arrangement is a very odd piece of guitar playing, actually. It’s got a break in it, which is almost classical in construction, in a way. It took me months of working to get that arrangement to the point where I could play and sing it.

Over at our Facebook group, Tom Dooley also showcased recently a version of Spanish Boots as one of his favourite Dylan covers. It’s a lovely simple arrangement by a duo then called Mandolin Orange—now known as Watchhouse—who are Emily Frantz and Andrew Marlin. Her vocals catch the bittersweet tenor of song exactly.

It’s also worth mentioning Thea Gilmore, who reworked all of the songs on John Wesley Harding, in the same order, in 2011, to mark Bob’s 70th.

I’m linking here to her version from that record of I Pity The Poor Immigrant, because I think it is better than Dylan’s original.

I’m also fond of Emma Swift’s record of Dylan covers, Blonde on the Tracks, done as a lockdown project when she was stuck creatively. She was born in Australia and now lives in Nashville. The record is available on Bandcamp (musicians have to eat as well, right?), although she is slowly posting videos of the songs to her YouTube site.

Some of these are visually gorgeous—for example her version of Simple Twist of Fate, above, which is one of my favourite Dylan songs on my favourite Dylan record.

The last track in this completely impressionistic birthday list was also shared to the Facebook group by Tom Dooley. He says that the Mandolin Orange song had long been his favourite cover, but that he had been rethinking this recently.

This performance is by Jessica Rhaye and the Ramshackle Parade, and comes from their 2019 record of Dylan songs, Just Like A Woman. By chance, it’s As I Went Out One Morning, which is also from John Wesley Harding.

And do add your favourite Dylan covers by folk or Americana artists in the comments, or at the Facebook group. And maybe we’ll do a follow-up post capturing some of the highlights.


Lots more Bob on Salut! Live


Bill Taylor

The wine snob in me is compelled to ask whether it shouldn’t be Burgundy rather than Beaujolais before we hit the harder stuff…
As for Dylan covers, two of my favourites are Cage the Elephant’s “Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” and the Leftover Cuties’ stunning version of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.”
Best, perhaps, to draw a veil over Alvin & the Chipmunks doing “Mr. Tambourine Man” (it’s true; on the albums “Chipmunks a Go-Go” and “ ‘Munk Rock.”)

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