AUK’s Chain Gang: Mark Lanegan “Man in the Long Black Coat”

Last week’s Chain Gang piece explored a Bob Dylan song that was later covered on ‘I’m Not There’ OST  (Columbia, 2007) by The White Stripes. Naturally, I revisited this gem of a soundtrack and then had the hard task of picking just one track from it to show and tell. Mark Lanegan’s cover of ‘Man in the Long Black Coat‘ is such flawless Americana that even Ramblin’ Jack Elliot and The Black Keys covers have to wait their turn.

The original Bob Dylan song is on ‘Oh Mercy’ (Columbia, 1989) and was apparently recorded in just one take. He sings a staccato vocal line, chopping up the lines like ‘House of the Rising Sun’. Highly regarded by Dylan, he thought of it as his ‘I Walk the Line’ a song he’d always considered to be “up there at the top, one of the most mysterious and revolutionary of all time, a song that makes an attack on your most vulnerable spots”.  The lyrics are rich with country imagery, “Crickets are chirpin’, the water is high, There’s a soft cotton dress on the line hangin’ dry” and tell the age-old story of a woman left with a handsome stranger.

‘I’m Not There’ soundtrack includes a long list of Americana and rock artist and contributors. Great musicians honouring a great musician and in doing so creating some great music. Most artists don’t get this recognition while alive! Artists like Calexico, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Willie Nelson all pay tribute in one of the best Americana compilations.

Mark Lanegan has at least five solo studio albums. He has also worked with Greg Dulli from The Twilight Singers, collaborated with Isobel Cambell on two albums, and was associated with Screaming Trees and Queens of the Stone Age. He is well-known for his deep gravelly voice, which makes this song is a very good fit for Lanegan as Dylan has used his baritone side. Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, and Tom Waits would equally have been a good vocal fit, but Lanegan brings his own style to the cover while not straying far. He adds piano and makes it darker, but changes it to sound more flowing. He takes away the staccato rhythm of the original, again creating a sense of continuity.

It is an excellent tribute to Bob Dylan that adds depth and colour to the original, which is by no means a shallow pool.

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