Friday, 13 May 2011

Joan Baez - The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (1971/ No. 6/ 12 weeks/ Vanguard)

"Like my father before me, I'm a workin' man,
Like my brother above me, I took a rebel stand.
He was just eighteen, proud and brave, But a Yankee laid him in his grave,
I swear by the mud below my feet,
You can't raise a Caine back up when he's in defeat."

A civil war song about the siege of Petersburg that lasted for almost a year in 1864 and 1865, seen from the point of view of a young confederate soldier holding the line against the Union army ("We were hungry. Just barely alive") and mourning the death of his young brother alongside him.

Also a revered rock classic from The Band's second album, and a song which I prefer in this version. As is often in the case in cross-cast cover versions, the displacement of voice from protagonist perhaps makes the listener concentrate on the story more and empathise with the teller through this (Brecht!). As always Baez's extraordinary purity of voice lends the epic story a beauty and understated grandeur.

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