Review: Dylan’s Bootleg Series Vol 12, The Cutting Edge – Lightning In a Bottle

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 In a previous post on BourbonAndVinyl I published a “User’s Guide” to Bob Dylan’s vast collection of “Bootleg” recordings/box sets. I actually went all the way back to his first box set, “Biograph” the box set that started the entire box set cottage industry. Obviously I’m a Dylan fan. But I have to admit, when I heard the title of this latest edition, ‘Volume 12, The Cutting Edge  1965-1966’ I was a bit put off. I’ve been hoping for a box from the “Blood On The Tracks” sessions – he recorded that timeless classic first in New York with some session musicians and then a second time in Minneapolis with a local band. After the Basement Tapes (Vol 11), “Blood on the Tracks” is my Holy Grail. I can imagine sitting around for hours listening to the different takes of the album and analyzing the differences. Perhaps I need a few more hobbies. The other Bootleg I’d like to hear is for the oft overlooked album, “Infidels” that my buddy Drew turned me onto in college. Like “Blood on the Tracks”, it has several versions. Mark Knopfler produced the album but had to leave for a tour before he could finish mixing the songs. The record company and Dylan inexplicably cut a couple of songs from the final album including the latter day masterpiece, “Blind Willie McTell”. I’ve heard there is a Knopfler mix out there which would make for some interesting musical spelunking.

Which leads me back to ‘Vol 12, The Cutting Edge’. When I first read about the 6-disc compilation (the 12-disc seemed like too much and the 2-disc “highlights” seemed too slight) I thought it would be for completists and collectors only. I was, as usual, wrong. What I hadn’t taken into account was the time period, 1965 to 1966. Over the course of those 18-24 months Dylan reached what can only be described as his creative zenith. The only thing comparable would the Stones from “Beggars Banquet” to “Exile On Main Street” or the Beatles from “Rubber Soul” to the White Album. He released 3 of the greatest albums of music of all time – not just rock music, but music period – “Bringing It All Back Home”, “Highway 61 Revisited”, and “Blonde On Blonde” who many point to as the first ever double vinyl album. Even the outtakes from that era are fantastic. Dylan’s genius explodes on these three albums as he transforms his music from more traditional folk to rock and roll. It was clear Dylan was becoming tired of the confines of mere folk music – “Another Side of Bob Dylan” was a rock and roll album in every way except for the lack of instrumentation. For me, Dylan’s early music was always as much influenced by Leadbelly as it was Woody Guthrie. Yes, Dylan was the ultimate folk singer, but damn was he bluesy. He did “In My Time of Dying” and “Highway 51 Blues” on his first album for God’s sake. There’s a lot of protest in those old blues.

One of the things about Vol 12 that put me off as well was the song sequence. Instead of mixing up the various takes of the songs that ultimately (for the most part) ended up on his three masterpieces, they sequence the songs together. So you get all the four takes of “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” in a row. I was concerned this would be tedious listening. I have to admit the only time during my repeated listens that it did become tedious was on disc 3 which is totally dedicated to “Like a Rolling Stone”. I get it, it’s a huge song from a huge artist but an entire disc devoted to that one song? I don’t think anybody needs to hear the “Master Take (Piano, Bass)” from “Like a Rolling Stone”. The world could have done without that. So listen selectively from disc 3 folks. That aside, I really liked the sequencing of the songs. I think many of us just imagine that when an artist writes a song, the song pops into his head fully formed. Listening to the songs morph over the course of 4 or 5 takes is a fascinating look at the transformative job of creating a work of art. Melodies and lyrics change with almost each take. It’s like the statue of “The Thinker” by Rodin at the Nelson Atkins Art Museum. Sure, the finished, huge bronze statue is awesome, but so are the smaller, clay versions that Rodin did as he was “sketching” out his ideas. So too is the Cutting Edge like sculpting. Dylan would start with an idea and shape it in the studio. I think my favorite cuts here are of “Visions of Johanna”. Now, admittedly it’s one of my all time favorite songs, but listening to it’s transformation is magical. It starts off light, almost a lilting melody. It slowly gets heavier through each take. The way the songs are sequenced it almost feels like you’re sitting in the control booth next to Tom Wilson or Bob Johnston, producing the record. The first version of “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” on the set breaks down and Dylan says, almost petulantly “I never do a song as well as I do it the first time…” Producers must have the patience of Job.

There are some great outtakes here, some that ended up on Vol 1-3. “Farewell Angelina” one of my all time favorites, “If You Gotta Go, Go Now” which was later so wonderfully covered by the Cowboy Junkies, and “Jet Pilot” are all here. Some of the rehearsals and songs that collapse are as interesting as the final takes. Dylan does an early version of “Mr. Tamborine Man” with drums and bass that just falls apart as Dylan exclaims, “The drums are throwing me off, man.”

For me, of the three records during this period of Dylan’s career, “Highway 61 Revisited” is my favorite. I mean, it’s hard to choose, it’s like picking a favorite child but I love “Highway 61 Revisited” because the criminally overlooked genius Michael Bloomfield is on hand to play lead guitar. Bloomfield was a founding member of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and he just shreds on the songs he’s playing. On the outtakes from songs on “Highway 61…” you can hear Bloomfield’s distinctive guitar weaving in and around Dylan’s lyrics as they dance, trying to find the right tempo or the right melody. Mike brought a real bluesy feel with him to Dylan’s songs. Bloomfield and Dylan belong together. Not to say the songs where the Band’s Robbie Robertson plays guitar are anything to sneeze at. Clearly Dylan has exquisite taste in guitar collaborators.

The 6-disc set ends with a 9 minute version of his epic, epic song “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”. That song is perhaps Dylan’s most artistic song ever. I can’t imagine what it was like to be in the studio when he brought that one in. This particular outtake was fascinating. I only wish there had been a few more versions of that particular song.

I have to say, the folks that are curating the Bootleg Series have done a fabulous job with Vol 12. Again, the outtakes from this period of Dylan’s career are more interesting than many artist’s finished products. I know one thing for sure, I’ll never automatically assume I won’t enjoy a Bootleg Volume until I’ve heard it for myself. ‘The Bootleg Volume 12, The Cutting Edge’ is a BourbonAndVinyl highly recommended album.

Pour something strong, put on the head phones, and enjoy. Cheers!

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Playlist For My Friend’s Kerouac Retirement Drive

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There was a time when I was younger, when I felt like my life was going to be extraordinary. My life was going to be special, “outside the norm”. I wanted to be a rock star, but I neglected to learn an instrument, oh well. Some might say the fact that I waited so long to settle down, or the casual, gypsy-esque approach I took to life and career could be considered out of the ordinary, but in the end I’m just a working stiff punching a time clock. Some of the execs in places I’ve worked over the years behave like old-school French monarchs in advanced stages of dementia – inept and/or insane, think Louis the X, The Quarreler. I hear a lot of screaming at work. As I get older, I feel less and less extraordinary. This of course may have something to do with my good fortune to be friends with so many extraordinary individuals. My friends are an amazing collection of people – millionaires, consultants, lobbyists, architects, painters, musicians, Harley-enthusiasts, accounting partners, oil industry folks, astrophysicists, hummus enthusiasts, ex-basketball players, drummers… the list goes on. I am blessed with these friendships and I cherish them, but it certainly makes it hard to consider myself even “above-average”. These guys really set the bar high. The only thing I can point to as extraordinary in my life is my wife. I married extremely well. Thank God for the Rock Chick, she makes it all worth while.

One of the foremost of these friends of mine is my old pal GP. I usually don’t take requests here at BourbonAndVinyl, but just this once I had to make an exception when GP asked me for a playlist. I met GP (names obscured to protect the guilty), whose nicknames include Stinger, Pringle and The Mayor of Eldorado, my first week of college when we were both 18. He was one of my first room mates. I can still remember Matthew and I in the front seat of Matthew’s car driving to a freshman “mixer” with Stinger and another kid from Western Kansas in the back seat blaring Van Halen’s “Panama” with the windows down. Stinger’s face was a mask but the other kid looked terrified. I don’t think either of them were prepared for our David Lee Roth impersonations. The drunken evening ended up with Stinger holding me over his head and spinning me around like he was King Kong and I was a city bus. It was an odd beginning but it was the start of a wonderful friendship.

Stinger went on to be the “Campus Rep” for a big name beer company. During my intermittent stints of living with him, he’d drag me along to some beer event. I vaguely recall going over to Junction City to work a “Ladies Night – Male Stripper” event. My pay for the evening was all the beer I could drink, which is sadly how my current corporate overlords pay me. I did that a lot for Stinger, work for beer. We got to Junction City and these women were ready to party. The male stripper dudes were pretty lame and it didn’t take long for this rowdy crowd of drunken women to turn and start chanting, “we want the  beer guys”. Naturally Stinger ended up standing in the back of the room and I ended up on stage. The last thing I coherently remember is being ushered to the stage to the sound of Tina Turner singing “What’s Love Got To Do With It” in front of the unruly rabble of women who were out for blood. Well, at least they were out for some flesh. I seem to remember doing my “overbite, run in place” dance move while twitchily taking my shirt off. I barely escaped alive. I can say that I woke up with a few bucks in my underwear but that’s about all I can tell you about that night.

After college Stinger and I ended up in Boston for a summer working for some crazed character in a liquor store. Pretty soon I headed into exile in Arkansas and Stinger went to work for a big beer company. My father always said, “Son, marry a rich woman whose daddy owns a liquor store.” Stinger outdid us all on that scale. He rose through the ranks of the beer company like a rocket. Not only was he successful in work, I’ve always considered him successful in life because of the amazing amount of charity work he did and continues to do to this day. Eventually Stinger went to work selling the dark and murky brown fluid that gives this blog part of it’s name. And then, out of the blue, at a very young age, in my opinion, he announced he was retiring. Well, not exactly retiring, but stepping away from the rat race for a bit. He’ll focus on his vast real estate empire and his charity work and get a little rest. I’m sure he’ll end up working for somebody soon enough, he’s too industrious. But in the interim, and this is where I get jealous, he’s going on a Jack Kerouac excursion. He’s loading up the car with a camera, a small bag of luggage, some bourbon and an atlas. I trust he’ll be driving from sea to shining sea, as it were. I’ve always wanted to do that. I told the wife after a recent medical procedure, before the anesthesia wore off, we were selling everything, buying a Porsche and hitting the open road. It never quite materialized. But I can always imagine driving from the swamplands of the deep South, through the plains and climbing into the mountains while Kerouac’s jazz influenced cadence runs through my head. But alas, I gotta go to work Monday.

As part of his retirement announcement he said, “Ken, this might be a BourbonAndVinyl story”. Now, I don’t usually do requests, but he called me out in a rather public way. I felt compelled to put together a playlist to celebrate his freedom in retirement. And, let’s face it, there is no freedom like the open road. The Rock Chick is better at play lists than I am, but I put together about 2 hours of music to get Stinger down the road a piece, as the saying goes. Now putting together a list like this is tough with Stinger. He’s not a screaming rock guy, I still remember the look on his face when he was trapped in Matthew’s Subaru when we met. I seem to remember he has a fondness for country music, which I despise outside of Johnny Cash. His two suggestions were “Dust In the Wind” and “Long May You Run”, not exactly “Highway to Hell”. I mixed the well-known with the obscure, the rockers with the mellow tunes… exactly what the Rock Chick advised me not to do… but what the hell. Here’s to my buddy Stinger… and you know with friends like him, and all the friends I’ve got, maybe just maybe, I am kind of extraordinary.

  1. Long May You Run – Stills-Young Band, by request
  2. Dust In the Wind – Kansas, by request
  3. Ramblin’ Man – The Allman Brothers, “rollin’ down high 41…”
  4. Roll Me Away – Bob Seger, “I took a look down a westbound road, right away I made my choice…” My pal Dennis loves this song.
  5. Rockin’ Down the Highway – The Doobie Brothers
  6. Take It Easy – The Eagles, “don’t let the sound of your wheels drive you crazy…” RIP Glenn Frey
  7. Truckin’ – The Grateful Dead
  8. Running On Empty – Jackson Browne, it starts slow but it’s a great road tune
  9. Call Me the Breeze – Lynyrd Skynyrd, J.J Cale wrote this tune, a classic road tune
  10. Six Days On the Road – Mudcrutch, Tom Petty’s side project, if you haven’t checked out this album, do yourself a favor and do so
  11. Helen Wheels – Paul McCartney, “hell on wheels”
  12. Born To Run – Bruce Springsteen, If you know anything about BourbonAndVinyl, you know this had to be on here
  13. Road To Nowhere – Talking Heads, I hope Stinger wakes up every morning and thinks, where to now
  14. Roadhouse Blues – The Doors, this song works as a road song and a drinking song, so I get the double word score here
  15. Road Trippin’ – Red Hot Chili Peppers, mellow tune but there’s something about the lyric, “these smiling eyes are just a mirror for the sun” that I like
  16. Life Is a Highway – Tom Cochrane, “and I’m gonna ride it all night long”… hmm this might be a metaphor
  17. Route 66 – The Rolling Stones, this is a virtual travelogue of where Stinger may travel
  18. Take the Money and Run – Steve Miller Band, this could literally be Stinger’s theme song here
  19. Runnin’ Down a Dream – Tom Petty, another great Petty road tune
  20. Going Mobile – The Who
  21. Travelin’ Man – Bob Seger, I actually prefer the studio version on the ‘Beautiful Loser’ album
  22. End of the Line – The Traveling Wilburys
  23. All Down the Line – The Rolling Stones, probably more of a train song than a road song but who can resist this riff?
  24. I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide – ZZ Top, hopefully Stinger’s travels take him from Florida to Idaho, where it just so happens, we know a guy
  25. The Wild Horse – Rod Stewart, obscure gem here from the ‘Out of Order’ album about a guy who rambles about, totally overlooked
  26. Hitch a Ride – Boston, my buddy DJ feels there should always be a Boston song on every play list
  27. Midnight Rider – The Allman Brothers, Gregg Allman also does a great version of this tune solo
  28. I’m Free – The Rolling Stones, “I’m free to do whatever I want, any ol’ time…” and Stinger is free now
  29. Free Ride – Edgar Winter, I mean, this playlist really writes itself
  30. Travelin’ – Tom Petty, an obscure B-side from his boxed set, it’ll stick in your head for days

I suggest putting this on “shuffle” and nudge that volume knob up as far as it’ll go. If anybody has a tune to add to this list, please feel free to respond in the comments.

Cheers!!