Nina Simone: Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues

Holy crap.  I just read this on BoingBoing.   Do everyone on earth a favor and listen to this youtube clip, then lets continue our discussion.

First off these are 2 artists with some of the most distinct voices in the world.  No one else will ever be mistaken for Simone, same goes for Dylan.  But the thing that constantly amazes me is how his songs really take on new life in the hands of other artists.  A few years back there was the film “I’m Not There”  where various actors portrayed Dylan at different periods in his life.  Now, not gonna lie, I didn’t have much interest in seeing Heath Ledger play Bob Dylan.  I did however, buy the soundtrack.  A double disc affair containing all covers of Dylan classics and lesser known tunes.

There are high points and low points just as with any giant film soundtrack.  Some of my favorites include a great Cat Power cover of “Stuck Inside A Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again”  Backed by a crazy group of studio musicians including Lee Renaldo, Smokey Hormel, and John Medeski.  Jim James of My Morning Jacket and Calexico do a reverb soaked “Goin To Aculpoco”  reminiscent of The Band days.  Richie Havens doing “Tombstone Blues” and also from highway 61, Ramblin Jack Eliot does “Just Like Tom Thumbs Blues”

From the ages of about 12-16, this was possibly my favorite album in existence.  The beginning of the electric years, Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper and Harvey Brooks in the band, Dylan at the top of his game.  Tom Thumb may consistently be my favorite track on there. Other than Ramblin Jack and Nina Simone, the only other cover of this song I had heard was on some Grateful Dead bootleg, and that just didn’t do it for me, so lets forget it ever happened.  Something in these 2 voices though (Jack and Nina)  really seems to make the song speak out.  The dylan version maybe has some bitterness to it, basically its like “screw you guys, I’ve had it with this BS”  Where as Simone’s seems more sentimental, and Ramblin Jacks is kind of “I’m tired of this shit, I’m out”  yet he’s not pissed about leaving.

This version though, literally heard for the first time about 5 minutes ago, I just can’t get over.  That piano against the conga rhythm sounds like the basics of hip hop right there. Kanye West is totally ripping this shit off in “Heard Em Say”.  The little lead guitar coming in has a little Sam and Dave, but pays the most direct homage to the original track.  The vocal though, how does something like that even happen.  Her rhythm is all her own, but perfectly fits into the track.  Who the hell else is gonna sing like that.  Lets not turn this into “nothing like this would ever happen today”  discussion..but ya know…nothing like this would ever happen today.  The production is so perfect I just want to go out and throw every computer in a giant bonfire and find a tape deck somewhere to record on.

This is one of the two greatest Dylan covers ever done, among the hundreds or thousands out there.  This one, and Allen Toussaints version of “Momma You Been On My Mind”  which I don’t think was ever recorded, but which I have heard live not once but twice, and will be in my head forever.  What is with soul singers and Dylan?  It just blows my mind every time.