9/11/13

Every Grain of Sand




I'm blown away by this. Why? Three main reasons:

First: 'Every Grain of Sand', an incredible song by Bob Dylan originally released as the final track on Shot of Love (1981), which in turn was the last in what has often been called the "gospel trilogy" of Dylan albums beginning with Slow Train Coming (1979), continuing with Saved (1980) and rounding off with Shot of Love (1981).
On 'Every Grain of Sand' Dylan seems to reflect on not only his conversion to Christian beliefs in the late 70's but also on his journey in the years before as well as on what is to come. There's an incredible perspective to the song and every line is laced with meaning (a cliché thing to say but in this case it just fits!)

Second: Blind Boys of Alabama, one of the mightiest names in American gospel music. An institution spanning several decades beginning in the thirties. Blind Boys represent a heartfelt, rootsy kind of gospel music that remains in touch with its deep traditions as well as inclusive and open towards different approaches to music.

Third: Justin Vernon of Bon Iver in the producer's chair for the upcoming Blind Boys album I'll Find A Way which this song will be on and also singing on the track along with the Blind Boys. I'm a big fan of his stuff and the combination of songwriting, musicianship and musical styles that constitutes this version of 'Every Grain of Sand' is simply goosebumps inducing.

While reading the bio for the upcoming Blind Boys/Vernon album I came across this very poignant description of the song:

"...That gospel can accommodate both great belief and lingering doubt is perhaps best demonstrated on I’ll Find a Way by the cover of “Every Grain of Sand,” penned by Bob Dylan during his Christian period.

“Every Grain of Sand” is loaded with personal weight for Vernon, who discovered the song during a particularly dark time in his life: “My last year of college, I was taking a class called the Problem of Evil. It took up so much of my time, and I spent months discussing the worst shit that’s ever happened to human beings and deciding that there was absolutely no reason for any of it. When I was writing my senior thesis, I listened to ‘Every Grain of Sand’ on repeat. It was all I listened to for months.”

At the time he had no idea he would be singing that song with one of his heroes. In their translation of “Every Grain of Sand,” Vernon and Carter opted to turn it into a dialogue between believer and non-believer. “Dylan has resided on both sides of that line,” Vernon explains. “As a writer, I think the song exists on both sides of the line as well, so Jimmy and I are both coming from such different places, and yet we’re singing about the same thing. There are two perspectives in that song, and they’re colliding.”"
 That's exactly how I feel about 'Every Grain of Sand'. It exists on both sides of the line as an incredible piece of dialectic gospel.

The Blind Boys/Vernon version is actually not the first time a striking interpretation of this particular song has been released. That honor goes to country singer Emmylou Harris and producer Daniel Lanois whose incredible cover featured on Harris' mighty comeback album Wrecking Ball (1995). Lanois is a master of atmospherics and it's nice to see Vernon developing into quite a worthy follower.


As much as I love a good Bob Dylan cover (Jimi Hendrix's 'All Along The Watchtower' anyone?) I find myself repeatedly returning to his own versions. So it feels right to also feature the original version of the song. We actually saw him perform the song in Den Fynske Landsby, Odense in 2011. What a beautiful moment that was.
Every Grain of Sand - Bob Dylan from Temuco Blues on Vimeo.

Thanks for reading + listening! To see/hear more about the upcoming Justin Vernon produced Blind Boys album check out this short documentary:

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