In Scarlet Town where I was born
There’s ivy leaf and silver thorn
The streets have names you can’t pronounce
Gold is down to a quarter of an ounce
“Scarlet Town” was inspired by “Barbara Allen,” a seventeenth-century English or Scottish traditional ballad brought by immigrants to the New World. A recording of “Barbara Allen” can be found on the album Live at the Gaslight 1962, a collection of early Dylan performances at the Gaslight Cafe in New York City. “Scarlet Town” has other allusions as well, including echoes of the children’s nursery rhyme “Little Boy Blue,” the country hit “I’m Walking the Floor Over You” by Ernest Tubb, and even a reference to Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe with the line in the first verse, “Uncle Tom still workin’ for Uncle Bill.” But beyond these references, the picture drawn is pure Dylan. He clearly describes a damned city, a new alley of desolation with “beggars crouching at the gate,” where “evil and the good [are] livin’ side by side.”
-Margotin, Philippe; Guesdon, Jean-Miche (Bob Dylan All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Track)
Shine your light
You burned so bright
Roll on, John
Three years have gone since we was offered Tempest from Bob Dylan, it still sounds great.
Tempest is the thirty-fifth studio album by Dylan, released on September 7 to 11 (different countries and continents), 2012 . The album was recorded at Jackson Browne’s Groove Masters Studios in Santa Monica, California. Dylan wrote all of the songs himself with the exception of the track “Duquesne Whistle”, which he co-wrote with Robert Hunter.
Tempest was very well received by contemporary music critics, who praised its traditional music influences and Dylan’s dark lyrics. The album peaked at number three on the Billboard 200.
The album’s title initially spurred rumors that it would be Dylan’s final album, based on its similarity to the title of Shakespeare’s final play.
Dylan later responded:
“Shakespeare’s last play was called The Tempest. It wasn’t called just plain “Tempest”. The name of my record is just plain Tempest. It’s two different titles.”
Some facts from Wikipedia:
From September 7 to September 11, 2012
January–March 2012 at Groove Masters Studios in Santa Monica, California
Rock, folk rock
Here are three tracks from Tempest (with my analysis, sort of…):
Tin Angel “For me, after listening to it for two days, the most obvious masterpiece on Bob Dylan’s new album is the murder ballad, Tin Angel. It’s a story-song, the kind Dylan has done so magnificently many times before. Cross the Green Mountain, Tweeter and the Monkey Man and Brownsville Girl springs to mind. They are extremely cinematic songs and they tell a story over many verses. Another song that pops up in my head is the wonderful story of Spanish Jack by Willy DeVille, not very like in sound but in tone.”Read More…
Pay in Blood “Bob Dylan says the stigma of slavery ruined America and he doubts the country can get rid of the shame because it was “founded on the backs of slaves.”
Bob Dylan told in a recent interview with Rolling Stone Magazine that in America “people are at each other’s throats just because they are of a different color, it will hold any nation back.” He went on to say that black people know that some white people “didn’t want to give up slavery.”” Read more…
Scarlet Town “The song feels like a mash of several songs, and that’s actually what it is. He draws inspiration from the old ballad Barbara Allen, but he just uses it as a framework to tell an even more sinister tale. The new parts of the song also feels like a split between two different songs, one set in biblical times and the other addressing the state of USA/The Western world today.” Read more…
Painting By Joachim Patinir, Landscape with The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah
I will not pretend to know what Bob Dylan’s exact meaning with this song is but I will offer my thoughts on what I consider the second best song on Tempest.
Scarlet Town from the Bob Dylan album Tempest (with film footage from Masked & Anonymous):
The song feels like a mash of several songs, and that’s actually what it is. He draws inspiration from the old ballad Barbara Allen, but he just uses it as a framework to tell an even more sinister tale. The new parts of the song also feels like a split between two different songs, one set in biblical times and the other addressing the state of USA/The Western world today.
Lyrics Barbara Allen (The three first verses):
In younder town where I was born
There was a fair maid dwell’n
Made every youth cry well away
Her name was Bar-bry Ellen
Was in th merry month of May
When greenbuds they were swell’n
Sweet William come from th western state
An’ courted Bar-bry Ellen
Was all in the month o’ June
When everything was blooming
Sweet William on his death bed lay
For th love of Bar-bry Ellen
Bob Dylan has a long lasting relationship with Barbara Allen (the song) and I’ve included some versions here just as a reference.
The first two verses from the Gaslight tapes (it’s eight minutes and has a lot of verses):
In Charlotte town, not far from here,
There was a fair maid dwellin.’
Had a name was known both far and near,
An’ her name was Barb’ry Allen.
‘Twas in the merry month of May,
Green buds they were swellin’,
Poor William on his death-bed lay,
For the love of Barb’ry Allen.
The first two verses in the -88 version:
In Scarlet Town where I was born
there was a fair maid dwelling,
and her name was known both far and near,
and they called her Barbara Allen.
T’was in the merry month of may
the green buds they were swelling,
sweet William on his death bed lay
for the love of Barbara Allen.
Two other artist that has used this song as a basis for an entirely new song are Gillian Welch and David Rawlings:
Not at all like the original Barbara Allen and the only two things it has in common with Bob Dylan’s song are, the title and it’s origin. The melody is different and the “story”/text is completely different (even if both have a distictly sombre tone). Gillian Welch/David Rawlings have more folksy/appalachian feel, while Dylan sings in a more talking blues style.