Bob Dylan, interpreter: Seven of the artist’s greatest covers

Long before "Fallen Angels," Bob Dylan proved himself adept as an interpreter of others' works.
Long before “Fallen Angels,” Bob Dylan proved himself adept as an interpreter of others’ works.
(Chris Pizzello / Associated Press)

Editor’s note: In what was considered a “radical” choice, Bob Dylan was announced as the winner of the Nobel Prize in literature on Oct. 13, 2016. Read the story here.

Bob Dylan has devoted the vast majority of his 55-year recording career to songs of his own, but occasionally he has displayed his ability as a vocal stylist, interpreting folk, country, blues, gospel and pop songs that most inspired him.

Here are seven worth seeking:

1. “See That My Grave is Kept Clean/One Kind Favor” (Blind Lemon Jefferson): Out of the gate in 1962 with his debut album “Bob Dylan,” the acclaimed young folk hero and Woody Guthrie acolyte demonstrated he could be as adept singing other writers’ songs as his own. Here he injects palpable terror into Jefferson’s haunting ode to awareness of an inevitable meeting with the Grim Reaper.

2. “You Win Again” (Hank Williams): Dylan’s crying vocal zeroes in on the anguish, as well as the wounded resignation, in the lyrics by country music’s greatest songwriter.

3. “Folsom Prison Blues” (Johnny Cash): In place of the rolling train rhythm of Cash’s original, Dylan applies a Jimmy Reed chugging blues pace to propel his keening vocal, bringing more existential acceptance to this confession from a man who knows he belongs behind bars for life for his sins.


4. “Four Strong Winds” (Ian Tyson): Soul-deep regret and heartache are at the heart of this reading of the respected Canadian folk-country songwriter’s best-known song.

5. “A Fool Such As I” (William Marvin Trader): The shadows of hit versions by Hank Snow and Elvis Presley loom large over this song, yet Dylan finds his own distinctive route into the anguish at the heart of Trader’s lyric.

6. “Tomorrow Night” (Sam Coslow-Will Grosz): This precursor to “Shadows in the Night” and “Fallen Angels” shows Dylan excavating the blues under the surface of this 1939 pop standard, previously recorded by Presley, LaVern Baker, Jerry Lee Lewis, Horace Heidt and, perhaps most relevant to Dylan’s version, Lonnie Johnson.

7. “Delia” (Traditional): Dylan is at his most intimately confessional in this almost whispered rendition of the classic murder ballad, no doubt influenced by, but still determinedly different from, folk-blues singer Blind Willie McTell’s interpretation.

A brief look at the catalog of Bob Dylan.