02 June 2010

Your Weekly Dylan Cover (#6)

Cassandra Wilson
"Shelter From The Storm"
Original Dylan version found on Blood On The Tracks (1975)

Although categorized as a jazz singer, it would probably be a mistake to pigeon-hole Jackson, Mississippi native Cassandra Wilson into one genre of music. Her records the past two decades have been adventuresome affairs, interpreting songs made famous from as varied artists as Hank Williams, Miles Davis, Jimmy Webb and Robert Johnson.

So it comes as no surprise that on her 2002 release Belly of the Sun, Wilson tried on Bob Dylan's "Shelter From The Storm" for size. The cover is marvelous; it has always struck me that this adaptation was influenced by the general feel and sound of Joni Mitchell's Hejira (1976). Wilson's vocal echoes Joni's cool, elegant approach and Mark Peterson's bass is a direct descendant of the unmistakable sound of Jaco Pastorius. Here, "Shelter From The Storm" seems to be sung by Wilson in the third person, as an observer of an allegoric tale; she's trying to make sense of the darkness surrounding her but senses that grace abounds in the unidentified "she" who promises "shelter from the storm."


Like so many Dylan songs, "Shelter From The Storm" has provoked strong opinions as to its meaning, which would no doubt both please and infuriate the author: religious metaphor, "safe ballad", parallel to the then on-going war in Southeast Asia, and (fail safe for the time) broken relationship are just some of the balloons floated out there for discussion. Since its original pressing on Blood On The Tracks in 1975, to me it has always been a fascinating hodgepodge of symbols illustrating moral ideals and religious principles. But that's just one person's aside.

What I find equally compelling is the adaptation of "Shelter From The Storm" to so many effective melodies. In addition to Wilson's version discussed above, there is a fascinating dirge by Scottish musician Steve Adey and a hopeful, warm take by Rodney Crowell and past Dylan collaborator Emmylou Harris. But the most indelible cover may be Dylan's own, memorialized on the otherwise mediocre Hard Rain. This live performance - more striking because it came within a year of Blood On The Tracks' release - is literally and figuratively electric, driven not only by Dylan's vocal but his guitar playing as well. As a teen who had not yet seen Dylan live, this dynamic take opened up the great world of the master's tinkering with rhythm and harmony. It's a great introduction for those who erroneously expect that a Dylan concert will simply be a night of album reproductions.

Original Listening: Bob Dylan, "Shelter From The Storm"

Live Listening & Viewing: Bob Dylan, "Shelter From The Storm" (Rolling Thunder Revue Tour, Fort Collins, Colorado, 1976; recording found on Hard Rain)

Alternate Take: Bob Dylan, "Shelter From The Storm" (Jerry Maguire Soundtrack, 1996)

Other Cover Versions:
Steve Adey, "Shelter From The Storm" (All Things Real, 2006)
Rodney Crowell with Emmylou Harris, "Shelter From The Storm" (The Outsider, 2005)

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