Dylan’s Late-Career Classics: Not Dark Yet

In revious posts, we have discussed some of the classics song written by Bob Dylan late in his career. Recently, two of our favorite artists covered one such classic song when sisters Allison Moorer and Shelby Lynne recorded Dylan’s “Not Dark Yet.”

“Not Dark Yet” first appeared on Dylan’s Time Out of Mind album in 1997, and it later appeared on the soundtrack for Wonder Boys (2000) (which featured another Dylan gem, “Things Have Changed”). On an album with themes of aging and death, “Not Dark Yet” stands out as a great song tackling those issues.

Sometimes my burden seems more than I can bear;
It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.

The song did not make the top 5 songs about death discussed in the movie High Fidelity (2000). But an alternate scene filmed for the movie did have John Cusack’s character Rob adding Dylan’s song to the list created by Jack Black’s character.

Allison Moorer and Shelby Lynne have chosen “Not Dark Yet” as the title track of their first album together. The CD features mostly covers, and “Not Dark Yet” does a great job of displaying the harmonies of the two sisters.

Their harmonies combined with an organ create a foundation for the song in gospel, a bit unlike Dylan’s more bluesy version. As NPR notes, the Moorer-Lynne collaboration give the song a “more searching sound.”

You can love both versions, and I do. Check out “Not Dark Yet” recorded by Moorer and Lynne.

The album Not Dark Yet hits stores and the Internet on August 18.

Check out our other posts on Dylan’s late-career classics. What is your favorite of Dylan’s late-career classics? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Dylan’s Late-Career Classics: Mississippi

    Stayed in (the) Mississippi Too Long

    On May 8, 1541, explorer and conquistador Hernando de Soto became one of the first Europeans to reach the Mississippi River. A little more than a year later on May 21, 1542, still on a search for silver and gold in what would become the southern U.S., de Soto died from a fever on the banks of the Mississippi River. His men, not wanting the Native Americans to discover that de Soto was not divine, buried his body in the river.

    Blinded by his search for precious metals, the Spaniard could not have foreseen the real value of the water with a name that came from an Ojibwe word for “Great River.” And de Soto could not have predicted that a state would take its name from the river.  And he would not know that it all eventually would lead one of the land’s greatest songwriters, born in a state that hosts the headwaters of the mighty river, to use “Mississippi” as the title of one of his late career classics.

    Bob Dylan’s “Mississippi”

    We continue our series on Bob Dylan’s Late Career Classics with a listen to “Mississippi,” from Love and Theft (2001). Dylan continues to write outstanding songs, but in this series we consider songs that are classics in the sense they are not only identified with Dylan but appear in excellent cover versions, much like many songs from his early catalog.

    I am not the only fan of Dylan’s “Mississippi.” Rolling Stone has proclaimed that “Mississippi” is the seventeenth best song of the 2000s, comparing it favorably with Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue.” Further, the magazine ranks it 260th out of the greatest songs of all time.

    Dylan must have sensed something special in the song because he made several versions of the song while trying to get it right. He initially recorded it for Time Out of Mind (1997).  But he eventually left it off that album because he did not like Daniel Lanois’ arrangement.

    So “Mississippi” first appeared on an official release several years later on Love and Theft. Here is Bob Dylan performing the song live in 2002.

    Sheryl Crow’s Cover

    Because of the delay in Dylan releasing his own version, someone else released a cover version of “Mississippi” before Dylan released the song. Dylan first gave it to Sheryl Crow, who recorded it for her 1998 album The Globe Sessions.

    In this video Sheryl Crow explains how Dylan contacted her to ask if she wanted to record the song:

    Dylan’s Slow Acoustic “Mississippi”

    Dylan has released alternate versions of “Mississippi.” For my money, the best version is Dylan’s slower acoustic performance of “Mississippi.” This version leads off Dylan’s 2008 album of late-career lost songs and alternate takes, Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8, which as a 2-CD set included two versions of the song and as a 3-CD expensive deluxe version included three “Mississippi’s.”

    There are a few good covers of this slower version, including one from “Blues From a Hammock.” And in this cover, Scottish singer-songwriter Rob Naokes does nice job covering the wonderful acoustic version.

    Other artists have performed the song too. The Dixie Chicks, like Crow, make a rocking version of the song:

    What is “Mississippi” Really About?

    Many have speculated about the meaning of Dylan’s “Mississippi.” One writer claimed the song is influenced by the poetry of Henry Rollins. Rolling Stone claims it is “both a romantic promise and a hint of doom.”

    The lyrics reveal past regrets (“So many things that we never will undo / I know you’re sorry, I’m sorry too”). But at the same time, there are moments of humor and hope (“I know that fortune is waiting to be kind / So give me your hand and say you’ll be mine”).

    The singer recalls there is only one thing he did wrong, he “stayed in Mississippi a day too long.” Yet, what happened in Mississippi remains a mystery to the listener.

    Dylan knows that sometimes it is best to let the listener fill in the blanks. “Mississippi’s” magic is in one’s imagination, more powerful than the imaginary gold and silver that led de Soto to his grave in the great river.

    What do you think “Mississippi” is about? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Dylan’s Late Career Classics: Make You Feel My Love

    One of the many amazing and unusual things about Bob Dylan is that he continues to write great songs after such a long career. Most talented artists have a short period of brilliant creativity, but Dylan has transcended time. Few artists in any field have had such a long career of such quality.

    While Dylan is most famous for his early output, in his later years he continues to create relevant and beautiful music. One of those songs is “Make You Feel My Love” from his 1997 album, Time Out Of Mind.

    The song has been covered by number of artists. Garth Brooks and Billy Joel, two great pop songwriters themselves, recognized the brilliance of “Make You Feel My Love.” They each released cover versions immediately after the song was available, with Brooks’s song going to number one on the country charts. The song also has been covered by Adele, Kelly Clarkson, Bryan Ferry, Joan Osborne, Kris Allen, Shawn Colvin, Neil Diamond, and Garth’s wife Trisha Yearwood, among others.

    Garth Brooks and Bob Dylan are anti-You Tube, so it is harder to hear their versions online, but you may hear a clip of Bob Dylan’s original on his website. If you are brave you might try this short clip of actor Jeremy Irons singing “To Make You Feel My Love.” Rebecca Ferguson, the season runner-up on the 2010 United Kingdom’s X Factor received a standing ovation from Simon Cowell for her version of the song, and 2009 American Idol winner Kris Allen also performed the song on that show. The Garth Brooks version also appeared in the Sandra Bullock movie, Hope Floats.

    By contrast, music critics have not been so kind to the song. Nigel Williamson’s Rough Guide to Bob Dylan calls it the “slightest composition” on Time Out of Mind. In Still on the Road, Clinton Heylin claims that the song shows Dylan’s inability to emulate Tin Pan Alley and that the song “truly belonged” on the Billy Joel album. Critics of the cover artists and shows like American Idol might argue that those artists reflect the poor quality of the song. They are wrong.

    The song is timeless and sounds like it has been around forever, which is the magic of so many of Bob Dylan’s songs. I agree with the critics that Time Out of Mind has greater songs in some senses, like “Not Dark Yet.” But it is “Make You Feel My Love” that will be covered for decades to come. Many of the lyrics are typical love song cliches, such as “I could hold you for a million years.” And some of the words do not look like they would work when you see them on the written page, including “I’d go hungry, I’d go black and blue / I’d go crawlin’ down the avenue.” But the combination of words with the melody create something timeless that is more than the separate parts. And the lyrics for the final bridge are something special:

    Though storms are raging on the rollin’ sea,
    And on the highway of regrets;
    Though winds of change are throwing wild and free,
    You ain’t seen nothin’ like me yet.

    This 2003 live version by Joan Osborne in Sausalito, California is one of the best versions of the song. There is something about this beautiful version on a sunny cool afternoon next to the ocean. Osborne’s heart really comes through her voice, even as the people talking in the crowd do not realize what is happening on stage. Thank goodness for YouTube so others can appreciate what they were missing. Her studio version of the song is on her 2000 album Righteous Love.

    In Keys to the Rain: The Definitive Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, Oliver Trager says that the song “is at best a lament for, or at worst a creepy plea to, an unattainable woman from a man getting more desperate by the minute.” He also points out that some have interpreted the song as being about the relationship between humans and Christ (“I could hold you for a million years”).

    Both interpretations from Trager are worth some thought, but ultimately the song seems more in the tradition of love songs like “My Girl” by the Temptations (“I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day/ When it’s cold outside I’ve got the month of May.”) or “Unchained Melody” by The Righteous Brothers (“I’ve hungered for your touch/ A long lonely time/ And time goes by so slowly”) or “Here, There, and Everywhere” by the Beatles (“I want her everywhere”). There is a long tradition in pop music of using hyperbole to explain the unexplainable human emotion of love. And when you watch the Joan Osborne version above, there is no trace of Trager’s creepy old man left. While Dylan may be Dylan and may have intended something different, the song has taken on a life of its own through various interpretations, becoming one of his late career classics and a beautiful love song.

    What do you think? Is “Make You Feel My Love” a classic song or just a bad pop song or something else? Leave a comment.

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    YouTube Covers: Bob Dylan’s “Red River Shore” Edition

    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.