I Shall Be Released

I was pleased to see the news story this week that Bob Dylan picked up a Nobel Prize in literature, the first for the U.S. in a generation. Dylan always considered himself a poet as much as a musician. He explored poetic and musical influences from all over the spectrum. I’ve been impressed with the way his songs continually evolved. The live versions often bear only scant resemblance to the album versions, and live versions from concerts several years apart often bear only scant resemblance to one another. I saw him in concert in Oklahoma City about fifteen years ago and was amazed.

I Shall Be Released was recorded by Dylan a number of times. I don’t particularly care for the album version of the song. For me, the quintessential recording is on the 1974 album “Before the Flood”–a live concert recorded with The Band. Robbie Robertson’s lead guitar work and The Band’s harmony vocals take the song to the next level. My own version owes more to Before the Flood than to Dylan’s original album version. This song, especially in The Band’s recording, shows a lot of blues and gospel influences that fit with the lyrics perfectly.

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They say every thing can be replaced
Yet every distance is not near
But I remember every face
Of every man who put me here

I see my light come shining
From the west down to the east
Any day now, any day now
I shall be released

They say every man needs protection
They tell me every man must fall
Yet I swear I see my reflection
Some place so high above the wall

I see my light come shining . . .

Down yonder stands a man in this lonely crowd
He’s a man who swears he’s not to blame
All day long I hear him shout it out loud
Calling out that he was framed

I see my light come shining . . .

Tupelo Honey

Van Morrison is a great singer-songwriter. His Moondance album is particularly superb, but many of his others had great songs. This is one of my favorites. It’s a love song as only Van Morrison could write it. As I type out the lyrics, I realize that it’s actually quite short, but Morrison has an ability to take a small number of words and get lots of mileage out of them.

You can take all the tea in China
Put it in a big, brown bag for me
Sail right around all the seven oceans
Drop it straight into the deep blue sea

She’s as sweet as Tupelo honey
She’s an angel of the first degree
She’s as sweet as Tupelo honey
Just like honey, baby, from a bee

You can’t stop us on the road to freedom
You can’t keep us, ’cause our eyes will see
Men of insight, men in granite
Knights in armor bent on chivalry

She’s as sweet as Tupelo honey . . .


Wondering Where the Lions Are

This week, it’s a cover from the great Canadian guitar player and songwriter Bruce Cockburn (pronounced Co-Burn). He’s an absolute wizard with the guitar, and most of his stuff is pretty far beyond my modest skill level. I can just about handle this one. It’s played in an alternate tuning with the bass string dropped to a D instead of an E which allows for the thumping bass rhythm of the song. It’s one of Cockburn’s most popular and enduring tunes–it was even covered by Jimmy Buffett a few years back.

Cockburn wrote the song in the late 1960s at a time when the Soviet Union and China were in the midst of their diplomatic split. Some intelligence analysts at the time believed that a nuclear war between the countries was imminent. Cockburn recounted that he had been having dreams about lions prowling around outside his door, dreams that left him terrified. One night, after hearing the news about the troubles in the world, he was visited by the same dream, but this time he realized that the lions weren’t actually menacing or frightening. They were a benign, even benevolent presence. He woke in the morning knowing that everything would be okay. I think the message is as valid today as it was in 1969.

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Sun’s up, mmm hmm, looks okay
The world survives to another day
And I’m thinking ’bout eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me

I had another dream about lions at the door
They weren’t half as frightening as they were before
Got my mind on eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me

Up among the firs where it smells so sweet
Or down in the valley where the river used to be
Got my mind on eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me

Walls, windows, trees, waves coming through
You be in me and I’ll be in you
Together in eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me

And I’m wondering where the lions are . . .

Huge orange flying boat rises off the lake
Thousand year old petroglyphs doing a double take
Pointing a finger at eternity
I’m sitting in the middle of this ecstasy

Young men marching, helmets shining in the sun
Polished and precise like the brain behind the gun
Should be. They’ve got me thinking ’bout eternity
And this ecstasy got a hold on me

And I’m wondering where the lions are . . .

Freighters on the nod on the surface of the bay
One of these days were gonna sail away
Gonna sail into eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me

And I’m wondering where the lions are . . .

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