This version of “Alberta” is modeled after “Alberta #1” from Bob Dylan’s Self Portrait album released in 1970. “Alberta” was a popular folk-revival tune of 1960’s. Most likely Dylan remembered hearing this one from folk singer Bob Gibson or possibly from Odetta’s version entitled, “Roberta.” One can trace the roots of the song back to the times when steamboats carried people and goods along the Ohio River. The lyrics and melody were originally written down by Kentucky folksong collector Mary Wheeler in her book, Steamboatin’ Days: Folk Songs of the River Packet Era in 1944. In the book Wheeler mentions that she recorded the song from a gentleman by the name of Gabriel “Uncle Gabe” Hester.
The Partisan is a song of defiance and hope. Leonard Cohen recorded it for his 1969 album, Songs from a Room. He apparently learned it in the 1950’s at summer camps. It was originally titled ”La Complainte du partisan” and was written in 1943 by Russian born cabaret singer Anna Marly and French resistance leader Emmanuel d’Astier de la Vigerie. Marly sang it and other songs on the BBC’s French service, through which she and her songs were an inspiration to the Resistance. The song was translated into English by Hy Zaret, an American Tin Pan Ally composer. Cohen used Zaret’s translation for his version of the song. One interesting change that Zaret made in translating the song is in the final stanza:
“The wind, the wind is blowing/through the graves, the wind is blowing/Freedom soon will come/and we’ll come from the shadows”
It was originally:
“the wind is blowing on the graves/Freedom will come back/everyone will forget us/we will return to the shadows”
One cannot help but be reminded of our current predicament where health care workers are putting their lives on the line to fight an invisible enemy, and when this pandemic is under control we will go on forgetting that they are still there saving lives everyday.
Here is the translation of the French stanzas:
Les Allemands étaient chez moi (The Germans were at my home) ils m’ont dit “Résigne-toi” (They said, “Surrender,”) mais je n’ai pas pu (this I could not do) j’ai repris mon arme (I took my weapon again)
J’ai changé cent fois de nom (I have changed names a hundred times) j’ai perdu femme et enfants (I have lost wife and children) mais j’ai tant d’amis (But I have so many friends) j’ai la France entière (I have all of France)
Un vieil homme dans un grenier (An old man, in an attic) pour la nuit nous a cachés (Hid us for the night) les Allemands l’ont pris (The Germans captured him) il est mort sans surprise (He died without surprise)
Tell Old Bill – aka Ol’ Bill – aka This Evening So Soon – is a folk song that can be traced back to the early Ragtime era. This version comes from Dave Van Ronk’s second album released in 1961. Van Ronk’s source was most likely Bob Gibson, an influential 1950’s folkie, who recorded a version in 1957. Gibson got his version from Carl Sandburg’s collection of folk songs, American Songbag. The version in John and Alan Lomax’s book American Ballads and Folk Songs, also credits Sandburg. The song melody and the lyric refrain seem to come from an early ragtime composition by Ben Harney titled, “You’ve Been a Good Old Wagon, But You Done Broke Down” which is considered to be the first ragtime tune ever published.
Ring Them Bells by Bob Dylan from his 1989 Oh Mercy album.
To continue this song, I say:
Ring them bells For the doctors and nurses and health care workers Ring them bells For the scientists working on a COVID-19 vaccine Ring them bells For those who are out of work Ring them bells For the children who rely upon schools as their main source of food Ring them bells For workers at the grocery store Ring them bells For first responders Ring them bells For delivery people Ring them bells For John Prine
We are all in this together and we are, collectively, the child that cries when innocence dies.