When I purchased Tell Tale Signs: the Bootleg Series Vol. 8 (2008), the Bob Dylan CD that features unreleased songs from the time period of his more recent albums, the song “Red River Shore” stood out immediately as I played the CD in my car. I kept playing the song over and over again, barely getting to anything else on the CD. It is another example of a great song that Dylan originally decided to leave off an album he was making. At least they eventually get released. The music is great, as are the beautiful lyrics of loss.
Now I’m wearing the cloak of misery
And I’ve tasted jilted love
And the frozen smile upon my face
Fits me like a glove
But I can’t escape from the memory
Of the one that I’ll always adore
All those nights when I lay in the arms
Of the girl from the Red River shore
Some writers have wondered if the girl from the Red River shore is the same person as was featured in Dylan’s “Shelter from the Storm,” as in this piece on Gardener is Gone. Some have found religious overtones in the song, such as in Songs for the Journey, with some arguing that the song is about Dylan’s relationship with Christ.
At first, I was interested that there might be a hidden meaning in the song. Of course, Dylan is Dylan and one may never know his intent, but on further listening I think those claiming religious meaning are wrong. The song is what it appears to be: a song about loss and memory. And while the final verse does have a reference to Jesus, it’s a statement that in today’s modern world, we unfortunately cannot count on God to undo what is lost. “He knew how to bring ’em on back to life/ Well, I don’t know what kind of language he used/ Or if they do that kind of thing anymore /Sometimes I think nobody ever saw me here at all/ ‘Cept the girl from the Red River shore.”
There are few Dylan videos on the Internet, and none of this song that I can find. Although covers rarely match the original, I am intrigued by the number of people who have the guts to play a song and post it on YouTube. There are some nice covers of this song on YouTube. Here’s a good one by a German band called CCC Inc. It takes awhile for them to get to the song, though (around the 2:00 mark).
This video of Henry Lim looks very professional, and it has nice instrumentation. Lim is the technical services assistant for the UCLA Music Library, and he has a busy extracurricular life. He has covered other artists like Radiohead with his string quartet, and he is an artist with Legos.
There are some good versions in the “dude with a guitar” category, such as a nice one by Kevin Magoon, who also adds a little electronic drum. C22romero does a nice job on the song too, but maybe he should turn down the reverb a little. I wish Chris Pap below would focus the camera, but he does a nice quiet version of the song below.
Perhaps because of the viewpoint of the lyrics, almost all of the covers are by men. But here is one by Linda Kosut performing in California.
After this post was initially published, singer-songwriter Jimmy LaFave covered “Red River Shore” on his album, Depending on the Distance (2012). Below is the excellent version from that album.
In another video after this post’s original publication, an artist named Kape does a nice version too. I cannot find much about him from the Internet, but he appears to be from Sweden.
Finally, my favorite cover may be this version of “Red River Shore” by lornisply with a guy playing an electric piano in his home. He has a good voice and seems to connect to the song. And there is something about the simple weariness of the performance of the melancholy song that makes it believable.
I know nobody matches the Bob Dylan version, but which cover version do you like best? Leave a comment.