In Defense of Dylan's Voice

Dylan Interpretations

Weekend Music

First, Dylan vs. Dylan. An acoustic performance of "Visions of Johanna" from 1966:


And now a relatively recent performance, in more or less his current style:


To my taste the second one has its merits, but just isn't on the same plane as the first one.

This post actually started out because the discussion of Dylan's voice had me thinking about the evolution of his style. I was listening to the Telltale Signs collection yesterday. It's one of the clean-out-the-attic collections of previously unreleased material, and I was thinking what a really fine song "Mississippi" is. So I thought I might post it, and looked for it on YouTube. Neither it, nor the album version, from "Love and Theft", is there. The only version I found doesn't seem to be either of those, or the second alternate from Telltale Signs. It must be the one from the bonus disk of the DeLuxe edition, which I did not see fit to purchase. Of the four, my favorite is the first alternate, that is, the first version on Signs.  This one sounds like they were still working on it, but the only other one on YouTube is a live one with terrible sound.


So while I was looking for this, I ran across a performance of the song by the Dixie Chicks. Now I'll admit up front that although I've heard almost none of their work, I am a bit prejudiced against the Dixie Chicks because they're generally described as country-pop, or pop-country, which, either way, is down with there with smooth jazz, and well below metal, at the bottom of my list of preferred musical styles. Still, I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. But this strikes me as rather awful. The best I can say about it is that it does credit to their taste that they picked it.


Apparently the Chicks were following Sheryl Crow's arrangement. I assume Crow was first, because she got the song straight from Dylan. Pretty much the same arrangement, at least for the first minute or so, when I bailed.

Perhaps the problem is that when you detach the song from Dylan and the inimitable force of his personality and vocal style, there really isn't that much left musically. So they felt obliged to try to flesh it out with that fiddle riff etc. 


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I love Visions of Joanna.

Not a Dylan devotee, but that "Mississippi" really is a good song. But as done by the Dixie Chicks and Sheryl Crow it doesn't even sound as if it's the same song as done by Dylan. His version is all melancholic regret; theirs is loud and aggressive, almost martial.

I prefer the version of Mississipi that's on the DVD. That's the other thing: I very, very seldom *like* Dylan outtakes. It is one of my *rules of life* that the actual DVD is always better than the stuff that didn't make it onto the DVD.

In general, I agree, but Dylan is a special case. Apart from alternate takes, which are usually not night-and-day different, these releases of previously unreleased stuff often contain a song or two that was never released at all, but is better than most or much of the stuff on the album it was left off of. Why was "Blind Willie McTell" left off of Infidels?! It would have been the highlight of the album. Why was "Series of Dreams" left off of Oh Mercy?

Right, Marianne. It seemed like they were just stomping all over the song. Maybe if I gave it a chance I'd see that they (or Sheryl Crow) had done something interesting with it, but I don't want to bother.

Did everyone see there is a collection of JF Powers letters out, called 'Suitable Accommodations'? There's a review of it by Joseph Epstein in the WSJ which is worth the 2 dollars, if you happen to be anywhere you can buy the WSJ.

No, I hadn't heard of that. Be interesting to see what Epstein makes of it, not to mention what's in the book itself.

I never read WSJ online - I always come up against a paywall. But you can get it at one CVS in South Bend, and, if you get very desperate for some reason to read it, from the airport. It is worth reading. I was delighted when I saw a piece about JF Powers, and when I saw it was by Epstein, doubly so. I love his short stories. His nonfiction is not as good.

It's available right now here.

Don't know how long it will be there. I think sometimes they make new stuff available for some limited period. I just now found it, haven't read it yet.

I love Powers's short stories, too, and the novel Morte D'Urban. Didn't know he'd written non-fiction.

No, I meant Epstein's non-fiction. He wrote a dull book about Friends, which I read before I taught my Love course last year. Powers didn't write any non-fiction that I know of. I love Morte D'Urban. I have developed a strong identification with Urban over the years. In the summer I got my personal chair in Scotland, I had had a headache for three months. The phone was ringing off the hook with congratulations, and every time it rang I jolted and the headache worsened. I realized my situation was just like Urban's, at the end of the book.

Oh I have been waiting long days for that book.


I assumed you meant Powers, Grumpy, because I didn't know Epstein wrote fiction. I only know him as a critic.

I also felt a close connection with Urban, but not so much Urban himself as the situation: so much like the little college I work for, especially as it was 15-20 years ago, which was when I read the book.

Thanks for the link to the WSJ article on Powers.

Liked this: "To the critic Michael Millgate he wrote that he had "just finished not finishing Iris Murdoch's 'The Flight from the Enchanter'. . ."

Have to remember that “just finished not finishing” -- it perfectly sums up my attempts at reading oh so many books these days!

I was surprised to learn he was a conscientious objector during WWII. Wonder if that in any way hampered his writing career?

Maclin, Epstein's short stories are well worth reading.

I found the song tedious and had to turn it off midway through. The country maven in my office told me she preferred 'the guys' (and she could recite bits of Loretta Lynn by heart on request even though she was not a fan). I see her point.

I am afraid country (or countryfied) does not hold a candle to Zydeco.

Wouldn't have figured you for a zydeco fan, Art. Zydeco always strikes me as something it would be great fun to hear live, but not to sit and listen to at home.

Which one did you turn off midway, the Dylan or the DCs? Or both?

Re "just finished not finishing"--yes, that is a good phrase, but it's something I almost never do. I sometimes wish I could. Once embarked on a book I feel like I have to plow on to the end even if I don't like it. A misplaced sense of honor--how can I say I didn't like it if I didn't read the whole thing? That's excluding mere browsing, without intent to read.

The Dixie Chicks I turned off midway through.

I have heard Rosie Ledet live, and the Pine Leaf Boys as well.

I didn't even get that far with the Dixie Chicks.

Judging by that YouTube clip, those were probably good shows.

I don't like zydeco as much as I like straight Cajun music. I'm no dancer, but if I were to learn how, it'd be Cajun dancing that I'd attempt. One of my favorite examples is this video from Sesame Street circa 1995. My daughter was 3 at the time, and I remember seeing this, loving the music, and trying in vain to get a recording of it. In fact, the clip is probably older than that, but that's when I would have seen it. The youtube title mistakenly calls it zydeco, which it isn't.

I just played the second 'Visions of Johanna'. It's OK, it's really quite good. Not like the first, but really OK.

"really OK" is pretty much my reaction, too.

As usual on this computer, I can't get the YouTube video to play more than a few seconds at a time. Maybe I'll try it at work tomorrow.

No, that's definitely not zydeco. There's a comment from the singer's daughter correcting that. Good stuff. If you take away the accordion it really sounds a good deal like a lot of old-time country music.

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