Sunday, August 16, 2015

Poor Lazarus

The deputy's task:
Find Lazarus, bring him back.
How? Dead or alive.

Bob Dylan has only one commercial release of "Poor Lazarus" though there are two recordings that I know of. The 1967 release is a fragment on the Basement Tapes sessions that Sony released in their entirety in 2014. It's about a minute long and goes like this:

Oh where the high sheriff told his deputy
Go out and bring me Lazarus
Oh where the high sheriff told his deputy
Go out and find me Lazarus
Dead or alive.

The song "Po' Lazarus" was one recorded by Alan Lomax and Shirley Collins and sung by James Carter while he was a prisoner in the "Parchman Farm," part of the Mississippi State Penitentiary. It's a work song and an "African bad-man ballad," according to the ever trusty stable of Wikipedia contributors. It's also a song to keep time while four men chop down trees, something that the music scholars call a "work song." Here are the lyrics, as performed by "James Carter & The Prisoners," the group being so called because Lomax and Collins didn't know the names of the other prisoners who were singing. (You can hear the song in the soundtrack of the film "O Brother, Where Are Thou?")




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