Sunday, November 26, 2006

Sunday song: Down from Dover

Mother and child
Image: 7 Arts Studio

Down From Dover - Jon Langford and Sally Timms

If you were to give birth to a stillborn baby, alone, having been abandoned by the child's father and shunned by your family, you might just have cause to scream and cry, to be frightened and sad and angry. But
Sally Timms narrates the Dolly Parton original, "Down From Dover" somber and matter-of-fact, her voice dipping to a whisper and bristling shivery only toward the conclusion, as the wretchedness of the scene lays itself bare before her.

"Dover" is an economical story, lapping wave on narrative wave. And its monodirectional zeal, its clipped trot to an inevitable death, artificially ages it--lending it the patina of the older ballads when Dover could be a several-day distance and a girl might submit, numb, to the yoke of fate while still holding slippery hope that her man will arrive in time. So Timms' brown-paper plain reading of the song seems right, more than Parton's colorsaturated Little Sparrow version (the original 1970 recording is out of print, but is reportedly even more vivid).

Timms has actually recorded "Dover" several times over a span of 15 or so years--with and without an assist from Mekons comrade Jon Langford--making it her own along the way. Eric Weisbard has a very good piece on the song and the endlessly fascinating Miss Parton's career that appears here.

From Songs of False Hope and High Values (iTunes).


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just wanted to post that I have both versions of Dolly's Down from Dover and her version from Little Sparrow.

Her original version really touch a cord (I think) because it was still around a time, where being young single and pregnant was frowned upon.

But I think the Little Sparrow version is the better of the two. Not only does it have a missing verse (that I believe she had said due to some production constraint, she couldn't include in the original), but the instrumentals aren't as fancy, so I feel more emotion in the song, than in her original version.

I do have to admit that this version you posted about is very intriging, I may just have to go and purchase it!

6:13 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

Bert, I agree. Someone just sent me the early version (thanks, Chris!), and I think I do prefer the Little Sparrow take. The first is a pop song, isn't it? Also, according to Eric Weisbard, that later restored verse was originally cut at the urging of Parton's boss/singing partner Porter Wagoner--probably because it shortened the song.

Finally, not sure if you realize, but you can download the Timms/Langford cover by right clicking, then saving the file. I should probably put something up that explains this for anyone who stumbles across this blog and isn't already familiar with how mp3 blogs work.

7:17 PM  
Anonymous SKM said...

Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood also have a slightly trippy version of "Down from Dover" ... which was then sampled by The Go! Team on "Ladyflash" (at least on the import version -- no idea if that was one of the samples that held up the US release).

6:38 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

Ha! You're right--I never would have caught that sample. But then I only listened to the Go Team's record like twice. Yeah, thanks mainly to Lee Hazlewood, it's a truly bizarre cover.

7:47 PM  

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