Thursday, September 16, 2010

"A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" / Edie Brickell / Born on the Fourth of July Soundtrack

In high school in the late 80's, every girl I was friends with, and I mean EVERY girl, loved Edie Brickell. The Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars CD was a musical female Bible; she was the patron saint of the thoughtful, disaffected, moody teenage girl. Diaries, classroom folders and yearbooks had scribbled lyrics from "Circle". She just seemed to capture the zeitgeist of what it meant to be a adolescent girl back then.

And I'm not gonna lie, it wasn't too bad. Edie was easy on the eyes, and the music was nice when one was in the mood for some mellow tunes. I actually really liked the single "Mama Help Me" off of her follow-up album, but that was a litle bit darker and less accessable and didn't prove to be much of a hit. Then Brickell went on to marry Paul Simon, have some guiar stumming folkie babies, and was hardly heard from again(save the odd release).

In 1989, at the height of Brickell's popularity, the Tom Cruise war film Born on the Fourth of July was released. The soundtrack contained Brickell's perfect cover of this Bob Dylan song.

Here's the thing about Dylan: at the rick of losing any musical credentials I may have among people and alienating my Dylan-worshiping in-laws, I'm just really not a fan. I recognize his significant cultural impact, I appreciate his skill as a songwriter, but the perfomance just has never done it for me. The sloppiness of the music, the inscrutable, pretentious lyrics, that voice (though this is coming from a dude whose favorite band is led by Geddy Lee, so take it with a grain of salt), it's never worked for me.

Now songs that are Dylan covers I generally like. Of course, there's Hendix's "All Along the Watchtower" (considered by many to be the greatest cover of all time); I just recently heard a cover of "Girl From the North Country" by Lions on Sons of Anarchy - an incredible song that I downloaded before I even realized it was a Dylan cover, and there's this Brickell cover here. Dylan can compose a hell of a song, but his performance just leaves something to be desired.

I've never heard the original of this song, and it's probably just as well, because I always listen to this without any preconceptions or comparisons. It made sense once I found it out, though, as you can recognize some classic Dylan elements such as the wordiness, the odd imagery, the symbolism and the folk structure.

Brickell's gorgeous voice probably gives the song the biggest improvement. My favorite part of the song is the very beginning with the strummed intro and her crystal-clear tone lulling

Oh where have you been, my blue-eyed son?
Oh where have you been, my darling young one?

(And check out the chord change on the second "one" there - what a great punch, and it's repeated throughout the song)

The first verse is just Edie and the guitar, which is nice, but it's best just to ignore the lyrics about misty mountains, sad forests and dead oceans. I mean, I consider myself pretty well versed in poetic devices and symbolism, but come on. After the chorus, she adds more instrumentation, which makes the drop back to just her voice and the guitar very effective at the beginning of the third verse (3:03).

After that, I love the slow build from quiet to loud as Brickell takes advantage of the "Where the...." refrain which is repeated over and over and builds tension and intensity, finally dropping it off at 4:27, (on the word "sinking"). Finally, a really nice job with the false ending, "I'll know my song well before I start singing" and trailing off with a false ending at 4:34 before poping out with the chorus once more, and I just love how she belts that bad boy out - I still get chills when she hits the "Raaaaaain" high note at the end of the song.

Here's Dylan's version