Monday, August 1, 2011

Dylan Cover #21 Jerry Garcia & David Grisman "The Ballad Of Frankie Lee And Judas Priest "

The month of August always brings to mind Saratoga last year RtBE focused on Dead shows from Saratoga, this year we are going to focus on covers of songs from the first Bob Dylan show Wilson and I saw together which happened to be at SPAC.  It was a gorgeous summer night on July 23rd 2000 when the show took place, each Monday we will pick a cover of a song played on this night...this is the first one....

 In this ongoing Monday Series we will be exploring various artists versions of Bob Dylan song's. Today's tune is a cover by Jerry Garcia and David Grisman playing "The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest

Thoughts on Dylan Original:
A long and easy ramble for Dylan.  Showing up on John Wesley Harding the song sounds effortless and snakes with ease through a mysterious tale of friendship and possibly spiritual altercations.  I don't think anyone really knows what Dylan is talking about with this one and while I don't need to know what songs mean, this one seems to lose steam when you don't care too much about whats going to happen (unlike say "Lilly Rosemary & The Jack Of Hearts").  Interestingly it was only played 20 times total, and we got to see one of the final versions up at SPAC.  It is a fine song, just never one that I cared all that much about...the lyric says it best “Nothing is revealed”.  
Thoughts on Cover Artist:
Well I have spoken at length about the Dead and Garcia but his connection to David Grisman was very exciting and brought him back to his folk roots before he passed away.  Grateful Dawg is an excellent movie that opens up a window into their friendship and working relationship.  Their was a connection and magic that was vibrant and can be heard through their picking and playing.  Their collective love of classics and their innovative playing styles were a perfect match for each other and managed to bring out new sounds and styles into old tunes.     
Thoughts on Cover:
A great version that takes on that rare air of being comparable (if not better then) the original.  The crisp acoustic arraignments are fluttering and add air to the tune, sustaining an almost flight musically.  Grisman's mandolin in particular is radiant.  Garcia's easy vocals are just what the lazy tune needs and he sounds right at home spinning this yarn.  You can almost see the two graybeards on a back porch strumming this one out in the morning crispness, blissful brilliance.   
 Grade: A 

Wilson's Take:

"The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest" is an oddball; a lyric-heavy outcast recorded when the deep grooves of vinyl were filled with generic bridges, repetitious choruses and sharp hooks. Dylan's ballad offered a barrage of lyrics without so much as the pretense of a bridge. It wasn't Dylan's first such experimental outpouring. The immortal "Like A Rolling Stone" was another such oddity. On Frankie Lee and Judas Priest he took the experiment a step farther by recording his tale of earthly temptation and soul selling without giving the listener a chorus. Dylan stretches the listener's appreciation of the known, and does what any artist must, even at the expense of popularity. The album John Wesley Harding was no Blonde on Blonde; no Blood on the Tracks or Freewheelin' - it was dusty, less satisfying, less familiar to the ear. It was Dylan's latest effort to try for something that hadn't been done before in his uniquely simple way.

On Frankie Lee and Judas Priest Dylan returns to offering life advice, "One should never be where one does not belong," which ranks right up there with Dylan's other geographic-gem, "never give your address out to bad company."

David Grisman and Jerry Garcia recorded a surprisingly beautiful cover - even by the vaunted standards of these two old professionals. It moves simply, easily, like the perfect sailing music. Suddenly a rather dramatic tale seems committed to the sighs of two rocking chair philosophers. As always, it takes a unique talent to improve upon a Dylan original; more important, it takes the right song. Garcia and Grisman doing "The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest" is one of those rare moments when everything aligns.

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