One can only imagine what it would have been like to sit in the basement of Big Pink while Dylan and The Band recorded Basement Tapes sessions in 1967. (By the way, it was written just outside of Saugerties, NY in the Catskill Mountains.) Written that same year by Mr. Zimmerman, ‘I Shall Be Released’ was first officially released on the Band’s debut album Music from Big Pink. There are many ways to listen and interpret this song, perhaps the reason why it has such staying power. Some argue it is Dylan’s personal quest for salvation, others the release from the hell of being wrongly imprisoned. While the The Band’s version is still regarded as one of the best, the list of artists who have covered the tune is remarkable. It seems to infiltrate every last corner of any music scene. It is near impossible to find someone who says they don’t like this song, or at least one version of it.
One of my favorite takes on it has always been Nina Simone’s. She does a number on it. For those that simply ‘can’t stand’ Bob Dylan’s voice, just give this one a try. This is my comfort song, my ‘alone on an island song.’ Watching musicians coming together to sing is testament to how truly therapeutic music can be. I will never, ever tire of it.