Song: Ring Them Bells
Album: Follow Me Down
Performer: Sarah Jarosz
Writer: Bob Dylan
I was having a discussion about Bob Dylan with my boss this morning because we were playing his music in the shop in celebration of his 75th birthday. He was moaning to me about the fact that all Bob Dylan songs are the same song. He feels like Dylan is lyrically what Jackson Pollock is to the art world. He thought this was a bad thing. Personally, I think he’s right about Dylan’s lyricism being analogous to Pollock at times; however, I think that’s a beautiful thing. Dylan’s lyricism is like an emotional splatter.
I would like to spend the next week exploring my favorite covers of Bob Dylan’s songs.
Bob Dylan himself has some wonderful recordings, but many are put-off by his gravely voice and generally un-polished sound. I get it, I do. But I would like to offer those people a taste of Dylan’s artistry as imagined by some conventionally great musicians.
For starters, Sarah Jarosz’s rendition of “Ring Them Bells” is sublime. I got a Bob Dylan lyric book for my birthday in middle school. It has lived in my guitar case ever since. This was one song that I always loved when rifling through the songs. When I heard Sarah Jarosz’s recording of it I simultaneously loved the song and hated that she was absolutely the person that I want to be and making the music that I dreamed of making.
The song is driven by Jarosz’s octave mandolin, featuring Jerry Douglas on dobro and includes cello and fiddle to fill out the sound. The arrangement does a great job of featuring the exquisite lyric. The song is written in a largely strophic form with one section which feels like a chorus but does not repeat. Each verse begins by calling for various people to “ring them bells” for various purposes. There is a wealth of religious imagery in the song which brings to mind images of the rapture in Biblical teachings.
Ring them bells Sweet Martha for the poor man’s son
Ring them bells so the world will know that God is one
Oh the shepherd is asleep
Where the willows weep
And the mountains are filled with lost sheep
Ring them bells for the blind and the deaf
Ring them bells for all of us who are left
Ring them bells for the chosen few
Who will judge the many when the game is through
Ring them bells for the time that flies
For the child that cries
When innocence dies
It feels like a call for people to return to a sense of spirituality. I’m also left with a sense the narrator has conceded to the brokenness and depravity of the world.
It is a truly beautiful song which is masterfully captured by Sarah Jarosz. Below is actually a recording of Sarah Jarosz singing the song on her own – just her and her octave mandolin. It is as beautiful as the studio recording and has a different character to it. I’d suggest that you check out both.