Bob Dylan – Bootlegs and Beyond! (Part 2)

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Hey all!

This is probably going to be my last post for the year.  The next few weeks are gonna be busy as hell for Mr. Alan.  I got a little guy on the way and if he’s anything like his mom, he’s going to need a lot of attention!  Luckily for us, she doesn’t read the blog, so I can say stuff like that and get away with it!  Also, I am chugging along on the sequel to my first book Tooley Dovaras vs. The Creature From Carlinsburg High.  In addition to that, I’ve thrown my short story Hubert Gets His Christmas Wish into a few contests, so we’ll see how that goes.

Also, let me just say thank you to anyone and everyone who clicked on my little blog.  Time is the most precious thing that a person can give and I appreciate you all taking your time and giving it to my ridiculous posts.

Anyway, back to the list.

The Bootleg Series, Vol. 8_ Tell Tale Signs.jpg

Bootleg Series, Vol. 8: Tell Tale Signs 1989-2006

Man, this one is a gem!  Dylan had kind of a rebirth in the late 80’s with Oh Mercy, which is one of my all-time favorite Dylan albums.  I know he hates the production, but it has some of his best stuff.  Anyway, he continued through the 90’s and early 00’s working with producers like Daniel Lanois, creating a darker, more rootsy sound.  These songs reflect Dylan moving more towards a tin-pan alley style of songwriting, as well as going back to his secular roots.  I love this whole set, but some standout tracks are the sparse version of “Mississippi” and the alternate take of “Everything is Broken”, one of the best tracks from Oh Mercy.

The Bootleg Series, Vol. 9_ The Witmark Demos 1962-1964 [Disc 1].jpg

Bootleg Series, Vol. 9: The Witmark Demos 1962-1964

This set was released to coincide with the reissue with his first eight albums on mono.  This set, also in mono showcase Dylan around 1962-64.  The songs are great, the performances show his working out the particular of some really wonderful songs, but the sound quality sucks really bad.  I understand that these are bootlegs and demos, but I can’t seem to really get into it.  It’s probably my least favorite bootleg set, simply because the sound quality sucks.  It’s just my own personal taste.

The Bootleg Series, Vol. 10_ Another Self Portrait (1969-1971) [Disc 1].jpg

Bootleg Series, Vol. 10: Another Self Portrait 1969-1971

Covering the period of the much-maligned Self Portrait and the actually-awesome New Morning, this set captures the best of those sessions.  Dylan isn’t afraid to experiment, and I think that he was trying to do a little too much with Self Portrait.  These bootlegs show why this series is so great: it strips away the sheen and experimentation away and leaves the songs, which is what Dylan is best at.  When you cut it down to basics, that’s when Dylan shines.  So, skip Self Portrait and get this set instead.  It more than atones for the sins of Self Portrait.

The Bootleg Series, Vol. 11_ The Basement Tapes Raw (Disc 1).jpg

Bootleg Series, Vol. 11: The Basement Tapes 

So, how do you take a perfect album and make it perfecter? (It’s a real word, LOOK IT UP!)  You get rid of Robbie Robertson!  The Band and Dylan recorded these tracks at Big Pink when they were rehearsing to go on tour later that year and this was the result.  They became legendary for several reasons, one of which being that you get two massive talents creating music that is near perfect.  For the longest time, this was the bootleg for Dylan fans to get.  Columbia figured that out, which is why they went back into the vault in 1975 and created an official release for the sessions.  Unfortunately, that also means that they had to doll it up a little to make it palatable for the consumer.  Gone is the rough, beautiful broken quality of the original recordings.  They also added several Robbie Robertson tracks to flesh out the album, which are fine, but get in the way of the Dylan stuff.

Anyway, Columbia records figured they weren’t making enough money out of this, so they released the entire sessions in a wonderful 6 disc box set or a much more manageable 2 disc set.  Get the two disc set if you have a choice.  It’s about $100 cheaper and honestly it’s not necessary to hear every false start, blown note, burp, and fart recorded in those sessions.  You will get a better, more raw, almost jug-band like quality from the recordings.  This is the sound of music being made, not just being played.

The Bootleg Series, Vol. 12_ The Best of The Cutting Edge 1965-1966 (Disc 1).jpg

Bootleg Series, Vol. 12: The Cutting Edge 1965-1966

Ahh, the moment Dylan turned his back on folk forever.  This set covers Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde, arguably the highest watershed for any artist of the rock n’ roll era.  Ok, maybe the Beatles could compete, but they never wrote “Visions of Johanna” or “Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again”.  Once again, there is a 6 disc set and a two disc set.  The thing with these recordings is that while they are amazing, they ultimately let me down a little.  These bootlegs are always going to be in the shadow of those three incredible albums and the mystique that has been built around them.  They are always going to feel inferior to the finished product.  Furthermore, while they illustrate the process Dylan went through getting the tracks right, it doesn’t offer any huge revelations.  In any case, it’s an interesting, if not altogether essential entry in the series.

The Bootleg Series, Vol. 13_ Trouble No More 1979-1981 [Live].jpg

Bootleg Series, Vol. 13: Trouble No More 1979-1981

Dylan goes Christian?  What the hell?  Yes, my friends, there was period where Dylan became a gospel singing Christian.  His three studio albums of this period Slow Train Coming, Saved, and Shot Of Love have been panned and ridiculed by critics and his audience alike.  Admittedly, for an Atheist like myself, these tracks are not my first choice when I want to jam to some Dylan.  Once again, this is where the Bootleg Series saves the day.

The studio albums are very much a product of late 70’s/early 80’s production and therefore sound weird when applied to Dylan.  The bootlegs are taken from his tour at that time and sound like a frenzied church service.  The gospel singers are giving their all, the band is killer, and Dylan sounds so much more earnest in a live setting than he does in the studio.  Listened to in the right setting, these are some of his best recordings.  It’s honest music, some of the most honest he’d ever made.  This is the biggest surprise of the series for me, because it covers a section of Dylan’s career that some of us would like to forget, but meant a lot to Dylan.  Highly recommended.  

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Bootleg Series, Vol. 14: More Blood, More Tracks

The latest entry in the series covers another mythological period of his career, the recording of Blood On The Tracks.  What can you say about Blood On The Tracks that hasn’t already been said?  If you ever gotten a divorce or had a break-up with someone, this is the album for you.  The original recording was released in 1975 and was a perfect album.  It is really hard to improve on it in any way, which is not what this set attempts to do.  Rather, this set fleshes out the album.  It strips it down in many cases, laying bare the songs and the intentions behind them.  We get to see Dylan work through “Tangled Up In Blue”, going through first person narrative, third person descriptors, and flipping through them sometimes in the same sentence.  “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” is a lazier, almost more mournful version than the original.

I feel like Blood On The Tracks would have made for a killer acoustic album, which is what this set does so well.  It gives us a different version of the album.  The great thing about this is that Blood On The Tracks is such a great collection of songs, we are given the treat of being able to assemble our own ‘dream album’ from the complete sessions.  Give me a few months and I’ll probably have a fan edit of the whole thing.  This is why I was a virgin for a long time.

The Bootleg Series is one of the greatest collections of unreleased material from arguably the greatest songwriter of rock n’ roll.  You really can’t go wrong with any of these recording because even the shittiest Dylan recordings are better than most other music.  Let me know what you think!

Anyway, that’s it for me.  Have a Happy New Year and I’ll see you later, damnit!

Till next time!

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