Bob Dylan’s Best Songs: Red River Shore





Some of us turn off the lights and we live
In the moonlight shooting by
Some of us scare ourselves to death in the dark
To be where the angels fly
Pretty maids all in a row lined up
Outside my cabin door
I’ve never wanted any of ’em wanting me
Except the girl from the red river shore

TOC

  1. Facts
  2. Quotes
  3. Lyrics
  4. Cover versions

@#27 on my list of Bob Dylan’s top 200 songs.

Facts

Released on “The Bootleg Series Volume 8: Tell Tale Signs: Rare & Unreleased 1989– 2006” – October 6, 2008.

Known studio recordings:

Criteria Studios
Miami, Florida
January 1997
Time Out Of Mind sessions. Produced by Daniel Lanois and Jack Frost.

Musicians:
  • Bob Dylan (guitar, acoustic and electric lead, harmonica, piano, vocals)
  • Daniel Lanois (guitar)
  • Augie Meyers (organ, accordion)
  • Tony Garnier (bass)
  • Jim Dickenson (keyboards)
  • Jim Keltner (drums)
  • Brian Blade (drums)
  • Tony Mangurian (percussion)
  • Bucky Baxter (acoustic guitar, pedal steel guitar)
  • Robert Britt (electric guitar).
  • Duke Robillard (electric guitar)

Producer: Daniel Lanois (in association with Jack Frost Productions)

Sound Engineer: Mark Howard

2 versions are released from these recording sessions. The best one was included on “Disc 1” & is embedded earlier in this post. The second version is to be found on the bonus disc (deluxe version), and not available on spotify/youtube.

Live:

  • Never been performed live

Quotes

“I have a memory of ‘Red River Shore’ as being just beautiful. I could feel everybody in the room feeling that song. I was disappointed it wasn’t on the album.”
Jim Keltner (drums on Red River Shore)

“‘Girl From The Red River Shore’ I personally felt was the best thing we recorded. But as we walked in to hear the playback, Dylan was in front of me, and he said, ‘Well, we’ve done everything on that one except call the symphony orchestra.’ Which indicated to me they’d tried to cut it before. If it had been my session, I would have got on the phone at that point and called the fucking symphony orchestra. But the cut was amazing. You couldn’t even identify what instruments were playing what parts.
– Jim Dickenson (keyboards on Red River Shore)

There was one song that I’m not sure will make the cut, that when I first heard Bob do it, right away I thought it was a Jimmie Rodgers thing circa 1929, it was that genuine. I was mesmerized by it, completely blown away . . . Lanois and Dylan talked about [how the album] was all designed to create a mood. The record is set in another time . . . it’s steamboat, civil war, very Mark Twain.
Duke Robillard (electric guitar on Red River Shore)

“Red River Shore” is a emotional ballad about a quest for love. The narrator loves a woman who captivated him at first glance, the memories of which are dreamlike. In the third verse, Dylan sings, “Well, the dream dried up a long time ago,” adding later, “Well, we’re living in the shadows of a fading past.” The girl from the Red River shore— is she a fantasy or the expression of perfect love? Dylan lets listeners use their own imagination. And from time to time, it seems he takes pleasure in rearranging the pieces of the puzzle. Thus, in the last verse, “I heard of a guy who lived a long time ago” who “knew how to bring ’em on back to life”— obviously a Christlike character. …  In listening to “Red River Shore,” the quality of the song and production make us wonder why Dylan excluded it from Time Out of Mind. This Tex-Mex-colored ballad is a great success, and thankfully “Red River Shore” was finally released after stay languishing too long in the shadows.
– Philippe Margotin & Jean-Michel Guesdon – Bob Dylan All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Track

“Red River Shore” … is, if not a masterpiece like “Blind Willie”, better than almost all of Dylan’s officially released material from the mid 1980s & 1990s.
Sean Wilentz (Bob Dylan in America)

Some short comments on this song from “Positively Bob Dylan“:

  • To me, this song draws together much Bob Dylan has written about in his songs down the years on the subjects of the Great Muse, yearning, sorrow, loss and hope. It is just magnificent, and rewards repeat listenings amply.
    -Alias
  • This is simply the most beautiful song I have ever heard.
    -Jessica
  • Hypnotic and classic Dylan builds into a creshendo of regret, sorrow and loneliness.
    -Russell
  • This is classic Dylan. Great words, great melody and arrangement. What strikes me about this song is Dylans world weary vocal. You can hear regret and pain in his voice as well as sounding like the loneliest man on earth.
    -Slumdog




Lyrics

Some of us turn off the lights and we live
In the moonlight shooting by
Some of us scare ourselves to death in the dark
To be where the angels fly
Pretty maids all in a row lined up
Outside my cabin door
I’ve never wanted any of ’em wanting me
Except the girl from the red river shore

Well I sat by her side and for a while I tried
To make that girl my wife
She gave me her best advice and she said
Go home and lead a quiet life
Well I been to the east and I been to the west
And I been out where the black winds roar
Somehow though I never did get that far
With the girl from the red river shore

Well I knew when I first laid eyes on her
I could never be free
One look at her and I knew right away
She should always be with me
Well the dream dried up a long time ago
Don’t know where it is anymore
True to life, true to me
Was the girl from the red river shore

Well I’m wearing the cloak of misery
And I’ve tasted jilted love
And the frozen smile upon my face
Fits me like a glove
Well I can’t escape from the memory
Of the one I’ll always adore
All those nights when I lay in the arms
Of the girl from the red river shore

Well we’re living in the shadows of a fading past
Trapped in the fires of time
I’ve tried not to ever hurt anybody
And to stay out of the life of crime
And when it’s all been said and done
I never did know the score
One more day is another day away
From the girl from the red river shore

Well I’m a stranger here in a strange land
But I know this is where I belong
I’ll ramble and gamble for the one I love
And the hills will give me a song
Though nothing looks familiar to me
I know I’ve stayed here before
Once a thousand nights ago
With the girl from the red river shore

Well I went back to see about her once
Went back to straighten it out
Everybody that I talked to had seen us there
Said they didn’t know who I was talking about
Well the sun went down on me a long time ago
I’ve had to pull back from the door
I wish I could have spent every hour of my life
With the girl from the red river shore

Now I heard of a guy who lived a long time ago
A man full of sorrow and strife
That if someone around him died and was dead
He knew how to bring ’em on back to life
Well I don’t know what kind of language he used
Or if they do that kind of thing anymore
Sometimes I think nobody ever saw me here at all
Except the girl from the red river shore

Cover Versions

Jimmy LaFave:

Henry Lim:

Sources

-Egil

4 thoughts on “Bob Dylan’s Best Songs: Red River Shore”

  1. As with so many of Dylan’s songs, the song is ambiguous enough to allow for multiple interpretations. Along with others on this post, I think the song and the performance are masterpieces. My interpretation? It seems to me that the girl is God and the song is Bob’s ruminations on his relationship to God. I see it, in some ways, as a follow up to his magnificent “Every Grain of Sand.”

  2. I absolutely love this song. It evokes so many feelings and creates a mood. Its hard to imagine that what would be a once in a lifetime piece for any other song writer was a throwaway song for Bob Dylan.

  3. It’s very good, but it isn’t the lost classic we were led to believe. There is absolutely no way I would trade any of TOOM’s ‘big four’ songs for it. I love listening to it, but it’s far from perfect. The nasal quality of the voice is quite extreme, sometimes approaching self parody. The lyrics can be a bit clunky: “died and was dead”, etc.

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