Some researchers think that Man of Constant Sorrow is related to the old hymn, I Am a Pilgrim of Constant Sorrow. The lyrics are haunting and worth a careful listen.
The song was well-known among Dylan’s contemporaries. The most popular version was done by The Stanley Brothers . Ralph Stanley’s version was also included in the popular film Down from the Mountain, a live concert based on the music from the movie, Oh Brother, Where Art Thou.
Dylan gives the song a strong blues feel. According to Todd Harvey 1 Dylan’s version is unique: he switches the order of the stanzas, changes the words, and alters the melody. He also points out that Dylan changes the lyrics so that the focus of the song is the death of a relationship instead of being an old man’s rumination on death.
Dylan’s version doesn’t approach the gravity that his elders afford it. Better versions of this song are available on later bootleg recordings. One of the best appears on Golden Vanity, perhaps my favorite Dylan bootleg of all-time.
Another live version by Ralph.
During the nineties Dylan did many interesting covers of bluegrass songs.
I am a man of constant sorrow
I’ve seen trouble all my days
I’ll say goodbye to Colorado
Where I was born and partly raised
Through this open world I’m a-bound to ramble
Through ice and snow, sleet and rain
Im a-bound to ride that mornin’ railroad
Perhaps I’ll die upon that train
Your mother says that I’m a stranger
A face you’ll never see no more
But here’s one promise to ya
I’ll see you on God’s golden shore
I’m a-goin’ back to Colorado
The place that I’ve started from
If I’d knowed how bad you’d treat me
Babe, I never would have come
- The Formative Bob Dylan ↩