Apr 022024
Aoife O'Donovan lonesome death of hattie carroll cover

Crooked Still lead singer Aoife O’Donovan knows her way around a cover. Since the pandemic, she’s been recording solo covers, a number of which we’ve featured here at Cover Me. And her album-length cover of Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska made our list of the best cover and tribute albums of 2021. And on her new album, she tackles Bob Dylan.

“The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” is one of Bob Dylan‘s great topical songs, from early in his career when he still wrote them. It was released on his third album, about a year after the events it depicts. The original is a typical early Dylan recording: it’s just him singing backing himself on guitar, with harmonica solos. But Donovan throws many curveballs in her new version.

Her cover starts off with what sounds like a radio playing, appropriately enough, an instrumental version of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Donovan starts humming along to it and then she starts singing “Hattie Carroll” A Capella, putting the lyrics front and center. It’s a stark and pretty approach, but it doesn’t give the listener a clue as to how the cover will proceed.

As she ends the first chorus, a standup bass joins her and the second chorus features her guitar as well. Soon they are joined by The Knights, a New York-based orchestra. The orchestration is extremely active and transforms what started as a straight-forward folk cover into an elaborate musical journey very out of character with early Dylan. As the orchestra takes a turn at th melody, echoes of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” come back in to the mix. Donovan takes the final chorus mostly A Capella to end the cover.

Donovan’s version manages to be both pretty and strange. It’s an unusual approach to a song about such a tragic event. Check it out:

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