Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
The closing track of Bob Dylan‘s (greatest?) album Blood on the Tracks, “Buckets of Rain” has little of the invective that colored other songs on the album; it’s a long way from the “idiot babe” in “Idiot Wind” to the “honey baby” found here. Dylan’s saddened, but he’s also very tender to the one he’s addressing. They’ve swept up the ashes of their relationship, and now they’re looking at each other with rueful smiles, permitting themselves to feel both the love they still have and the pain it still brings. It’s no fun, but they do what they must do, and they do it well.
With five short verses and no chorus, the song is as simple and as complex as the human heart. It’s been studied from hundreds of angles by hundreds of musicians, each filtering Dylan’s writing through their own viewpoint; this entry could be called “Five Dozen Good Covers” and would still be leaving unique versions behind. What follows hews exactly to the name of the feature – there are covers, there are five of them, and they are all good.
The Booglerizers – Buckets of Rain (Bob Dylan cover)
The Booglerizers are five guys from Jersey who play acoustic blues; one of them handles the tuba. They’re not on any major label, or on any hip indie label – they just like to get together and play. They give “Buckets” a great sound here, brisk and barrelhousy; if it was recorded in mono with some crackling overdubbed, people would be forgiven for thinking they’d stumbled across a relic from the twenties.
Maria Muldaur – Buckets of Rain (Bob Dylan cover)
Maria Muldaur is best known for “Midnight at the Oasis,” but long before she sent her camel to bed, she was part of the Greenwich Village folk scene and a colleague of Dylan’s. In 2006, she released Heart of Mine: Maria Muldaur Sings Love Songs of Bob Dylan; “Buckets of Rain,” with its light bluesy sound and a surprisingly sultry vocal, was one of the highlights.
Neko Case – Buckets of Rain (Bob Dylan cover)
Oh, Neko. Hair of fire, lungs of leather, larynx more precious than gold. You make “Buckets of Rain” sound so free and easy, with your country sound and your winsome ways with a lyric. When you sing “Everything about you is bringing me misery” and your voice absolutely crumples, we want to stay up until three AM drinking Black Labels with you, consoling you, giving your hand fleeting pats, insisting that you deserve someone better and wondering when you’ll realize that the someone better is sitting right in front of you… Ahem. Sorry. It’s easy to get carried away when you’re listening to Neko Case.
The Wood Brothers – Buckets of Rain (Bob Dylan cover)
It’s hard to describe what the Wood Brothers do on their cover, from 2008’s Loaded. “Buckets” is recognizable as Dylan’s, but the musical melody is new – and, somehow, it seems to belong to the words more than Dylan’s own melody. It’s unmistakably folk, but a backwoods, off-kilter sort. Call it a fraternal twin of the song; it shares the same genetic material, has many observable differences, is recognized by all as a rare occurrence, and really, there’s no need to compare – we should just be thankful that they both exist.
Dave Van Ronk – Buckets of Rain (Bob Dylan cover)
In Dylan’s autobiography Chronicles Vol.1, he had a lot of kind words for Dave Van Ronk. “David was the grand dragon,” he wrote. “No puppet strings on him ever. He was big, sky high, and I looked up to him. He came from the land of giants.” Van Ronk never made it into the big time – “It just wasn’t where he pictured himself,” Dylan explained, and the fact that he turned down an offer to be in a trio that became Peter, Paul, and Mary bears that out. Instead, he became “the Mayor of MacDougal Street,” a charismatic man who spread the word about songs and artists old and new. He gave his final concert in October 2001, dying four months later; the concert was released on CD and titled …and the tin pan bended and the story ended…. His choice of swan songs that night included “Buckets of Rain.” With a powerfully hoarse whisper, audibly struggling for every breath, he embodies the suffering in the song, and yet the lilt in his voice and his playing serve to both counter that suffering and frame it.
Check out more Bob Dylan covers in the archive.