We observed last year a fine country song, made popular by other artists, but written originally by Bob Dylan; and we further observed that this pattern is discernible across the latter’s entire career as a troubadour. His generosity with the dispersion of his songs, for arrangement and rearrangement by other singers and bands, contributes to the greatness of his art.
Well, he’s at again this year. NPR has the full story: Dylan’s representatives contacted the Nashville country act Old Crow Medicine Show (who first arranged, with noteworthy success, an obscure Dylan tune called “Wagon Wheel”) and offered them another piece of raw material for reworking.
Of the cryptic contact, says OCMS frontman Ketch Secor, the main thrust was clear: “Bob would like you to have this song; maybe you can do something with it.” The song was called, “Sweet Amarillo.”
With more than a little trepidation, he went to work. He didn’t even notify the other members of the band. “I tried to get to the heart of what Amarillo and Bob could be about; where those two iconic names meet. And so we set a young Bob, thumbin’ his way to Amarillo to rendezvous with a Mexican girl.”
Presently they had a workable demo, and sent the track to Dylan for review. The response was very positive: only a few adjustments necessary. “And so, we did exactly what Bob said, and the song just opened up.”
Despite two very impressive rearrangements, they have never actually spoken to Dylan himself. “It just makes sense: the enigma, the mercurial figure that is Bob Dylan; that’s how Bob co-writes.”
The opening stanza exudes the Dylanesque, but the feel of the song is all OCMS:
Well the world’s greatest wonder, from what I can tell
Is how a cowgirl like you would ever look my way.
I was blinded by glory with a half-written story
And the songs spilling out off of every page.
There are many things to lament in this country. The fecundity and richness of our folk music, from the Appalachians to the Rockies and beyond, is not one them.