Liam O Maonlai with The Swell Season
Original Dylan version found on Planet Waves (1974)
Thanks to our friend Bird, we discovered this little gem, recorded for Czech Republic television back in 2008. Marketa Irglova, a native of that Eastern European nation and half of The Swell Season with Glen Hansard, are joined by Liam O Maonlai, former lead singer of Hothouse Flowers.
It is O Maonlai who shines on this take of Dylan's "Forever Young," leading the melody both on piano and by building his voice verse by verse to the point of exuberance. Hansard keeps up on guitar and subtly compliments the end of each stanza with a gentle backing vocal; it is evident that these fellow Dubliners have played together on Grafton Street or in pubs before.
Irglova and Hansard look at each other a few times as if saying, "this is really something special." It is.
There are two versions of "Forever Young" on the 1974 release Planet Waves, bridging Sides One and Two. While the song is now a long-time Dylan standard, it did not make much of a ripple upon its release, and neither, surprisingly, did the album. This in and of itself was very curious, for the pairing with The Band - now stars in their own right - with old mentor Dylan , and a pending tour (memorialized on Before The Flood) should have been a home run. Maybe it was the malaise that was setting into the bloated rock world, only to be reinvigorated a couple years later by the punk movement. Maybe it was the odd fact that the LP label looked weird on the turntable (Dylan had defected to David Geffen's Asylum Records, after nearly fifteen years with titan Columbia Records). Or maybe it was the hodgepodge of song selection (Bill Wyman called it "a spare but twisted collection of songs").
In retrospect, "Forever Young" is the most enduring and strongest selection off Planet Waves. Its waltz melody perfectly accents the Psalm-like recitation of wishes that all parents have for their children. In one of the rare direct references to his songs, Dylan said: "I wrote it thinking about one of my boys and not trying to be too sentimental."
Original Listening: Bob Dylan, "Forever Young"
Live Listening & Viewing: Bob Dylan & The Band, "Forever Young" (The Last Waltz, 1975)
Alternate Take: Bob Dylan, "Forever Young" (Biograph, 1985)
Other Cover Versions:
Eddie Vedder, "Forever Young" (Boston, 2006)
Neil Young & The Grateful Dead, "Forever Young" (San Francisco, 1991)