20 July 2010

Your Weekly Dylan Cover [#12]

"To Ramona"
David Gray
Original Dylan version found on Another Side of Bob Dylan (1964)

Mancunian David Gray needed to fail with three record labels and retreat to his own apartment in London in order to make the album that would launch his career. In 1998, after voluntarily bolting from EMI due to a disastrous marketing campaign for his record Sell, Sell, Sell, Gray gathered a couple of musical buddies and hunkered down in his flat with a 4-track recording machine and little else. The arresting lyrics and gentle, layered melodies hatched during this time frame resulted in White Ladder, which sold six million copies worldwide and is still the top-selling album ever in Ireland.

As a boy, he was drawn to artists and groups as diverse as Madness, Frank Sinatra, Van Morrison and Led Zeppelin. But it was a road trip with his father that changed David Gray's life forever. "I discovered Bob Dylan for the first time," he told ABC News in 2009. "Which sort of stopped me in my tracks." There was one tape in his father's car that they played over and over. On one side was Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits, Pavarotti was on the other side. "Bob won out," says Gray. "He's had the greater effect although I do eat a lot of pasta and it could have been to do with old Pavarotti."

It was the lyrics in Dylan's songs that Gray found so profound. "The fact that there was so much space for the words," he explains, "and the idea of the song and his imagery is so vivid, so you sort of don't need anything else. And I love that."

In 2007, Gray released the web-only A Thousand Miles Behind, a covers album of 12 songs, including three by Dylan. [The title of the LP is taken from Dylan's "One Too Many Mornings."] Here we present his live performance of "To Ramona." It is a song that comfortably fits in Gray's musical wheelhouse, and the singer delivers a wonderful rendering of the emotion-laden tale of a close friend (former lover?) trying in vain to break through to a soul mate about the need to blaze one's own trail in life.

It seems fitting that on 4 July 2010, David Gray was the opening act for his hero at Dylan's concert at Thomond Park in Limerick, Republic of Ireland.

Original Listening: Bob Dylan, "To Ramona"

Live Listening: Bob Dylan, "To Ramona" (The Bootleg Series, Vol. 6: Live 1964, Concert At Philharmonic Hall)

Another Cover Version: Sinead Lohan, "To Ramona" (Irish television, 1996)

Still Another Cover Version: Lissie, "To Ramona" (homemade video)

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