There are 60 tracks on Fragments – Time Out of Mind Sessions (1996-1997), the latest installment in Bob Dylan’s ongoing Bootleg Series. Dylan himself wrote 59 of them himself. One, however, is an unexpected cover.
“The Water Is Wide” is a traditional American folk song that dates back to the early 1800s. The waters gets a bit murky at that point, but the song, alternately known as “Waly, Waly,” was likely adapted from a Scottish or Irish ballad dating back a couple centuries further.
Dylan himself has been singing “The Water Is Wide” for decades. He first performed it as a duet with Joan Baez, who might well have introduced him to it, on the Rolling Thunder Revue. It was a highlight of their duo sets together. The next year, he sang it at a session for Eric Clapton’s album No Reason To Cry. It returned again in the late ’80s and early ’90s, where he performed an acoustic version in his own shows. Somewhat surprisingly, it doesn’t appear he ever attempted it for the two folk-covers albums he recorded in the mid’-90s, Good As I Been to You or World Gone Wrong.
Now we learn that a few years later, he actually tried it in the studio for a different album. He delivers “The Water Is Wide” beautifully in 1996, at one of the earliest sessions for Time Out of Mind. It’s unclear whether it was actually being considered for the album, or was just a warm-up with the band, but either way it’s clearly a polished arrangement and a wonderfully committed vocal from Bob.
Listen to it below, along with versions from Rolling Thunder (with Baez) in ’75, the Clapton session in ’76, and 1989 to compare.
Lucinda Williams has never had a big hit song. None of her singles have charted on the Top 40, or even on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart at all. In fact, most of her songs don’t hit any chart.
You may already be thinking to yourself: Who cares! Giant pop-chart hits are not the way you measure the success of a singer and songwriter like Lucinda Williams. You know what is one possible way, though? Covers. (A few of which, incidentally, made her song hits in other hands.)
Like a few other songwriter’s-songwriter types we’ve covered in this series (John Prine, Steve Earle), the respect Lucinda gets from her peers and fans far outweighs her own commercial success. It’s probably the sort of acclaim she’d value more. Williams’ songs have been covered by her elders alongside a wide array of younger folk and indie artists. Earle, in fact, has called the album he co-produced, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, “one of the best things I’ve ever been involved in.”
None other than Bob Dylan himself, when he played her take on “Change the Locks” (covered twice on our list) on his Theme Time Radio Hour, compared her to Bessie Smith, calling her “another strong-hearted spirited woman.” He added cheekily, “Time Magazine called her America’s best songwriter in 2002. I guess I was out of town.”
Below, we’ve rounded up 25 equally strong-hearted, spirited covers. Lucinda, who turns 70 today, is no slouch at covers herself – don’t miss her recent Lu’s Jukebox series. But for her birthday, we honor her songwriting and let other artists do the heavy lifting.
25. John Mellencamp – Lafayette
Lucinda Williams’ first album was a collection of covers, but her second, Happy Woman Blues, consisted of all originals, kicked off by “Lafayette” – the first of her songs about her native Louisiana, but certainly not the last. It’s about how the singer misses Lafayette and how it took leaving to appreciate it, so she’s coming back. Because Lafayette is the center of Cajun culture, the song is fittingly a country/zydeco mix, and focuses on the eating, drinking, dancing and other wild times that she looks forward to repeating. John Mellencamp’s 2003 album Trouble No More was a collection of (mostly) blues and folk covers, and his spare take on “Lafayette” is more country-blues than Cajun. His gruff lead vocals are sometimes overshadowed by the twangy female background singer, but it’s a worthy effort. – Jordan Becker
24. Jimbo Mathus – Lake Charles
Picking a single track off Solo Blues Guitar: Jimbo Mathus Performs Lucinda Williams Car Wheels on a Gravel Road kind of defeats the purpose. As you can probably guess from that album title, it’s Mathus, of Squirrel Nut Zippers fame, performing Lucinda’s most iconic album in full (on, as the tin says, solo blues guitar). It’s a beautiful listen that you can hone in on or just let add atmosphere in the background. But, since we have to highlight one, “Lake Charles” will give you a good taste of his combination of finger picking and slide on that beautiful resonator guitar. – Ray Padgett
23. Dennis Mac Namara – I Envy the Wind
If there were a church devoted solely to unrequited love, where all those in the throes gathered to commiserate, “I Envy The Wind” would be the lead hymn in the songbook. Why this song has been covered so sparingly over the years remains a mystery. Hyperbolic hot take coming, but if ever a song was powerful and poised enough to knock “Hallelujah” off its ubiquitous and over-covered pedestal, “I Envy The Wind” is it. Dennis Mac Namera’s skeletal acoustic cover is home to a stunner of vocal performance, equal parts booming and fragile. The heartache and longing are oh so palpable, as is Mac Namera’s unabashed admiration for the song itself. Let us pray. – Hope Silverman
22. Peter Gallagher – Still I Long For Your Kiss
Lest anyone forget, Williams is every bit as much a singer and interpreter of the blues as she is of the broader country/Americana slant she is usually associated with. Check out her aforementioned first album, 1979’s Ramblin’ On My Mind, a set of largely nothing but the blues, Sleepy John Estes, Robert Johnson and the like, with a token Hank Williams for good measure. Sure, her own version of “Still I Long For Your Kiss” carries a bluesy hint, but it took this fella to strip it right back, delectably so. This fella? Peter Gallagher. You’ll know him as an actor in loads of films and TV. But, as this clip shows, he can sing, really sing. This comes from a record he made in 2005, Seven Days In Memphis, of Southern soul belters backed by a crew of the best session men that producer Steve Cropper could find. The other singer here is his TV wife from The O.C., Kelly Rowan. – Seuras Og
21. Angel Olsen – Greenville
Angel Olsen dropped two terrific covers last June. Her version of Dylan’s “One Too Many Mornings,” recorded for the TV show Shining Girls, features haunting electronic textures underpinning her voice. It’s a surprisingly un-folky cover of one of Bob’s early folk songs. Alas, it came a year too late for our Best Bob Dylan Covers list. Her version of of Lucinda Williams’ Car Wheels on a Gravel Road standout “Greenville” though is just as good, guitar echoing behind her mesmerizing double-tracked vocals. – Ray Padgett
Umphrey’s McGee is an indie/jam band from Indiana that is known for its experimental genre-blending and unique improv. The six-piece group just completed their 25th-anniversary tour this past Sunday. While on the tour, the group paid tribute to David Crosby with a cover of “Helplessly Hoping” at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY.
“Helplessly Hoping” is one of the iconic tracks on Crosby, Stills & Nash’s self-titled debut album. The song was about love, and writer Stephen Stills’ struggle to make ends meet back in the day when he was a session musician. Umphrey’s McGee kept the tune true to the original and did justice to the late singer. These vocal harmonies sound oh-so-sweet.
Opening act Eggy also performed a commemorative Crosby cover at that show, tackling “Carry On” off the first CSN album where they added a “Y” for “Young.” Watch both videos below.
“You’re Still the One” is probably Shania Twain’s most covered song though it’s not her absolute biggest hit. That likely has something to do with how classic the melody seems. And the song seems to attract a certain type of performer and performance. Only a few months ago, we were talking about one stripped-down version of this ballad. And now we’ve got another one for you.
Maple Glider is the pseudonym for Australia’s Tori Zietsch, who released her debut album in 2021. On her new version, Zietsch starts out with a subdued, sedate approach. There are actually more instruments here – drums, bass, organ, backing vocals, one or more guitars – than it sounds like at first, but the song has that stripped-down feel because of the mix and aesthetic. Zietch’s voice is right up front and more than once everything but her voice and her guitar drop out.Continue reading »
On March 3rd, Willie Nelson will release his first album in a full ten months! Believe it or not, that’s a fairly long gap for him – the album before that came only five months prior. At a quick scan of his insane discography, it looks like there has not been a year without a new Willie Nelson album since 1992 – and that’s the only year he took off since the ’60s.Continue reading »
Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
In 1975, after an apprenticeship with Paul Simon and two years of grueling touring on the college circuit, Maggie and Terre Roche released their debut album, Seductive Reasoning, which featured songs written by Maggie. The album was not a success, and the sisters became disillusioned by the process and the music business. Telling their label that they were no longer going to promote the album, Maggie and Terre retreated to Hammond, Louisiana, where they slept in a friend’s kung fu studio and worked as waitresses.
In 1976, they returned to New York, where they tended bar at Folk City. With younger sister Suzzy, who was studying acting, they busked on street corners singing Christmas carols. The trio performed at clubs throughout the Village, creating a buzz about the sister act with the quirky harmonies and great songs, and they signed with Warner Brothers Records.
In 1978, the sisters went into the studio to record their first album as a trio. In what seemed an odd pairing, the producer was Robert Fripp, whose philosophy of simply recording what they sounded like (he called it “audio vérité”) was appealing, especially after Maggie and Terre’s experience with the more traditional process of using studio musicians. The self-titled debut album was a critical success–it was The New York Times’ album of the year, and finished at #11 in The Village Voice’s prestigious Pazz & Jop poll.
One of the album’s standout tracks, “Hammond Song,” was written by Maggie about her experiences in Hammond, Louisiana, but like many great songs, it is really about more. It’s about independence and making your own decisions—but it also includes the other side of the argument. And it features the incredible harmonies that the Roches are known for–Terre taking the high part, Suzzy holding down the middle, and Maggie anchoring the bottom. It also sees Fripp taking a guitar solo that’s one of The Roches‘ highlights. The notoriously finicky Pitchfork named it the 170th best song of the 1970s. Continue reading »