Review: Bob Dylan’s ‘Trouble No More: Bootleg Series Vol 13, (Deluxe Edition)

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There is perhaps no part of Bob Dylan’s career that is more controversial than his “Christian period.” Nothing compares to it… Not going from acoustic folky (although I always heard as much Robert Johnson or Son House as Woody Guthrie in that music) to electric rocker; not his retreat after a motorcycle accident and return with the quiet statement of John Wesley Harding when the rest of the world was dressed in psychedelic day-glo colors; not his turn to country music on Nashville Skyline – none of those stylistic turns and changes evoke more controversy and full throated criticism as Dylan’s Christian music. Even the universally loathed Self Portrait may be more valued than his trinity of gospel albums.

People tend to forget that after the collapse of the 60’s Hippy Dream came the decadence and selfish 70s with Watergate and the end of the Vietnam War in defeat. America was kind of reeling. There were a lot of people who were groovy hippies in the 60s only to turn to God or EST or some other higher power in the 70s. Why would Dylan be any different? I’m not a religious man. On a good day I’d be considered a Pagan, but who wouldn’t want to dance naked around a tree? On a bad day I’d be considered a non-believer. I’ve always respected the tenets of Buddhism, especially karma and I dig Jesus, just not many of his followers. I’m like the Lloyd Bridges’ character in the movie Cousins, when he said, “God makes me nervous when you get him inside.”

I like to think of religious faith the same way I do sexual preference: Practice whatever brings you joy/happiness, just don’t talk to me about it. Despite all that, I can still appreciate art inspired by God. I can listen to Dylan’s religious albums the same way I can walk through a Cathedral and admire the passion of the workers and architects in building a beautiful monument to God with gorgeous stained-glass windows or a beautiful painting of Jesus in the arms of Mary. La Pieta is one of my favorite sculptures. But I can walk through that Cathedral, look at that statue and admire it without being drawn in by the message. I can admire the art for purely artistic purposes and despite my lack of faith, I can be moved by that art. I respect God as a perfectly acceptable muse. My muses have always been a bit more… temporal in nature.

It’s with that backdrop that I admit one of the first Dylan albums I ever bought, after his single LP Greatest Hits, (he’s pictured on the cover in a jean jacket, which became part of my wardrobe immediately) was 1979’s Slow Train Coming, the first salvo in what would be a trio of religious-themed albums. There had been hints Dylan had become born again. On the tour for the terribly received Street Legal, he’d been making sermon-like speeches from the stage. He’d also been seen wearing a silver cross. While critics weren’t crazy about Slow Train Coming, I loved it. I remember spending the night over at friend of mine’s house, who I’ll call Eddie, with a couple of other guys. We had the radio on that night and were drinking warm beer. I think some of the crowd were also on acid. Our local radio station kept playing “Gotta Serve Somebody,” Dylan’s single from Slow Train every thirty minutes or so. Every time he’d sing, “you might be sleeping on the floor, might be sleeping in a king sized bed,” we’d all break out laughing because we were sleeping on the floor. Of course that hysterical laughter might have been caused by the acid crazies who were there that night. Anyway, I went out and bought that record the next day. “Serve Somebody” is just a great song and it went on to win the Grammy that year. There were other great songs on that album, including the blues rave-up “Change My Way of Thinking” and the title track. To this day when I feel bad things are coming, I’ll invariable look at somebody and say, “There’s a slow train coming.” To me Slow Train was still a rock and roll album only with religious themes. Mark Knopfler’s lead guitar is amazing on this record.

After that Dylan returned in 1980 with Saved which was an all-out gospel album. It sounds like a tent revival with guitars. That’s where I got off the bandwagon, although in retrospect I did like a couple of the ballads from that record, “Covenant Woman,” and “What Can I Do For You?” Dylan’s final “Christian album” from the trilogy was 1981’s Shot of Love. Shot of Love, to me was a bit of a retreat from the strident Christianity of Saved. The album felt more like a rock and roll album with secular themes and lyrics full of religious references as opposed to full-on gospel. Dylan, it seemed, took the arc that many religious converts go through. I’ve always seen faith like a pendulum. The new convert swings hard to the right and is a strident solider for the Lord, trying to convert everyone through fear and fire and brimstone. Then the pendulum swings back to the left and they move to that “thankful phase,” where they’re just giddy to be saved… and then it starts to wear off. The pendulum falls back to the bottom, and they are still religious, but it doesn’t dominate every conversation any more. They see the world differently, but they see the world a little more clearly again. At least, those are the phases a guy I went to college with went through and it’s eerily similar to what I saw Dylan go through. Prior to 81, he’d refused to play any of his old songs and was only doing gospel stuff. By 81 he’d started to sprinkle older tunes back into the setlist. By 1983’s Infidels, Dylan was back to conventional rock and roll. Although I think his lyrics have been influenced by his Christian period ever since… the bible is an incredible source of lyrical content.

Earlier this year, Dylan released the 13th volume of his Bootleg Series, revisiting his Christian period, entitled Trouble No More. Santa brought me the deluxe, 9-disc (8 CDs, 1 DVD) edition. I posted a guide to Dylan’s brilliant Bootleg Series as one of my early posts, Dylan’s Bootleg Series – A User’s Guide. Dylan’s Bootleg Series falls into several categories. There are purely live/concert releases, (Vol 4, The Royal Albert Hall Concert, or Vol 5, The Rolling Thunder Review Live, Vol 6 Live 1964) that capture a certain important moment in his career. There are vault clearing releases, similar to Springsteen’s Tracks, (Vol 1 – 3, Rare and Unreleased or Vol 12, The Cutting Edge, 1965-1966). Finally, there are the releases that are meant to shed new light on a particularly maligned period of time in Dylan’s career (Vol 10, Another Self Portrait or Vol 8 Tell Tale Signs) that are typically chock full of live cuts, unreleased/different versions of tunes that were released and unreleased material from the aforementioned maligned period. Trouble No More is clearly in the latter category. This release is obviously intended to shed new light on this controversial part of his career. However, it also has the flavor of the first category, the purely live releases, in that most of this release is live stuff.

Discs 1 & 2, (which is the standard edition release of this set), contain live highlights from 1979 to 1981. These 2 discs, really do cast new light on Dylan’s religious period. There are some passionate, dare I say, joyful performances of the gospel material. His band was exceptional. Fred Tackett on guitar, Jim Keltner on drums, and Tim Drummond on bass are all playing their asses off. Dylan augmented the band with four female back-up singers, Regina McCrary, Carolyn Dennis, Regina Peebles and Mona Lisa Young and these soulful ladies take you to church. There’s gospel, rock and roll and ballads. Dylan and the band are really committed to these performances. I particularly enjoyed the performance of “Caribbean Wind,” “In The Garden,” and the rocking “Slow Train.” For the casual fan, the standard edition, which only contains these performances, would be a good addition to your Dylan collection. These two discs capture that spirit of reevaluation that I think Dylan is looking for.

Discs 3 & 4 are the rare and unreleased stuff. Most of the stuff on 3/4 are rehearsals and early versions of previously released music. Although I’ll admit there are only a handful of truly unreleased material that I hadn’t heard before. The highlights from these discs are “Ain’t No Man Righteous, No Not One,” “Trouble In Mind” and “Ain’t Gonna Go To Hell For Nobody.” There is also a great version of “Caribbean Wind” done with a pedal steel guitar. It might be the definitive version of that song. Most of the unreleased stuff was performed live. There aren’t many studio outtakes. Since Dylan was refusing to play any of his older, “classic” material, he was augmenting the setlist with his new, unreleased stuff which must have been slightly baffling to his audience. There’s a lot of good stuff on these two discs. These discs are what made the deluxe edition essential for me… but I am a bit of an OCD completist.

Discs 5 & 6 contain highlights (which recreate the set list) from a series of concerts in Toronto in 1980. These are great, impassioned performances. I’m not sure they add much to the first two discs, though. Any reimagining of this material, without the studio gloss of the late 70s/early 80s will probably be realized by listening to those first discs which render these two discs somewhat superfluous. The performances of the songs have changed, Dylan always changes things up on stage (tempo/lyrics etc) so that part is fascinating.

Discs 7 & 8 contain a full concert, start to finish, from London in 1981. By 1981 Dylan, who had on previous gospel tours refused to play any of his older material, finally started to sprinkle old hits into the setlist… he called that tour “The Retrospective Tour.” I think this is an interesting performance in that it shows Dylan playing his older classic material alongside the gospel material. His aforementioned band members play with passion and the old stuff sounds great. This really was one of Dylan’s best backing bands.

Finally, Disc 9, the DVD is a curious film. In between live concert footage, they put in actor Michael Shannon playing a preacher, preaching sermons. I couldn’t hit the fast forward button quick enough. If you’re buying this set for the DVD, save your money.

I think Dylan’s Christian period is a fascinating chapter in his story. While I’m not sure all 8 discs of material are essential listening, I’d say the first two discs in the standard configuration of this set is essential to any Dylan fan. For the completist you’ll find a lot to enjoy in Discs 3/4 and the final concert on discs 7/8. Don’t even put the DVD in, it’s not worth it.

Those are my thoughts folks. Happy New Year! Be safe out there!

 

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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!

Top 10 Rock Music Things to be Thankful for this Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving is only 2 days away and it has me here at BourbonAndVinyl thinking about all the things to be thankful for this year. Well, that and the wife is busily prepping the house for the impending Christmas holiday. Ergo, I have barricaded myself in my office with a tumbler of bourbon and a stack of records. Christmas is not my favorite holiday. Frankly, St Patrick’s Day is the only religious holiday I still observe, but I digress.

In an attempt to avoid helping decorate the house for Christmas in any fashion, I have decided to compose the Top 10 Rock and Roll things I’m thankful for this year. There are many things I’m thankful for in my personal life: my beautiful wife and daughter, my parents are still going strong into their 70’s, Keith Richards is still alive, I discovered Bulleit Rye this year and everybody seems healthy. But in this post I must turn my attention to the things in the world of rock and roll that I’m thankful for in 2015. Without further ado, here are my Top 10 Rock n Roll Things to be Thankful for this Thanksgiving:

  1. U2 has rescheduled their Paris concerts for December 6th and 7th. If any band on the planet could help salve the wounds of that city it’s U2. U2 has been the virtual soundtrack of my life. I remember the last time I saw them, standing on the infield of some baseball stadium while tears ran down my face. Their music moves people that much. I read on Twitter that Bono said, “We’re going to put on our best for Paris.” There is no one better. U2’s best is as good as it gets people. My heart is still with you Paris!
  2. The Rolling Stones came to town this summer on the Zipcode Tour and I finally got to take my 20-something daughter to a Stones concert. It was a magical night for my wife, daughter and I. The Stones were on fire that night. They seem energized and rocked the stadium like it was a pub down on the corner. I hope they take that energy into the studio in 2016. At least now my daughter knows what I’m doing when I do my weird Mick Jagger dance around the kitchen, late at night, when I’ve been over served.
  3. The Faces, after years of keeping my fingers crossed, finally reunited for a show this year. I was hoping for an album and a broader tour, but I’ll start with a charity show. It was only a brief 35 or 40 minutes but it gives me hope for the future. It was a lot like dating in high school – I waited for a very long time for something that lasted a very brief period of time, but I sure hope to do it again.
  4. Archival Releases – Whether old live performances from Hendrix or Neil Young, or full fledged box sets from Springsteen and Dylan, I am very excited about older artists raiding the vaults. Springsteen’s “The Ties That Bind – The River Sessions” is extra special for me as it was the first record of his I ever bought. Dylan’s “The Cutting Edge” sounds like it’s for completists and obsessives but that pretty much describes me.
  5. Strong Releases in 2015 – Here at BourbonAndVinyl we like to focus on established artists who are releasing new music. It’s the reason I started this blog in the first place. We had plenty of those in 2015 – from Keith Richards, Rod Stewart (who is writing his own stuff again, which I’m thrilled about!), Chris Cornell, Dave Gahan, Jackson Browne and the list goes on.
  6. The trend in #5 above looks to continue in 2016 – There are a lot of great artists who appear to be prepping new music in the coming year. Most notably David Bowie whose Blackstar may be his weirdest in quite a while – 2 words, jazz musicians. The Cult have a new record coming, Hidden City. Many, many others are rumored to begin the studio including the aforementioned Stones.
  7. Tom Petty now has his own SiriusXM radio station. Terrestrial radio is largely dead to me. The fact that Petty has his own station, dedicated to his music is fantastic and well deserved. Buried Treasure, his show on XM, will also be broadcasting old episodes. Check it out if you haven’t yet.
  8. Guns N Roses original lineup to reunite for a tour – It’s only a rumor but fuck yes! I’m hoping that’s true. To see Axl Rose (vocals) reunite with Slash and Izzy on guitars, Duff on bass, and Steve Adler on drums would make up for me missing them when they were still together. This current group calling themselves Guns N Roses should call themselves “The Axl Rose Vanity Project.” I wanna see the original guys. As Joe Strummer once said, “never underestimate the chemistry of 4 (or 5) guys in a room together making music.”
  9. The Led Zeppelin Reissues are finally done – I’m thankful because I’m hoping Jimmy Page moves on and puts out some solo stuff. It’s over Jimmy, time to move on.
  10. Fleetwood Mac finally coaxed Christine McVie back into the fold. I’m very thankful for this because she brings balance back to the Force in that band. And by “the Force” I mean the ego’s of Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you out there celebrating that particular holiday. For those who aren’t, here’s to a happy and healthy Holiday Season to come.

Cheers!

Stray Cats: Bob Dylan’s New Bootleg Series, Rod and The Jeff Beck Group

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In this edition of Stray Cats (aka Random Music/Classic Rock News) I have three quick updates. I just found out, mere weeks after I’d posted my Dylan Bootleg Series User’s Guide, that another edition is set for release. Volume 12, entitled “The Cutting Edge 65 -66” it is a 6 CD treasure trove of outtakes from the sessions for “Bringing It All Back Home”, “Highway 61” and I believe, “Blonde On Blonde”. I’m a huge Dylan fan, and I’m a huge fan of the bootleg series, but this set might be too much for even a fanatic/completist like me. There is a 2 CD “Best of…” culled from the 6 CDs… Stay tuned on this one.

Rod Stewart has released the second single from his upcoming “Another Country” album. There’s an interview with him in the latest Rolling Stone magazine that I fear I have not had time to get around to reading. I hate it when work interferes with my rock and roll. The new tune, “Please” is an old school Rod rocker. It sounds like an outtake from “Night On the Town”. The guitar even has a slight Ron Wood sound to it. I think “Another Country” is going to be amazing.

Finally, I got an email from Amazon.com about an upcoming release of a 1968 radio broadcast of the Jeff Beck Group. Before Rod was a solo artist and before he was the lead singer of The Faces, he was the lead singer in a little band called The Jeff Beck Group. Jeff Beck, the guitar wizard, put together the The Jeff Beck Group after the Yardbirds fired him for being mercurial. Ronnie Wood actually changed from guitar to bass for this band. They were slated to play Woodstock but Jeff Beck wrecked his sports car and they had to scratch. He had recruited Rod as his lead singer because he knew males would flock to their shows to hear his guitar. He figured a good looking blonde guy on vocals would bring in the “birds”. Jimmy Page was watching closely and in the spirit of “anything you can do, I can do better” formed Led Zeppelin on the same model with Robert Plant on lead vocals. The Jeff Beck Group’s first album “Truth” was epic and extremely influential. Alas, Jeff’s management treated Rod and Ronnie like sidemen and eventually they both left and joined the Faces. I’ve heard a few bootlegs over the years and live these guys were a tour de force. I know nothing about this mysterious 1968 radio broadcast but if the sound quality is up to snuff this could be an amazing find.

Cheers!

Dylan’s Bootleg Series – A User’s Guide

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Ah, the term “bootleg.” It conjures up so many wonderful emotions. Quickly after buying my first album, Some Girls, I discovered the secret world of bootleg recordings. A bootleg, or “boot” as they’re commonly known, is a song or collection of songs an artist has recorded but not yet released. I can remember being in used record stores, in the “special” section down in the basement where albums in plain paper wrappers with curious names by my favorite artists could be found. I vividly recall slipping cash into someone’s hands in the back room of a local record store in exchange for Springsteen bootleg concert recordings.

For the longest time, I thought Springsteen was the only artist who was bootlegged in a major way. In 1978 his tour in support of Darkness On the Edge of Town was epic and widely bootlegged. It was a bit of a comeback after his legal problems after Born To Run and those radio broadcasts found their way onto cassettes and vinyl albums. On one recording, he even says, “this song will likely find it’s way to you courtesy of your local bootlegger.” I love that the original bootleggers were enterprising individuals who smuggled whiskey into the U.S. during Prohibition. The marriage of Bourbon and Vinyl goes back many years, my friends. But I’m getting off point.

It turns out Bruce wasn’t the only prolifically bootlegged artist out there. Bob Dylan was just as bootlegged, and many of his boots were studio recordings Bob hadn’t released for one reason or another. His writing was so prolific he often had more songs than he needed, so there were always leftovers. Those leftovers he didn’t release as non-album singles, which was a wide spread practice, even into the 70’s, usually stayed in the can until someone made a copy, and someone made a copy of that and so on and so on. Now, one can sympathize with the artist who isn’t receiving any renumeration for these bootlegs but at the same time much of this music needed to be heard.

Dylan, frustrated by not getting paid for his hard work finally decided to trump the bootleggers and start his own “Bootleg Series” and open up the vaults. I must say, it has been an interesting journey into his creative process. But at this point, there are 11 in the series, not including his excellent first box set, Biograph, and with literally 12 boxes out there, it can get a little confusing. As a public service to rock fans and Bob Dylan fans everywhere, it occurred to me someone should put together a “user’s guide” of sorts. Think of it as a reference document detailing this brilliant series by this brilliant artist. Hope it helps, and as always, enjoy!

Volume 0.0 – Biograph – Biograph was not a part of the Bootleg Series. Released in 1985 it literally created the market for boxed sets. There would be no Eric Clapton’s Crossroads, or Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band’s Live 1975-1985 without Dylan’s Biograph. The baby boomers were getting older and had the money to shell out for a 5 album set. I own Biograph on vinyl and I treat it like a holy talisman. It has hits, album cuts, unreleased songs, and unreleased live versions of songs. It’s not chronologically based but loosely based around either a theme or a certain style. It is what it is named – a musical biography of the man. I’d put this up against his autobiography Chronicles, any day.

Bootleg Series Volume 1 to Volume 3 – Rare and Unreleased 1961 – 1991. This box set of 3 CDs, carries on in the tradition of Biograph, and contains unreleased studio cuts. The first disc, and the beginning of the 2nd, are Dylan only accompanied by his acoustic guitar and harmonica. It’s the Dylan who took the folk music world by storm. These were songs recorded by Dylan so he could get the tune and lyrics copyrighted and sold to other artists. Even the King of Folk needs to pay the rent folks. Early in disc 2, like his career, it turns electric. The real gems here are the unreleased takes from Blood on the Tracks, the early versions of songs from that album that were recorded in NY. I’m hoping for a Bootleg Series edition for just that album some day. This is a great, very deep collection of unreleased tracks.

Bootleg Series Volume 4 – Live 1966 – The Royal Albert Hall – This is simply put, a stunning historical document. If the American Revolution had been recorded, this is what it would have sounded like. Dylan decided to go electric, hired a band known previously as the Hawks, soon to change their name to the Band (as they were derisively referred to by Dylan’s once devoted folky fans) and toured England. It was a tumultuous tour to say the least. Levon Helm, the drummer in the Hawks/Band actually quit and flew back to the States, he couldn’t take the vitriolic response of the crowds. You can hear that hostility in this recording. Dylan realized he needed to do an acoustic set to start his concerts to placate the fans. But even during the acoustic set they hiss and make disruptive noises. I haven’t seen a fan base this hostile since the Chief’s had Todd Haley as their head coach. Toward the end of the electric set, one idiot in the crowd screams “Judas”. Dylan responds with “I don’t believe you,” then turns to the band and says, “Play fucking loud.” The band tears into Like a Rolling Stone. Simply riveting.

Bootleg Series Volume 5 – Live 1975 – The Rolling Thunder Review – This volume in the series documents a really under served part of Dylan’s career. The 60’s are over, the cynical me-generation 70’s are in full swing. Dylan started hanging out with a bunch of musical refugees in the West Village in New York and they eventually started touring. It’s amazing to hear the affection the crowd now holds for Dylan… all the hostility of ’66 was gone. This tour was around the time of Desire, so there are a lot of great live versions of that album’s songs here.

Bootleg Series Volume 6 – Live 1964 – Dylan at the apex of his popularity with the folk crowds. He was their King and he’s playing in Carnegie Hall. All acoustic, folky protestor Dylan. Later in the set, his girlfriend, Joan Baez shows up to do a few duets. I realize that they were the Jay-Z and Beyonce of their time, but I’ve never been a big Baez fan. I do like that her version of Babe I’m Gonna Leave You inspired Led Zeppelin to record the song, but I could do without her here. This is a virtual love in with Dylan and his folk music following. Great live recording, though.

Bootleg Series Volume 7 – No Direction Home – This is the soundtrack to the excellent Martin Scorcese documentary of the same name. This is for the true collectors only. There are some great live takes on the classics and some great alternative versions as well. The incendiary performance from Newport when Dylan went electric with members of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band is here. Michael Bloomfield – man, how we miss you!

Bootleg Series Volume 8 – Tell Tale Signs, Rare and Unreleased 1989 – 2006. This one came as a complete surprise. This era was not exactly Dylan’s high water mark. But this 2 disc set sounds like a “lost album” from the period. There are different takes on songs released from that era that are far superior here. There are also some cuts that inexplicably didn’t get released. This was a treasure trove of unreleased material and really hangs together well for a set that spans such a wide period of time.

Bootleg Series Volume 9 – Witmark Demos – This is the only volume I do not own. Again, my thoughts, this is for serious completists only. Dylan went to the Witmark Publishing Company and recorded these demo’s to get copyrights in order to sell the songs to other artists. Everybody has to make a buck and he could’t release everything he was writing. My issue here is 2/3 of these songs are on Volume 1 and a few more are on Biograph, so this is the first Volume in the series where you see serious overlap. I have heard from a friend that the audio and remix on this set is far superior to anything previously released. He said it sounds like you’re sitting in the recording booth on a stool next to Bob. So, the set has that going for it.

Bootleg Series Volume 10 – Another Self Portrait (1969-1971)- This was as big a shock to me as Volume 8. Self Portrait, an album Dylan released at a real crossroads in his life, is his most reviled. It is often cited as an album that could have ruined his career. He quickly released New Morning, which was heralded as one of many Dylan comebacks. This box has some unvarnished versions of songs that were overdubbed for the album release, and these versions are far superior. It actually covers the period from before Self Portrait, to right after New Morning, and I feel it gives a great picture of where Dylan the artist was at that time. This is a great glimpse into his creative process.

Bootleg Series Volume 11 – Bob Dylan & The Band, The Complete Basement Tapes – This one, at 5 discs, is the motherlode. Dylan and the Band released a 2 disc set compiled from the famous sessions at Big Pink, but that set was merely an appetizer. Finally, all these years later this box has all of it. The fifth disc disintegrates into mostly song sketches vs songs, but the sound quality and the quality of the music those guys performed in that basement is like the Magna Carta of rock ‘n’ roll. They invented country-rock, roots music and reinvigorated rock ‘n’ roll in that basement. This is a master piece.

So there you have it folks, my user’s guide to the Dylan Bootleg Series. Enjoy!