Thursday, August 04, 2011

Bob Dylan, Canadee-I-O, and Nic Jones' Return to Live Performance

One of the more pointed disputes about Dylan and the folk process, at least until "Love and Theft"'s sporadic yakuza roots were highlighted, was over the credits on Good As I Been To You (some of which were clearly wrong). The most heated one was probably over "Canadee-I-O," which certainly showed the influence of Nic Jones, though perhaps no more so than other influences on any number of other songs that Dylan had recorded in the past.

Still, Jones's situation aroused sympathy. A stone brilliant, marvelously distinctive interpreter of British traditional music, Jones was very badly injured in a devastating car crash in February 1982, which left him unable to perform or record. Clinton Heylin asked, in one of his more notorious open letters,
"How about an arrangement credit for the man you purloined it from, Bob, a man who has no means of making a living, no longer even able to play the guitar because of a horrific car accident that ended a promising career?" Jones's manager had already rejected the charges, but they persist.

Here's Dylan's version:

And here's Nic Jones's:

And juxtaposing them, I can't buy into the complaint. Jones's performance of the song is accomplished, his guitar work lovely, his rendition almost impossible to fault. His instrumental figures ornament the song beautifully, and he delivers the lyrics with a distancing that highlights the age of the song, probably more than 150 years old when Jones released it in 1980.

But where Jones performs the song, Dylan inhabits it. His version of the song is rough-hewn and immediate. His guitar work is more than simply functional, but it does not ornament the song; it echoes and underscores Dylan's vocal cadences (which to be sure show Jones's influence). He delivers the lyrics without distance, as though they are events he remembers involving people he knew, yet with freshness, as though they are memories he is rediscovering after not coming to mind since the events themselves (a feature of some of Dylan's finest vocal performances).

What these two performances have most in common is that they are extraordinarily good, and bear the individual stamp of each musician.

After his accident, Nic Jones reportedly spent six weeks in a coma. He suffered both extensive physical injuries and, probably, what is today referred to as a traumatic brain injury. After a long, long period of rehabilitation, he managed to regain part of his ability to play guitar (or "do battle with it," as his family described it on his website). In 2010, at a tribute concert, he performed some vocals with the Bandoggs, a group he was once featured in.

On May 28, 2011, a still-fragile Nic Jones gave his first solo performance in nearly 30 years, a brief but thrilling set at a concert honoring him and his music. Publicity for the concert had said only that he would again sing with the Bandoggs. The set concluded with a performance of one of Jones's signature pieces, "Ten Thousand Miles," accompanied by his son on guitar.

Nic Jones and his wife Julia offer what's available of his music for sale here:

It would be fine value for your money as well as a way to support and appreciate a more than deserving musical artist.


trevgibb said...

I actually prefer the Nic Jones version to Bob's. His style of delivery is dry but not without style and character. The guitar playing pristine, he leaves the song to do the work and get you to the song.

Dylan's is perhaps for affected.

Nic Jones is brilliant, all of his work is worth seeking out as I'm sure Bob knows well.

jumprightin said...

Nic Jones' brilliant album, Penguin Eggs, is available, but his fine earlier albums produced by Bill Leader in the 1970s are not. (From The Devil To A Stranger, The Noah's Ark Trap) These records are being held from release by Celtic Music.

Fortunately, his family has pieced together a couple of excellent collections of Nic's recordings Celtic Music did not hold the performance rights to. Find those.