Rarely Covered looks at who’s mining the darkest, dustiest corners of iconic catalogs.
Today concludes our weeklong series celebrating the weirdos who skip over “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Make You Feel My Love” to cover the strangest, oddest, most obscure songs in the vast Bob Dylan catalog.
We’re cramming a couple decades into this finale, for a simple reason. If you’ve been following along, you know the primary criteria for inclusion has been that the song hasn’t been released on an album. Well, recent years simply don’t have that many non-album tracks. And some of the best – “Huck’s Tune,” “Tell Ol’ Bill,” etc – haven’t ever been covered well. So we’re loosening the restrictions a little bit today, mixing covers of some recent-album deep cuts in with the usual oddities and outtakes.
Peter Parcek – Beyond Here Lies Nothing
Boston blues guitarist Peter Parcek brings some real menace to this track from Bob’s 2009 album Together Through Life. Swirling organ undergirds Parcek’s growly voice and even growlier guitar. Next time Dylan needs a guitar player for his Never Ending Tour band, he should give Parcek a call. This version comes from his 2011 EP of Dylan covers Pledging My Time. Parcek released a separate, moodier version on his 2020 album Mississippi Suitcase. I dig the extra guitar solos, but I miss the organ.
Elliott Murphy – ‘Cross the Green Mountain
“Murder Most Foul” wasn’t Bob’s first historically-minded epic of the 21st century. Neither, for that matter, was the Titanic-themed “Tempest.” In 2003, Dylan released the eight-minus-plus “‘Cross the Green Mountain” for the Civil War miniseries Gods and Generals. Elliott Murphy covered it live in 2009, with some killer guitar solos. (The video is fun to watch, but it has lousy sound; find a better-sounding audio-only version here).
Powlean – Dreamin’ of You
Powlean is a musician from northern Italy, and just about the only person to ever cover this song! He performed this in a restaurant for mostly indifferent patrons. They’re missing out. He loops guitar lines atop guitar lines, turning what starts like a typical solo-acoustic thing into a one-man-band production.
Ulrika Beijer – Heartland
Swedish singer Ulrika Beijer released this beautiful folkie cover just last year on her album The Lost Sessions. I’m actually surprised it hasn’t been covered more, given that it’s a Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson co-write. Bob first tried it during the Under the Red Sky sessions, but Willie ended up releasing it first.
Ernst Jansz – Het Meisje Van De Rode Rivier
You surely don’t recognize the title “Het Meisje Van De Rode Rivier,” but knowing it in English might not help either: “Red River Shore.” This Time Out of Mind outtake is as as deep as cuts get, released on Bob’s eighth Bootleg Series entry Tell Tale Signs. It’s a gem, though, the sort of song that might be thought of as a late-period classic if he’d put it on a proper album. As with many translations of Bob’s songs, “Het Meisje Van De Rode Rivier” lets you focus on the beautiful music since, unless you speak Dutch, you probably won’t understand the lyrics.
Joan Osborne – High Water (For Charley Patton)
On her 2017 album Songs of Bob Dylan, Joan Osborne presented a nice mix of classics and deeper cuts. She did “Tryin’ to Get to Heaven” off Time Out of Mind – but, if David Bowie’s covered something, it probably doesn’t count as that obscure anymore. “High Water (For Charley Patton)” does, though, and she gave it a nice swampy energy.
Maria Muldaur – Moonlight
The most-covered song of this era – by a million miles – is “Make You Feel My Love.” But there’s an alternate era where “Moonlight,” another jazz-pop love ballad off Bob’s subsequent album, because the American songbook standard. Bob’s old Greenwich Village compatriot Maria Muldaur sings it like it is on her 2006 album Heart Of Mine: Love Songs Of Bob Dylan.
Wim Kuipers – Nooit meer los van jou
That’s right, it’s a second Dutch cover of one of these songs, and by a totally different artist! Wim Kuipers and Suzanne Kweens turn 2005 outtake “Can’t Escape from You,” reportedly written for a film that never got made, into a beautiful duet. They aren’t the only voices on it, though, as a variety of birds and insects join in in the background.
Denny Freeman – Spirit on the Water
Denny Freeman makes his second appearance of the series. He covered “Dignity” on our ’80s list, and now, from the same album, he tackles “Spirit on the Water” off Modern Times. The fact that he’s got a knack for this song makes sense: He’s played it several hundred times with Bob himself! But on this version released after he left the band, he dispenses with the vocals entirely, for a jazz-guitar shuffle that sounds straight out of a Prohibition-era cocktail lounge.
Waylon Jennings – Things Have Changed
“Things Have Changed,” admittedly, has been covered a good bit. But, as one of the only tunes that fits my original non-album-cuts criteria from the last few decades, I wanted to include it. The first prominent cover came from Waylon Jennings, who started including it in his setlist within a few months of Bob releasing it. It’s a shame Waylon never gave it a proper studio recording (he died a year and change later), but I’m glad the tapers were rolling to capture this version, which features a horn section, flute solo, female duet partner, and more.
John Wesley Harding – Wiggle Wiggle
“The greatest genius to ever make popular music was fifty years old yesterday,” Wesley Stace aka John Wesley Harding (hmm, where’d he that moniker from) says to introduce this. “So we’re gonna play his greatest song.” That song is – of course – “Wiggle Wiggle.”
Saturday Night Fish Fry – 2×2
Blues band Saturday Night Fish Fry’s 2007 album Dirt Road Blues could comprise half this list. “2×2” wasn’t even the only song they covered from Bob’s justifiably forgotten 1990 album Under the Red Sky; they tackled “10,000 Men” too. And “Lonesome Day Blues,” from Love & Theft. And the title track, “Dirt Road Blues,” probably the least-covered song off Time Out of Mind. They make them all sound great, too! “2×2” is the pick of the bunch though, with a horn section and a powerful gospel vocalist.
Catch up with the Early 1960s, Late 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s lists. Then, for some songs you might actually know, hit up our 100 Best Bob Dylan Covers Ever list. Finally, if you want to go even deeper, I also write a newsletter about live Dylan.