Rarely Covered looks at who’s mining the darkest, dustiest corners of iconic catalogs.
Here’s part four of our five-part series on great covers of Dylan songs practically no one covers. If you need to catch up, start at the beginning!
Robbie Fulks – Ain’t Gonna Go to Hell for Anybody
Robbie Fulks knows his rarely-covered Dylan; a few years ago he covered every song on Bob’s 1978 album Street Legal. Other than maybe “Señor,” no one covers those tunes! In 2016, he did an entire concert of Christian Dylan songs at iconic Chicago venue The Hideout. He dug deeper than just the Saved or Shot of Love tracks (or Slow Train Coming, which I covered in the ’70s post). That includes Bob’s hidden fire-and-brimstone gem “Ain’t Gonna Go to Hell for Anybody.”
Proyect Hagumiya – Angelina
On their album Ruchot Shel Timtum, the Israeli group Proyect Hagumiya also digs deep, covering as many songs from the ‘80s as from the ‘60s. And every one gets translated into Hebrew. I can’t speak to how well they do linguistically, but, for non-Hebrew-speaking listeners, a sudden inability to understand the words draws attention to the beautiful melodies, as on the sing-along Shot of Love outtake “Angelina” (the only song that didn’t need a translated title).
The Groovie Ghoulies – Band of the Hand (It’s Hell Time Man!)
Despite including maybe Bob’s best-ever parenthetical in the title, “Band of the Hand (It’s Hell Time Man!)” – don’t forget the exclamation point – was an instantly forgotten single from an instantly forgotten movie, Michael Mann’s 1986 thriller Band of the Hand. Speaking of bands, it boasts a killer one: Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, who Bob was touring with at the time and recorded this one song with, plus, for good measure, backup singer Stevie Nicks. It hasn’t been covered much, perhaps because people are intimidated by the song’s pedigree…or perhaps because it’s not much of a song! But The Groovie Ghoulies do a fun, garagey, psych-fuzz run through this inessential but high-energy Dylan tune. On that same album – 1994’s Born in the Basement – they tackle a second rarely-covered Bob tune, too: 1978’s “Walk Out In The Rain.”
Dixie Hummingbirds – City of Gold
You’ll recognize the voice at the beginning of this cover – it’s Bob himself! Not many Dylan covers actually feature Dylan. Well, sort of; it’s a line of dialogue from Bob’s movie Masked and Anonymous. This song comes from its soundtrack, the first official release of another gospel-era outtake. Bob played it live a dozen times in the early ‘80s, but it never made a record. Veteran gospel vocal group Dixie Hummingbirds, who have been performing since 1928 (with rotating members, obviously) are the perfect choice to add this to the official canon.
Denny Freeman – Dignity
Denny Freeman has a closer to connection to this music than most; he was Bob’s lead guitarist for five full years in the 2000s. He only got to play “Dignity” one time, though, at a random 2009 show in Germany. But a few years after leaving the band, he included it on an entire record of Bob-cover instrumentals, Diggin’ on Dylan. Jumping but tasteful, the album finds Freeman’s guitar leading a killer band. Dylan’s former violin player Elana James guests on a few tracks (but not this one).
Lou Reed – Foot of Pride
The splashy Madison Square Garden 30th anniversary concert in the early ‘90s featured a lot of the obvious hits. Stevie Wonder sang “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Neil Young guitar-shredded “All Along the Watchtower.” Johnny and June reprised “It Ain’t Me Babe” from back in 1965. But Lou Reed, never one to go conventional, looked in the dustier corners of the catalogs to find Infidels outtake “Foot of Pride.” Heavy and funky, it lurches along for almost nine minutes. No wonder he needs to crib from a lyric sheet!
Bonnie Raitt – Let’s Keep It Between Us
“Let’s Keep It Between Us” was a core part of Dylan’s 1980 gospel tour, so you might have expected him to include it on his forthcoming album Shot of Love. Nope! Instead he gave it to Bonnie Raitt, who gives it the bluesy spin only she could.
Susan Tedeschi – Lord Protect My Child
Speaking of blues-singing women, Raitt acolyte Susan Tedeschi covered this on her 2005 album Hope and Desire. That version’s good, but even better are the live versions she did around the time, where she plays a bit with the vocal melody and stretches out the instrumentation. She’s brought it back a few times more recently with her current Tedeschi Trucks Band too.
Ry Cooder – Need a Woman
Last fall, Dylan released the Springtime in New York box set collecting a bunch of his 1980s outtakes. “Need a Woman” was featured on that and, thirty years earlier, Dylan’s first Bootleg Series box set in 1991. To many Dylan fans, it probably counted as a new song then, but in reality Ry Cooder had recorded it nine years prior, for 1982 album The Slide. Some of the players in Cooder’s band were recording with Dylan, so presumably one of them passed the demo tape along. It was later collected on one of the first Dylan tribute albums, 1989’s The Songs of Bob Dylan.
Zita Swoon – Series of Dreams
Unlike a few of the songs on this list, “Series of Dreams” is a top-tier Dylan song. But it still hasn’t been covered much. Best by a mile is this funky version by Belgian collective Zita Swoom, complete with chipper backing vocals, tricky guitar lines, and cowbell.
Our series concludues tomorrow with 1990s and Beyond. If you missed ’em, check out Early 1960s, Late 1960s, and 1970s covers too. I also write an email newsletter about live-Dylan, for those who want to go deeper.