It seems to me that the later Bootleg Series releases – I’d say since Live 66 – are mostly inessential. Yes, it’s nice to have them available. But I can’t see anybody really listening to say, the Dylan and Harrison duet of If Not For You, more than once or twice.
This release is no different. A few gems buried in with a lot of inconsequential. That being said, there are always some items of real interest. My next series of posts will cover what caught my ear. First up – New Danville Girl.
New Danville Girl is an early version of what eventually was released as Brownsville Girl. Dylan wrote the song with playwright Sam Shepard. Dylan had hired Shepard in the late-70s to write the screenplay for Renaldo & Clara. New Danville was recorded during the Empire Burlesque sessions. Brownsville Girl was finally released on the pretty terrible Knocked Out Loaded.
There’s really not a great deal of difference between New Danville and Brownsville, outside the title. (See Dylan Chords for more information.) The title itself though is interesting.
Danville Girl is the name of a fairy obscure traditional song. Well, at least I hadn’t heard of it before. But a quick search on Amazon Unlimited quickly shows that a musician of Dylan’s age would definitely have known it. Listed are covers by Woody Guthrie, The Greenbriar Boys, The New Lost City Ramblers, Pete Seeger, Happy Traum, and Spider John Koerner. Dylan personally knew each and every one of those artists. So he certainly knew the song.
Here’s the version by Woody.
The great stylist Dock Boggs did a nice version. (Dylan might have been channeling Boggs’ version of the traditional Sugar Baby for his completely different song of the same name.)
Vincent Martin (Dylan mentor Fred Neil’s long-time musical partner) gave it a more modern style.
I’m guessing Dylan originally meant New Danville Girl as a type of sequel to the traditional song. Perhaps he decided to change the name when he realized his song went so far afield from the original.
Woody did his own sequel, a duet with Cisco Houston. Just some minor lyric changes.
Dylan may have borrowed the phrase “standing on the platform” from New Danville for his I & I. And “smoking a big cigar” might have been tweaked into “smoking a cheap cigar” for Standing in the Doorway. Or not.
I’m not really sure there was a burning need to release New Danville Girl. It’s basically the same as Brownsville Girl. Michael Gray, in his book Song and Dance Man, makes the case that Brownsville is far superior. I agree it’s better, but whatever, neither song is all that great. Dylan didn’t have a lot to say during that period, although Brownsville does provide some evidence that he was at least trying.