Aug 102009

Shuffle Sundays is a weekly feature in which we feature a cover chosen at random by my iTunes shuffle. The songs will usually be good, occasionally be bad, always be interesting. All songs will only be available for one week, so get them while you can. After you listen, discuss this week’s tune in the comments.

Cover Me is excited to debut a new feature this week: Shuffle Sundays. The genesis for this comes from my periodic realizations that the vast majority of the thousands of excellent covers I have will never get airtime on this blog. Some are by artists that will never enjoy a feature post, some are of artists that won’t, some are about themes that won’t. If Radiohead covers a Neil Young song about Christmas, for instance, that song is more likely to appear at some point than if X Obscure Band covers a Y Obscure Band song about Z Obscure Topic. Get my drift?

All is equal, however, in love, war, and Shuffle Sundays. The tough decisions are off my shoulders and onto my impartial computer’s. It doesn’t care about how many records you’ve sold, how much indie cred you have, or how well your name will direct traffic to the blog. The choice is random, but the analysis is mine.

Kicking things off we have a very early Bob Dylan song, a cover of the traditional “Rambler, Gambler.” This cover enjoyed its first official release a couple years back on the No Direction Home soundtrack and gains a lot from an understanding of its context.

The time is autumn, 1960. A young Robert Zimmerman is still in Minnesotta “attending” college (he never went to class). He’s playing local folk joints and trying the stage name “Bob Dylan” on for size, but is frustrated by the lack of options the Minneapolis folk scene offers a budding talent. In a matter of weeks he would be off to New York, but for now he’s going a bit stir-crazy, his global ambition trapped in a regional locale.

Dylan hasn’t started seriously writing his own songs yet; that wouldn’t begin in earnest for several more years. Instead he’s choosing among the hundreds of songs circulating among area folkies. Songs by Leadbelly, Cisco Houston and, of course, Woody Guthrie. In fact, the only credit that pops up more than Guthrie is the ever-ambiguous “Trad.”

The prolific “Trad.” is behind this song as well. You can see why Bob chose it. “I’m a rambler, I’m a gambler,” he sings, expressing his desires more than reality. “I’m a long way from home.” Again, he isn’t yet but he will be soon.

The recording is raw, Dylan’s untutored acoustic strumming backing his too-weary-for-nineteen voice. The guitar is rough, impossible to tab properly (though some have tried) when the fills change from line to line to match his shape-shifting singing. It’s a mesmerizing performance, expressing the frustration of a pent-in talent weeks before he would break away to make it on his own.

Bob Dylan – Rambler, Gambler (Trad.)

What do you think? Discuss this song in the comments section below.

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