Have You Heard? – ( 15) “Girl From The North Country” by Bob Dylan…and Johnny Cash

“The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” is my favourite Dylan album. And that is saying something.

I’m always staggered to think it was only his second album, coming out in 1963. It has tunes like “Blowing in the Wind”, ‘A Hard Rain’s A’ Gonna Fall” and “Don’t Think Twice,  It’s Alright”.  But what makes it great is that every other song is brilliant too.  And none more so than “Girl in the North Country”.
(Click below to hear the song.  I can now upload from my iTunes library.  This is the first go.)

02 Girl From The North Country

It’s a simple folk tune.  A lament for a lost love.  But so beautifully enmeshed in memories of the North country – Minnesota, I think, Bob Dylan’s homeland – the cold winds, the ice, the summer’s end. There’s a wonderfully poignant feel to to the lyrics.  I particularly love these lines:

See for me she wears a coat so warm,                                                                                        To keep her from the howling winds…

A simple detail, an everyday concern that speaks of a burning, lingering love.

The melody for the song is influenced by an old English folk song called “Scarborough Fair”, and of course, that song was revived by Simon and Garfunkel. An absolutely beautiful rendition of the song, which I’m happy to include here.

Scarborough Fair _ Canticle

Bob revived “Girl From The North Country” too, in 1969, when he made “Nashville Skyline”.  This was one of his country albums, made in the aftermath of his motorcycle crash and his withdrawal from the limelight.  He sang “Girl From The North Country” with Johnny Cash. It’s sung at a higher pitch than the original, and both singers are struggling to hit the notes.  That gives it, for me, a real vulnerability, that works so well for this wistful, poignant song.

01 Girl from the North Country

 I love both versions. I play it on my guitar, and struggle to hit the notes, too, if I start in G, as instructed. It’s that kind of song.  Simple, but fragile. Like the love that Dylan lost once upon a time….

About John S

I'm blogging about the things I love outside work: music, sport, culture, London, with some photos to illustrate aspects of our wonderful city. And anything else that I happen to think is worth writing about!
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4 Responses to Have You Heard? – ( 15) “Girl From The North Country” by Bob Dylan…and Johnny Cash

  1. I actually saw Dylan on a bill that also included Santana and UB40 but really did not know enough about him to appreciate it. I’m not sure Wembley Stadium was the best place to get to know him! If you’ve a taste for folk and have not come across them before I recommend “Popular to Contrary Belief” (1977) by The Dransfields, favourite tracks are “Bogie’s Bonnie Belle” and “The Conscript’s Farewell”.

  2. John S says:

    That was some bill! Not heard of the Dransfields – will check them out.

  3. starlaschat says:

    I enjoyed the song. I think Bob Dylan was definitely an inspired writter of his time. I agree I really like the line as well “See for me she wears a coat so warm, To keep her from the howling winds…” For some reason with I cut and paste that last quote it spread out funny. :+) Oh well. Anyway…

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