Posts Tagged ‘Abbey Lincoln’

‘Skippin’ Reels Of Rhyme . . .’

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

Still not certain how many covers there might be of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” I keep looking at the lists at Second Hand Songs and Amazon for some insight. No revelation comes, but I do note, perhaps unsurprisingly, that most of the covers listed at the first of those sites came in a very few years after Dylan recorded and released the song himself.

Dylan’s version came out in 1965 on Bringing It All Back Home, with the album reaching the Billboard 200 chart on May 1; the Byrds’ famous cover of the song hit the magazine’s Hot 100 singles chart on May 15, on its way to No. 1. Between then and 1969, SHS lists thirty-four covers of the tune, with the vast majority of those coming in the first couple of years.

Among those thirty-four covers was William Shatner’s legendarily bizarre version from his 1968 album A Transformed Man. (You can find it easily at YouTube if you feel the need.) One that I like a lot came from the British group the Marmalade in 1968; another that’s not nearly so high on my list was the cover by Don Sebesky from The Distant Galaxy, his 1969 album of what I can only describe as futuristic easy listening.

One of my favorite versions of the song came from 1969 as well, courtesy of the one-off group of musicians who called themselves the Brothers & Sisters of Los Angeles for an album called Dylan’s Gospel. As I’ve noted in this space at least once before, the webpage that listed the musicians involved seems to have disappeared in the past five or six years, but I do recall that among the singers on the project were Merry Clayton and Clydie King.

The frequency of covers of “Mr. Tambourine Man” slowed as the 1960s ended, but every now and then, the song drew the attention of a group or performer, and some of the resulting covers sound pretty good from this vantage point. The R&B group Con Funk Shun took the song uptown on a single in 1974, a performance that wound up on the 2010 anthology How Many Roads: Black America Sings Bob Dylan, and the Fourth Street Sisters recorded the song for the 2002 effort, Blowin’ in the Wind: A Reggae Tribute to Bob Dylan.

A couple of other versions stand out from recent years, though perhaps for different reasons. Jazz singer Abbey Lincoln did a very nice version on her 1997 album Who Used To Dance. And, on an entirely different level, a collection of youngsters from New Zealand called the Starbugs recorded a cheerful and antiseptic version of “Mr. Tambourine Man” for their 2011 album Kids Sing Bob Dylan, and I’m not altogether certain how I feel about their bland take. (Two things to note: The Starbugs – or more realistically, their adult producers – have also fashioned a similar album of Beatles’ songs; and among the members of the Starbugs is Jessie Hillel, who was the runner-up in the 2012 edition of the reality TV show New Zealand’s Got Talent.)

The most interesting version of Dylan’s iconic tune that I’ve found among the later covers – and my explorations have been by no means exhaustive – comes from a group with Minnesota origins. Cloud Cult released its idiosyncratic cover of “Mr. Tambourine Man” on a 2010 EP, Running With The Wolves. I don’t know that I’d ever heard much by Cloud Cult before; as with so many performers and groups that I come across when I explore covers of familiar tunes, that lack has to be remedied.

‘Lookin’ For A Soul Brother . . .”

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

Sometime in the late 1950s, musician and civil rights activist Oscar Brown, Jr., sat down and worked out a tune titled “Brother Where Are You,” a song of despair that was also a quiet call to action and its listeners’ self-reflection:

A small boy walked down a city street
And hope was in his eyes
As he searched the faces of the people he’d meet
For one he could recognize

Brother, where are you?
They told me that you came this way
Brother, where are you?
They said you came this way

The eyes of the people who passed him by
Were cold and hard as stone
The poor boy whimpered and began to cry
Because he was all alone

Brother, where are you?
They told me that you came this way
Brother, where are you?
They said you came this way

Now there are many
Who will swear that it’s true
That brothers are we all
Yet it seems there are very few
Who will answer a brother’s call

Brother, where are you?
They told me that you came this way
Brother, where are you?
They said you came this way

“Brother Where Are You” first showed up on record, as far as I can tell, on Abbey Is Blue, a 1959 album by jazz singer Abbey Lincoln. (A year later, Lincoln would team with Brown, Coleman Hawkins and other jazz luminaries for the album We Insist! – Freedom Now, a civil rights-themed project released in anticipation of the hundredth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1963.)

The tune is familiar to me – and others of my vintage, I assume – because of its inclusion by Johnny Rivers in his 1968 masterpiece Realization. In those environs, the song became less a plaint about racial injustice and more a call for economic and political justice. (It was, of course, not uncommon in the late 1960s and early 1970s for young, socially aware white men to call each other “brother” with no irony and little self-consciousness.)

I have no way to know where Rivers found the song, but there were several versions of it out there. (Tracking the song on indices can be difficult, as some listings have a comma after “Brother” and some don’t. Additionally, some include a question mark at the end of the title while others don’t. The number of possible permutations means I no doubt missed some covers while digging.) Among the more notable versions I found were several early soul/R&B versions of the song, one by a group called Thee Midniters from 1965 and another by a singer named Richard Simmons (not the exercise dweeb) in 1966. I also found a live 1965 performance by the composer himself, later released on the album Mr. Oscar Brown, Jr. Goes to Washington.

One of the more interesting covers of the tune is by the Remo Four, a Liverpool group from the mid-Sixties that released some good records and worked with, among others, Beatle George Harrison. Among its members were Tony Ashton and Roy Dyke, who with Kim Gardner, later scored a one-hit wonder – “Resurrection Shuffle” – in the U.S. as Ashton, Gardner & Dyke. In 1967, the Remo Four’s version of “Brother Where Are You” was included on Smile, an album released in Germany. (It’s now available on CD anywhere.)

One of the most indelible parts of River’s recording of the song on Realization is the chant of the background singers: “Lookin’ for a soul brother all around me.” I’m not at all sure where that originated, but it’s included as well on the version Al Wilson used to close his 1968 album Searching For The Dolphins. As Rivers produced Wilson’s album, which was then released on Rivers’ Soul City label, I’d really like to know which of the two, Rivers or Wilson, was the first to record the song.

There have been other covers of the tune over the years, of course. A combined total of the listings at All-Music Guide shows about eighty CDs on the market that include the song. Subtract – as a guesstimate – half for duplication and other songs with the same title, and there are still about forty artists and groups that have covered the song. And it continues to attract attention. A 2008 version by a group called Masters of Space And Time caught my attention this morning at Amazon. But as is the case with many tunes, I still hold the familiar close. So the version I first heard, Rivers’ take on the tune, is the one I turn to.