The pure quality of the Original London Cast Recording of Girl From The North Country means it is almost as good as the show itself
“And I wait for them to interrupt
Me drinkin’ from my broken cup”
The very notion of a Bob Dylan musical was one about which I couldn’t help but be sceptical but the Old Vic’s Girl From The North Country completely confounded me, emerging as a powerfully moving piece of musical theatre (even if it is determined to label itself a play with songs). And whether that success had been predicted or not, we have been given the gift of a cast recording to tide us over while we queue for returns and/or pray for a West End transfer.
For myself, I’d argue that Bob Dylan songs are best sung by other people anyway, so I should have maybe clocked that this show would be right up my street. And it remains the case here – listening to the original of ‘Tight Connection to My Heart’ suggests nothing of the transcendent beauty that Sheila Atim’s interpretation lends it, the spine-tingling ache in her voice supported with skill and sensitivity by some perfectly arranged backing vocals from the ensemble.
So too ‘I Want You’ is transformed by a languorous change in pace, Sam Reid and Claudia Jolly merging voices like a latter-day Beautiful South to glorious effect. And for all my carping, the benefits of eschewing the narrative musical format means that the dips into Dylan’s extensive songbook can take whatever form they like. Shirley Henderson’s storming ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ dropping out to give us 50 seconds of a beautifully harmonised ‘To Make You Feel My Love’
To this non-Dylan fan, these medley-ish numbers work so very well. ‘Slow Train Coming’ bleeding into ‘License To Kill’, ‘You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere’ into ‘Jokerman’ and it helps inordinately that they’re not being sung by just anyone, this is a company that include Debbie Kurup, Karl Queensborough, and Arinzé Kene. Also superb are the reprises, calling back in magnificent fashion to several of the score’s strongest moments making this the kind of album that flourishes free from its theatrical context.