When successful pop singer and former Disney teen idol Miley Cyrus walked into Hollywood’s Henson Recording Studios last fall to record her contribution to the Chimes of Freedom charity compilation project featuring the songs of Bob Dylan, who knew that she would be forging a possible career in country music.
Along with songwriter and producer John Shanks [Sheryl Crow, Keith Urban, Bon Jovi], who has worked with Miss Cyrus on her previous two releases [The Time of Our Lives and Can't Be Tamed, plus her chart-topper "The Climb"], the song she chose was “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go”.
It was originally written and recorded by Dylan and appeared as a cut on arguably his best album, 1975′s Blood on the Tracks.
The legendary songwriter was at a critical impasse in his personal life when “Lonesome” was recorded in September 1974 in New York City. He and his first wife, Sara, were experiencing their first major marital problems, which would ultimately end in divorce three years later.
Not surprisingly, Dylan has always refuted the allegories about the song’s origin, stating that he didn’t write confessional songs or anything revolving around his personal life. According to his interesting 2004 memoir,Chronicles: Volume One, the singer claimed all the songs on the album were inspired by the short stories of Russian writer Anton Chekhov.
Dylan’s near solo, folky take of “Lonesome” [besides the melodic bass playing courtesy of Tony Brown, only Dylan's acoustic guitar and harmonica accompany the track] is perhaps the most jaunty cut on Blood on the Tracks.
The song’s protagonist expresses his ever-lasting love for his significant other, but realizes that she is leaving him. Although he will never forget their relationship, including the good and bad times ["Situations have ended sad, relationships have all been bad, mine’ve been like Verlaine’s and Rimbaud; but there’s no way I can compare, all those scenes to this affair, yer gonna make me lonesome when you go"], the listener does not sense much bitter or despair. Rather, it is an acknowledgment that life will continue.
Since the song first appeared 37 years ago, it has rarely been performed by Dylan. In fact, he last performed it in May 1976 during the penultimate show of his Rolling Thunder Revue. And only a handful of artists [largely indie] have released cover versions, including Shawn Colvin and Elvis Costello [his version sat unreleased for a decade].
Without a doubt, Miss Cyrus’ cover has received the most attention. It would be interesting to learn how she first heard the song and why she chose to cover it. Regardless, the talented singer has contributed a performance worthy of the original version, a feat that doesn’t happen very often.
Miss Cyrus retains the unadorned, ballad feel of the original, only adding more acoustic guitar, background vocals, keyboards parts kept low in the mix, and an outstanding slide guitar solo near its conclusion courtesy of Shanks.
To hear her impassioned vocal [especially on the last "ooh, ooh, you're gonna make me lonesome when you go"], it is remarkable to realize Miss Cyrus was only 18 when the song was recorded [Dylan was 33]. And her version is actually more melancholy than Dylan’s.
Sadly, her record label, Hollywood Records, chose not to release it as a single, although an official music video was created.
Her previous album, 2010′s Can’t Be Tamed, was rightly criticized for its manufactured, repetitive synths and Auto-Tuned vocals. The title cut became another Top 10 hit on the pop charts, but no other singles were released in the USA, usually a good indicator that something is amiss.
In February the singer made appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and Ellen, performing the song in its entirety. She has remained largely out of the spotlight in the interim, dropping out of the upcoming animated comedy Hotel Transylvania to reportedly focus on her next album.
While Miss Cyrus’ initial goal was to become a full-blown pop diva after her altar ego, Hannah Montana, rode off into the sunset, it is time for the singer to embrace her country roots and record a full country album.
Miss Cyrus’s maturing, expressive vocals are tailor-made for country music, and the genre has a history of bending and embracing artists who experienced commercial pop success. Just look at Dolly Parton [her godmother!], Elvis Presley’s career after 1973, Darius Rucker of Hootie & the Blowfish, or the current success of Lionel Richie’s Tuskegee duets project.
It is understandable that she is hesitant to follow in her father’s footsteps, but hopefully the Nashville, Tennessee-bred young woman will read what all the amazing reviews are saying about her performance of “Lonesome” and realize where her greatest strengths lie.