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Bob Dylan The Bootleg Series: Vol. 9: The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964 (2010)


The latest in the Bob Dylan Bootleg series, Volume 9, is somewhat a revelation about the young Dylan developing his talent and these 47 demo tracks recorded for `Leeds’ and `Witmark’ show not only how prolific he was but also how his talent evolved into being one of the most important artists of the 20th Century.

These demos were recorded as much for other artists to hear these songs (e.g. Peter Paul and Mary, Judy Collins, etc.), as they were to demonstrate the raw talent of an upcoming unknown artist. I am sure that many people would have heard these songs previously on the various bootleg recordings, but these sound completely different after they have been cleaned up and digitised, and are really a revelation.

On the first disc we can hear some of the early attempts at songs that would be well known throughout his career, such as `Blowin’ In The Wind’ and `A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’ , but you can also hear him steal from other artists, creating new lyrics for songs of the folk and blues musicians who had a big influence on him. As we move on to disc 2, there is a marked change in Dylan’s song writing and playing, and though just a year or so later it’s clear that he is developing into the person who would be known and loved across the globe, and influence artists for several generations.

Some of the better known demo songs from this period were `Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’, `Girl From The North Country’ , `When The Ship Comes In’, `The Times They Are A-Changin’ , `Baby Let Me Follow You Down’, `Mama, You Been On My Mind’, and `Mr Tambourine Man’. Many of these songs would take a few years before Dylan released them on his albums, and they were very different in these early formats, with lyrics still under development and surprisingly being played on different instruments e.g. `Mr Tambourine Man’ on piano.

These recordings in demo form are extraordinary, and clearly helped him with becoming more professional with his recordings, and allowed him to play with the lyrics so they turned into the ones that music lovers and academics wax lyrical about. This truly is a historic document and adds a lot to the understanding of an unknown young man in the early 60’s with prodigious talent that would eventually influence musicians for decades ahead. It really is a great addition to the Bootleg Series, and `The Witmark Demos’ is probably the best album release of 2010.

N.B. If you are able to track down the Limited 3 CD version, with the bonus disc, then you get the recording of `In Concert at Brandeis University 1963′, which is an excellent early acoustic performance (`Honey Just Allow Me One More Chance’, `Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues’, `Ballad Of Hollis Brown’, `Masters Of War’, `Talkin’ World War Three Blues’, `Bob Dylan’s Dream’ and ` Talkin’ Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues’), with very good sound quality.

January 4, 2014 Posted by | Bob Dylan The Bootleg Series: Vol. 9: The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964 | | Leave a comment

Bob Dylan The Bootleg Series Vol 8: Tell Tale Signs (2008)

Bob-Dylan-Tell-Tale-Signs-CoverFrom uncut

May, 2008. The door of the hotel room opens and I’m introduced to someone who looks not unlike Billy Bob Thornton: tall, elegant, sharply turned out in a black suit. This is Bob Dylan’s manager, Jeff Rosen, here to play SonyBMG’s London chiefs tracks from the latest in the Bootleg Series he initiated in 1991.

Rosen first of all plays me a revelatory early version of “Most Of The Time”, stripped of the swampy atmospherics producer Daniel Lanois surrounded it with on Oh Mercy, and performed as it might have been for Blood On The Tracks, just Bob on guitar and harmonica. I’m flabbergasted, listen to about nine more tracks in wonder, and can’t wait for the thing to be released.

Six months later, here, finally, it is: Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Volume 8 – 39 rare and previously unreleased Dylan tracks, available as a 27-track double CD with a 60-page booklet, and a Limited Edition Deluxe Collectors’ Edition, with the content from the 2CD set complemented by a further 12 tracks, a 150-page hardcover book of vintage single sleeves and a seven-inch single. There’s also a four-LP vinyl set.

The material in all formats is drawn from the past 20 years of Dylan’s career, the bulk of it from the sessions that produced Oh Mercy and Time Out Of Mind, with outtakes elsewhere from World Gone Wrong, and two startling alternative versions of two key tracks from Modern Times. Additionally, there are eight live tracks, including a thunderously exciting “Cold Irons Bound”, first hearings for two tracks from the unreleased 1992 sessions with guitarist David Bromberg (covers of Jimmie Rodgers’ “Miss The Mississippi” and the traditional “Duncan And Brady”, a former concert opener), as well as a smattering of songs written for movie soundtracks, including the hitherto unreleased “Can’t Escape From You” and the great Civil War epic, “‘Cross The Green Mountain”. Finally, there’s “The Lonesome Mountain”, a duet with bluegrass icon Ralph Stanley, from the latter’s Clinch Mountain Country album.

There have already been rumblings about the apparent eking out of what is clearly an abundance of previously unavailable material and the consequent duplication of songs – there are three versions, for instance, of “Love And Theft'”s “Mississippi”, the earliest dating from the Time Out Of Mind sessions, and there are two versions each of seven other tracks. Where, the plea goes up, are the rest of the Bromberg tracks? And why hasn’t there been a live album, culled from the shows Dylan played at New York’s Supper Club in 1993, which on the evidence here of “Ring Them Bells” would be mindblowing?

These may be legitimate quibbles, but you’d have to say in reply that whatever way you look at it, there are treasures here galore for the avid Bobcat and an opportunity to consider the many ways Dylan sees a song –an opportunity, that is, to appreciate his relentlessly myriadic vision. And who would put a price on that?

There are alternative takes here of familiar songs that differ not just in mood and tempo from the versions we know, but boast partially or completely different lyrics – as with the solo piano demo of “Dignity” and the jaunty rockabilly incarnation of “Everything Is Broken”. The two songs from Modern Times, meanwhile, are a radically altered “Someday Baby”, set to a slow martial beat, and a mesmerising early go at “Ain’t Talkin'”, with a swathe of new words.

I remember after seeing Dylan’s Temples In Flames tour in 1987 trying to explain to sceptical colleagues how astonishing it had been to hear Dylan tearing up classics from his vast repertoire, in some instances reinventing them brutally. Their reaction was much the same as many of the people who’d been sitting around me at the gig: why didn’t Bob just play the songs like he recorded them?

For these people, Dylan’s evisceration of his back catalogue was typically capricious, perverse, wilful vandalism, nothing less, and ruined their evening. The hits were played, perhaps, but you sometimes had to sit through half a song before you realised what it was. Clearly, for Dylan there was nothing to be gained by the faithful reading, replicated nightly with numbing repetition. For him to continue to make sense of his songs, they would have to be approached anew whenever they were played, as his moods dictated, and everybody would have to get used to that.

It’s become such an embedded part of the Dylan myth that he never repeats himself that we perhaps take it for granted. On the following pages, however, as our Tell Tale Signs special continues, there’s ample testimony from some of the people who have worked with Dylan over the past two decades about his quixotic urgency, the impatient imperatives that drive him, his almost phobic insistence on not doing something twice the same way.

In these days of boxset anthologies with innumerable extras, we’re used to hearing how songs develop from rough-sketch demos to the finished thing, which then becomes the unalterable text, omnipotent and inviolate, embellished occasionally in concert but usually recognisably the song you know from the record. With Dylan it’s different, as it usually is.

Tell Tale Signs is awash with evidence of his staggering mercuriality, his evident determination even in the studio to repeat himself as little as possible, re-takes not merely the occasion for refinement, the honing of a song into static finality, but serial re-imaginings. Witness the three versions of “Mississippi” – all of them as different from each other as they are from the one on “Love And Theft”. You can hear on them the working of nuance, a successive revealing of things. Similarly fascinating are the two versions of “Can’t Wait”, both more desperately intimate than the Time Out Of Mind recording. The first, piano-led, is fleetingly reminiscent of Planet Waves’ “Dirge”, dark and unsettling. The second, with glowering organ and a vocal drenched in reverb, is a doom-laden trip, eerily reminiscent of “Under Your Spell”, an unlikely collaboration with Carole Bayer Sager from Knocked Out Loaded, with a lyric that went on to become part of “Love And Theft'”s “Sugar Baby”.

Previously, the Bootleg Series has given us unreleased gems like 1965’s pivotal “Farewell Angelina”, “Up To Me”, dropped from the final version of Blood On The Tracks, which itself exists in two different forms, and “Blind Willie McTell”, unfathomably not included on Infidels.

Their equivalents here would be a majestic “Born In Time” on Disc One that’s in every way superior to its Under The Red Sky incarnation, and three tracks from the Time Out Of Mind sessions that didn’t make the album. This is extraordinary in the case of the eight-minute cantina reverie of “Red River Shore”, which is high-tier late Dylan, fatalistic and windswept. And only slightly less so in the cases of the gospel-based “Marchin’ To the City” – which turned later into “Till I Fell In Love With You” – and “Dreamin’ Of You”, Dylan wounded and haunted, much as he haunts us all.

December 28, 2013 Posted by | Bob Dylan The Bootleg Series Vol 8: Tell Tale Signs | | Leave a comment

Bob Dylan The Bootleg Series, Vol. 10: Another Self Portrait (1969-1971)


homepage_large.1f919c28It’s a little hard for those of us who weren’t there to understand the critical reaction to Bob Dylan’s 10th album, 1970‘s Self Portrait. First, let’s pause a moment to reflect on the fact that there was a 10th album already at that point, only eight years and a few months after Dylan released his self-titled debut.

It was a busy time: he wrote and performed, culture was churning ahead and changing at what was then an unprecedented pace, and some people in the music world thought of him as a sort of leader of a new consciousness. Into this world he released an album called Self Portrait. One imagines seeing that title and expecting something deeper, heavier, some kind of reckoning with what has gone before. But what the listening public got instead was a mish-mash– a few original songs, a few live cuts, lots of covers, and a generally disjointed sound. It seemed slapdash. And it caused Greil Marcus, Dylan’s best critic, to begin his review of the double album in Rolling Stone with the words “What is this shit?”

The latest entry in Dylan’s Bootleg Series provides a new opportunity to evaluate the music of this period. Calling this volume Another Self Portrait, including liner notes by Marcus, and offering up a new painting by Bob Dylan as a cover image, is a sly and gutsy move. By most accounts, Dylan was hurt by the initial savaging of Self Portrait, and rushed out its 1970 follow-up, New Morning, to put the album in the rearview as quickly as possible. Later, there was a sense that he wanted to scrub it from his own history. In interviews, Dylan sometimes suggested that Self Portrait was deliberately bad, thrown together as a way to confuse his audience or provoke the media into moving on to someone else so that he could have more privacy in raising his family.

Though we’ll never know exactly what he was thinking, the idea of Dylan making a poor album on purpose never made sense. He worked with too many top-shelf musicians that he cared about, and had friends and colleagues investing too much time, to make something that would embarrass them. It seems more likely that the “intentionally bad” storyline was a defense mechanism for a mysterious artist who did, after all, have a pretty hefty ego and was deeply aware of his own talent. So it’s reasonable to conclude that Self Portrait was a strange and all-over-the-place album because, for one reason or another, that’s the kind of album Dylan wanted to make at that time.

Another Self Portrait complicates the narrative. Considering the strength of these alternate takes, demos, stripped-down mixes, and live cuts, it’s a little hard to believe that these were the cast-offs from what was perceived to be an artist’s worst album. Many of the songs come from the sessions for New Morning, but there were no clear lines between Self Portrait and New Morning sessions in 1969 and 1970. Akin to Neil Young’s later method, Dylan at the end of the 60s seems to have been about recording songs first, lots of them, and figuring out how they fit into an album later.

There was a marked shift in Dylan’s music at the end of the 60s. “For sure my lyrics had struck nerves that had never been struck before,” he wrote of this time in Chronicles Volume One, “but if my songs were just about the words, then what was Duane Eddy, the great rock’n’roll guitarist, doing recording an album full of instrumental melodies of my songs? Musicians have always known that my songs were more than just words, but most people are not musicians.” This passage provides a good framework for understanding the music here. After the word-drunk work he’d created in the mid-60s, and following the mysterious motorcycle accident that laid him up in 1966, his music became simpler and more tuneful. Drawing on his longstanding interest in country music, standards, and any well-constructed song, he began to write and perform songs that felt universal.

That is where the deep and immense pleasure of this set resides: hearing melodies– some new, some old, some borrowed– performed by a distinctive singer at the height of his powers. The two discs are arranged for flow, with songs roughly split along two lines. Disc one is mostly songs recorded prior to Self Portrait, and is heavy on alternate versions of Dylan tunes and renditions of traditional songs. This “Time Passes Slowly” and the demo of “Went to See the Gypsy” don’t supplant better-known takes, but they’re different enough in feel and arrangement to make the songs sound new. Other differences, like the alternate version of Nashville Skyline’s “I Threw It All Away”, are more subtle, and the appeal is in hearing the song tinted by a new setting.

But the real revelations on the first disc are the unreleased versions of songs from the public domain. It’s now accepted that Dylan returned to relevance late in his career when he released two albums of traditional songs, 1992‘s Good as I Been to You and 1993‘s World Gone Wrong. The idea being that, in times of trouble, when he’s not sure where else to go, the songs Dylan grew up with and studied were there for him. The versions here of “Railroad Bill”, “Little Sadie”, “Pretty Saro”, and the especially powerful “This Evening So Soon” are brilliant showcases of his ability to inhabit old material and make it his own. And they benefit from the generally spare and acoustic sound. Dylan started his career singing traditional folk songs, but his understanding of them eight years later was far richer.

The second disc is heavier on versions of Dylan originals, with roughly equal smatterings of alternate takes from Self Portrait, New Morning, and Nashville Skyline and live cuts from Dylan and the Band’s 1969 Isle of Wight Festival performance. Some of the differences in these versions are striking. The radically altered take of “If Not For You” is performed by Dylan with piano and violin, making the song sound even more tender and vulnerable. There’s an alternate version of the funky Nashville Skyline trifle “Country Pie” that, when it breaks down, shows just how in-the-pocket his session pros were when playing live in the studio. There’s a version of “New Morning” with a shimmering horn section, giving it an even more buoyant and joyous cast. “Wigwam”, the instrumental that was given a bombastic treatment on the Self Portrait album, is heard without orchestration, revealing it as an effortlessly tuneful cowboy tune (the countrypolitan near-instrumental “All the Tired Horses” is heard in a similarly lean version).

Most of the music is heard in versions with minimal instrumentation: Dylan’s guitar, a second guitar adding fills, sometimes piano. Which makes the set oddly cohesive and album-like, ironically more so than the Self Portrait album itself. The outliers in this regard were also some of the stranger inclusions on the original album– the in-concert tracks with the Band. Given that neither Dylan nor the Band played live during this period, the fact that they came together for a massive festival was surely big news, so the set is obviously of historical importance. That is doubly true since by this time the recordings they made together in Woodstock were leaking out on bootlegs like The Great White Wonder, so the desire for Dylan/Band collaborations was high.

But plucking random numbers from that Isle of Wight set didn’t make much sense on the original album, and it doesn’t make much sense on Another Self Portrait either. The deluxe version of this set includes a disc with the full set, which is welcome– it has a ragtag charm, Dylan mostly sings in his Nashville Skyline voice, and the song selection is ace. But there’s still a weird distance to it all, a lack of intensity that is hard to put a finger on, with laid back versions of familiar tunes that don’t really probe for any new meanings.

The deluxe version also includes a remastered version of the Self Portrait album proper. Returning to it, it’s hard for those of us a generation or two younger to understand the reaction to it not because it paled in comparison to the greatness that came before, because it obviously did. If you’ve spent any time listening to Bob Dylan’s 1960s catalog, you are still trying to wrap your head around the thought that one person wrote the 56 songs on Bringing it All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde, John Wesley Harding, and Nashville Skyline between 1965 and 1969. Self Portrait, next to these records, in that moment, must have seemed like a joke. But later generations hear it differently. We’ve discovered Self Portrait in the used bins, torrent downloads, and streaming services alongside records like Street Legal, Saved, Empire Burlesque, Down in the Groove, and Under the Red Sky. And in this broader context, it sounds quite good, another weird and sloppy record from a guy who released a lot of them. And hearing it again with all the fantastic music that surrounded it, music that further cements Dylan’s Bootleg Series as one of the most important archival projects in modern pop history, it remains a beguiling artifact.

December 26, 2013 Posted by | Bob Dylan The Bootleg Series Vol. 10: Another Self Portrait | | Leave a comment

How Bob Dylan, Music’s Great Enigma First Revealed His Talent To The World 50 Years Ago (Bob Dylan First Album, 1962)

Bob Dylan in London 1962

From – 18 March 2012

Released on 19 March 1962, Bob Dylan’s debut remains a landmark of popular culture

A rollicking rush on guitar is followed by the line, “I don’t know why I love you like I do”, sung with something between a hollow laugh and a stab of pain; and after one minute and 37 seconds it is over. Side one, track one, of the first album by Bob Dylan, the most elusive, talented and influential American performer and poet of the 20th century.

There follows a classic talkin’ blues that sounds like the work of an old hand, but expresses the awe of a young man on arrival in New York – then the voice, more vehement, intensifies for a searing third track that strokes the listener’s every exposed nerve that little too roughly – a spiritual called In My Time of Dyin’, with the singer’s girlfriend’s lipstick tube used to try to imitate the slide guitar of blues wizard Robert Johnson.

The album – entitled Bob Dylan – was released half a century ago (19 March 1962) , by a 20-year-old from Minnesota who had arrived in Manhattan the previous year, aboard a freight train. It had taken him two months to get much further than Times Square, before trying his luck in places like “an unusual beer and wine place on 3rd Street… now called Cafe Bizarre”, as Dylan would later recall. “The patrons were mostly workingmen who sat around laughing, cussing, eating red meat, talking pussy… Talent scouts,” he wrote, “didn’t come to those dens.”

Dylan finally arrived in the creative ferment of Greenwich Village with burning ambition to match it – “impatient to be seen, to impress important people, to learn”, as Robert Shelton, the music critic who became Dylan’s biographer, puts it. In the city Dylan described as “mysterious” but “capital of the world”, he pressed himself through the doors of the coffee houses and folk clubs: the Commons, the Wha’, The Gaslight – and Gerde’s Folk City.

“I was there to find the singers,” Dylan would write, “the ones I’d heard on record – Dave Van Ronk, Peggy Seeger, Ed McCurdy, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee.” Dylan’s first album was released in the same year that the Beatles recorded Love Me Do; Jimi Hendrix was still serving in the 101st Airborne Division; Frank Sinatra cut an album with Count Basie; and Dmitri Shostakovich premiered his 13th Symphony, with two more to go and 13 years longer to live. “Although only 20 years old,” read a review of Bob Dylan in the New York Times, “Dylan is one of the most distinctive stylists to play in a Manhattan cabaret in months.”

Throughout the 50 years since then, Dylan has maintained his enigma, which is all the more remarkable for having written what is regarded as an intimate autobiography, Chronicles.

His girlfriend Suze Rotolo – photographed on Dylan’s arm for the cover of his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan – wrote a memoir recounting the depths of Dylan’s determination to stay mysterious at that time: he span her a yarn about having been abandoned as a child in New Mexico. Rotolo had suspicions about his “Welsh name” and prised his real one, Zimmerman, out of him at the apartment they would eventually share on West 4th Street (though she liked calling him Boo Radley after the couple went to see To Kill a Mockingbird).

But 2004’s Chronicles does at least allow us to quote Dylan on himself after all the decades of elliptical responses and riddles with which he baffled interviewers. Most important, we can read his own account of coming to know the man who inspired this first album more than anyone: the hobo father and political conscience of American folk, Woody Guthrie. Nothing on the album is written by Guthrie, but the traditionals are sung as he might have performed them.

Dylan recalls buying Guthrie Raleigh cigarettes to smoke in hospital and singing Tom Joad to its author during long afternoons by his deathbed. Only two songs on the first album are written by Dylan: Talkin’ New York and Song to Woody – the former adapts a Guthrie talkin’ blues and the latter is a homage. Dylan’s reasoning for this is disarmingly frank: “I can’t say when it occurred to me to write my own songs. I couldn’t have come up with anything comparable or halfway close to the folk song lyrics I was singing to define the way I felt about the world… Folk songs played in my head, folk songs are the underground story.”

Playing at Folk City, Dylan won admirers and jealous adversaries. Joan Baez would recall: “He looked like an urban hillbilly… bouncing from foot to foot, he seemed dwarfed by the guitar… He spat out the words to his own songs. They were original and refreshing, if blunt and jagged. He was absurd, new and grubby beyond words… but captivating.”

However, Dylan failed to turn his success in the cellars into a recording deal – he was rejected by Elektra, Folkways and Vanguard. Then he met John Hammond, at a rehearsal in an apartment rented by Baez’s sister, Mimi Fariña, and her husband Richard.

Hammond was the genius who produced Dylan’s first album, adding the young singer to the list of those he had nurtured, which included Billie Holiday, Charlie Christian, Bessie Smith and Count Basie.

By November 1961, Hammond was ready to move his new talent into Columbia’s Studio A on Seventh Avenue. “I signed him on the spot,” he once recalled. “We made our first album almost immediately. His guitar playing, let us say charitably, was rudimentary, and his harmonica was barely passable, but he had a good sound and a point of view and an idea. He was very disenchanted with the social system. I encouraged him to put all his hostility on tape, because I figured this was the way, really, to get to the true Bob Dylan.”

Some of the songs were recorded in two takes, such was Dylan’s germinal feel for the music, the folk, the blues. The only problems arose from Dylan popping his Ps, too close to the mike.

The immediately astonishing impact of the album, by any measure, is the contrast between the image of the unsmiling but fresh-faced lad in his cap and the depth of feeling and range in the singing between love, rage, sorrow and a fixation with death. The core of the album is Fixin’ To Die, sung as though he were pleading for the life he is about to lose, such is Dylan’s understanding of the intentions of its author, the great Delta blues master Booker T Washington – aka “Bukka” – White.

And so it continued: the lighter guitar touch on Baby Let Me Follow You Down, heralding the mighty ballads to come, a definitive claim on House of the Rising Sun and Elizabeth Cotten’s Freight Train Blues – a choice worth noting not just for the lore of the American railroad and whistle of iron snakes winding through perpetuity, but also Dylan’s own reflection that “I’d seen and heard trains from my earliest childhood days and the sight and sound of them always made me feel secure”.

As ever, there is humour, too. Baez, Dylan’s lover in the period immediately after the album, wrote that “his humour was dry, private, and splendid”.

The estimable British writer on Dylan, Michael Gray, argues interestingly that the real value of the album is not only that it showed “more than a hint of a highly distinctive vision”, but also “served as a fine corrective for Greenwich Village: it was the opposite of effete,” he says, “in the context of what was happening at the time – American folk culture all but obliterated, and a stagnating ‘folk’ cult established as if in its place.”

In Chronicles, we have Dylan’s recollection of the books he devoured off other people’s shelves during the time he made this record, which illuminate those to follow: Shelley, Poe, Faulkner, Gogol, The White Goddess by Robert Graves, whom he would later meet in London; “Balzac is hilarious,” writes Dylan – and there is his “morbid fascination” with Von Clausewitz’s writing on warfare. Books that can be said to play their part among the myriad influences on what was to follow – indeed, once Dylan had embarked along the creative road he would take from Bob Dylan onwards, it was a while before he returned to the album in his core performing repertoire.

“Sometimes you just want to do things your way, want to see for yourself what lies behind the misty curtain,” he wrote. “You have to know and understand something, and then go past the vernacular.”

Half a century ago though, the vernacular had a narrative and poetry of its own. But in his review for the New York Times, Shelton observed that, despite moments of “off-target melodrama”, Dylan’s “highly personalised approach towards folk song is still evolving”.

December 25, 2013 Posted by | Bob Dylan First Album | | Leave a comment

Bob Dylan Chronicles (2005)


So the man has finally gotten around to writing about himself in prose, and you’re thinking of grabbing this, the first fruit. A few remarks are in order, then, to help you decide whether to shell out the bucks. First I want to banish some possible misconceptions (ones I had and you very well might share); then I’ll take a longer view of the book and tell you why I think it’s worth five stars.

First, it’s not an autobiography in the usual sense of the word. Sure, Bob is writing about himself and what he’s done, but time flows freely forward and back and the subject changes (sometimes radically) every few paragraphs. He doesn’t indulge in much self-justification, he doesn’t try to chart a distinct arc of personal development, and it’s not rare for him to start down a detour that screams for more exploration and then to turn the bus around. The comparison to X-Ray, the autobiography of Ray Davies of the Kinks, isn’t entirely justified — I don’t think Dylan fictionalized much — but Chronicles is closer in spirit to that than to more conventional rock autobiographies.

Second, Dylan lets you into his mind but he doesn’t much open his heart. Suze Rotolo is the subject of some lyrical reminiscence, for instance, but their relationship is kept very abstract — maybe he’s protecting her privacy, I don’t know. He talks about his love for his wife and kids at length in the “New Morning” chapter, but they never even show up as characters! His second (?) wife does show up in the “Oh Mercy” chapter, but she remains nameless and faceless. The only emotions Bob really describes are awe for his idols in his early days and frustration and loathing for himself in the “Oh Mercy” period.

Third, and finally, don’t overestimate how much ground it covers. At 293 pages, the book is short; the font and the large amount of whitespace padding make 293 pages sound longer than it is. I read the book in just about five hours of reading, and much of that time my pace was leisurely. The content is pretty rigidly circumscribed, too: the first, second, and last chapters cover his early life and career, in Minnesota and in New York (1949-62); the third and fourth his “New Morning” (1969-70) and “Oh Mercy” (1988-89) periods, respectively. There’s only a handful of anecdotes that fall outside those ranges.

One brief, nitpicky comment before I praise the book: Dylan needed a better proofreader than he got. I know he missed at least one deadline with the manuscript and probably more, and so publication was likely something of a rush-job, but he has a tendency to use words whose meanings elude him (“incredulously” instead of “incredibly” — facts don’t tend to be credulous), and a sharp set of eyes should have caught them in a once-over. The grammar, on the other hand, is better than some have given him credit for. On the other hand, I wouldn’t be surprised if awe of the man stood in the way of proper proofing.

Anyhow, my three corrections to misconceptions could be taken as negatives. If it’s got these problems, you might say, why is it worth five stars? My answer to that is that the man has a way with words, and just ’cause he won’t be tamed by chronology & word choice & all that jazz doesn’t mean that his recollections aren’t delightful.

The book doesn’t resemble a chronological biography so much as a Jim Jarmusch movie, a collection of short anecdotes tied together with a declarative sentence here or an interrogatory paragraph there. Dylan, who’s rapidly turning into everybody’s favorite dubious grandpa, full of funny stories and odd ways of looking at the world, sheds light on his influences, his contemporaries, and his colleagues that are alternately revealing, funny, incisive, and patronizing, but always entertaining. The anecdotal approach he’s chosen couldn’t be better suited to his personality or even his view of life (after all, Louie the King, Georgia Sam, and God shared the same song). For sheer entertainment value, Volume One of Chronicles slays the rest of the Dylan bookshelf.

Postscript: there’s a six-song companion CD available for free from some retailers with two unreleased songs (“The Cuckoo” from the Gaslight and the original demo of “Dignity”) and four released tracks from “New Morning” and “Oh Mercy” (“New Morning”, “Father of Night”, “Man in the Long Black Coat”, and “Political World”). Keep your eyes out.

May 18, 2013 Posted by | Book Bob Dylan Chronicles | , | Leave a comment

Bob Dylan: A Biography by Anthony Scaduto (1972)


Anthony Scaduto’s 1971 biography offers what the title promises: an intimate look at the early career of Bob Dylan. Written at the end of his first decade as a songwriter and recording artist, the book relates Dylan’s life from the beginnings in Minnesota and formative years in Greenwich Village through the reclusive period that followed his ascension to fame in the mid-1960s.

The story may be familiar enough now, but Scaduto was the very first to piece it together. Not only was he able to talk with virtually everyone who knew Dylan back then – Rambling Jack Elliott, Dave Van Ronk, Eric von Schmidt, Carolyn Hester, John Hammond (both the producer and his son), Phil Ochs, Eric Andersen, Suze and Carla Rottolo, and Joan Baez – he also tracked down Dylan’s friends from his hometown of Hibbing and the scene in Minneapolis’s Dinkytown, where Dylan made his debut as a folksinger. Scaduto had something no biographer has since enjoyed: the chance to interview Dylan, who even provided feedback on the manuscript.

Besides being first, Scatudo was thorough. In fact, his book served as the informational template for the many biographies that would follow. Little of any great significance is missing, even when compared with what are widely considered the most complete accounts of Dylan’s emergence as a cultural phenomenon, among them, Robert Shelton’s No Direction Home, Howard Sounes’s Down the Highway and Clinton Heylin’s Behind the Shades. Of course, these later works benefit considerably from the decades of subsequent research and analysis. In addition to bringing the story up to date, they offer insights from figures who have since shed new light on the period, most notably, Dylan himself.

Surprisingly, the correctives are relatively minor, unless you care that Robert Zimmerman officially became Robert Dylan on August 2, 1962, and not a week later or that he began his cross-country road trip from Woodstock to New Orleans to Los Angeles on February 3, 1964, and not the day before. Scaduto was also unable to pin down the date of Dylan’s arrival in the Village in 1961, which he gives only as “late January.” Just the same, he does nail the details on an event many still mistakenly report as having taken place at New Jersey’s Greystone Hospital: Dylan’s first encounter with the dying Woody Guthrie. The meeting, on January 29, 1961, took place at an apartment in East Orange, where Guthrie spent weekends away from the hospital to be with close friends such as Pete Seeger, Cisco Houston and Rambling Jack. As Dylan’s charm and good fortune would have it, he penetrated this hallowed circle within days of arriving in New York City. The exact number – three days – doesn’t matter as much.

An issue that does matter is Scaduto’s writing, which tends to be perfunctory, a straight reporting of events. Nothing here matches the depth or style of authors like Rolling Stone’s Griel Marcus, the Bob Dylan Encyclopedia’s Michael Gray or historian Sean Wilentz. Scaduto nonetheless is an able enough guide, especially in regards to the generous quotations he shares from his interviews, thereby allowing Dylan’s intimates to speak at length. Their recollections are not only fresh but as yet unaffected by the legend of the self-schooled troubadour who transformed folk music, then did the same for rock ‘n roll. Read the recent, more complete biographies, for sure, but don’t overlook Scaduto’s indispensible contribution. It’s the foundation for the canon that is proving to be, like Dylan’s touring, never ending.

May 16, 2013 Posted by | Book Bob Dylan: A Biography by Anthony Scaduto | , | Leave a comment

Folk-Rock: The Bob Dylan Story by Sy Ribakove (1966)


I read this book just before my 16th birthday when it came out in 1966. I thought it was true, of course, and I’ve often wondered how many runaways who hit the road in the second half of the 60s were influenced by this small gem of a book on a then-new phenomenon? Not a joke. Every hippie girl I met had a copy of this thing!

The book is basically a long magazine article, with some fairly interesting song reviews thrown in. Just about everything Dylan did pre-Blond-on-Blond comes in for scrutiny, most of it quite fascinating if you recall that 1966 was a banner year for Bobby Darin and Andy Williams — lots different from what was about to come!

Simply put, this book is a salute to the lost innocence that flourished for awhile in the 60s before everything went sour. We really believed that people could change their minds on serious issues by a kid with a guitar. We really believed all the twaddle Dylan told people about himself running away and jumping freight trains (all now known to be total fictions, but so what?) and that the freedom of the open road was still available to everybody.

Reading it now is a shock for the same reason listening to “The Times They Are A-Changin” is a shock: Dylan articulated a kind of freedom that was drying up even then. The times a-changed — for the worse. Freedom is now a commodity you’d better be prepared to pay serious money for. Or as Dylan himself put it, “money doesn’t talk. it swears.”

That’s why this book stands alone: Other sources have more “facts” about Dylan; this one is the Dylan legend complete with that totally naive optimism that could only have come out when it did, right before the innocence of the Sixties turned nasty.

But read it and be shocked anyway. Be shocked for the freedoms we once took for granted and are now slipping away with each new clause added to the Patriot Act. Read it to know what intelligent and inexperienced kids in the 60s thought mattered. It may not matter now, other things do. But to understand the past you get into the minds of those who tried to make a difference.

That’s why this little book matters. I classify it as “fiction” because it’s not what the mid-60s were really like. It’s more like what we wanted them to be. If they’d have been what we wanted, the world would look a lot different now, come to think of it.

May 13, 2013 Posted by | Book Folk-Rock: The Bob Dylan Story by Sy Ribakove | , | Leave a comment

Bob Dylan Electric Black Nite Crash (1965)


Roughly six weeks after the landmark 1965 Newport Folk Festival appearance that transformed him from luminary to lightning rod, Bob Dylan descended upon Los Angeles’ Hollywood Bowl with his new backing band in tow.

After first abandoning the protest themes of his classic early anthems to focus on more poetic, personal subjects, Dylan was now forsaking the rigid traditions of roots music to go electric, drawing on the spirit of rock & roll to forge a revolutionary and controversial sound all his own. Just his second full-length show post-Newport, the September 3, 1965, Hollywood Bowl gig remains a fascinating portrait of Dylan in transition: foreshadowing the structure he would employ on the epochal U.K. tour of the following year, he divides the performance into two halves, opening with a solo acoustic set and closing with an electric performance backed by guitarist Robbie Robertson, organist Al Kooper, bassist Harvey Brooks, and drummer Levon Helm.

But while the acoustic portion is sublime, highlighted by luminous readings of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” and “To Ramona,” the electric set proves wanting — while more confident and robust than the Newport performances, the arrangements are still somewhat tentative, conjuring little of the visceral roar that would define the 1966 trek.

The historical value of these long-lost and much-bootlegged tapes cannot be overstated, however. Junkyard Angel’s Electric Black Nite Crash boasts the same source limitations as rival releases and features the show in its entirety (minus the finale of “Mr. Tambourine,” missing from all known recordings), making it an essential addition to any serious Dylan enthusiast’s collection.

July 27, 2010 Posted by | Bob Dylan Electric Black Nite Crash | , | Leave a comment

Bob Dylan Thin Wild Mercury Music (1966)

From thedailyconcert

We continue our Dylan-athon with another “must own” set of outtakes and alternate tracks from Dylan’s 1965-1966 studio sessions of Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde.

Thin Wild Mercury Music has incredible sound as it is straight from the alternate acetate, however, the order of the songs is a tad odd. On a side note, I am eagerly anticipating the release of I’m Not There on DVD as I missed it in the theaters. With each review I read, I continue to kick myself for not experiencing the film on the big screen. Oh well, at least I have the soundtrack to enjoy while I wait …

Bob Dylan – Thin Wild Mercury Music
01 If You Gotta Go, Go Now 02 She Belongs To Me 03 Freeze Out 04 From A Buick 6 05 It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue 06 Medicine Sunday 07 I Wanna Be Your Lover 08 Keep It With Mine (Instrumental) 09 Love Minus Zero/No Limit 10 Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window 11 Number One 12 Just A Little Glass of Water
13 Pilot Eyes 14 Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window 15 Freeze Out 16 Just A Little Glass of Water 17 Miami Convention Message 18 If You Gotta Go, Go Now

July 25, 2010 Posted by | Bob Dylan Thin Wild Mercury Music | , | Leave a comment

Bob Dylan In Concert – Unreleased 1963 In Concert Album


The material presented here is an absolute must-have to any collection. It has been available for many years, but this package blows away every release that has come before. This is the one to own.

CBS was planing this release during the 1963-64 Christmas season, and it went as far as being pressed to acetate. It has long been rumored that the LP cover was completed as well, and this CD purports to be a reproduction of it. It is a beautiful cover, and leaves little doubt to it’s authenticity. The thorn seems to have been the rambling 6½ minute prose “Last Thoughts On Woody Guthrie”.

A song missing from Carnegie is Talkin’ John Birch. It, along with this version of Who Killed Davy Moore? was released on the official CBS release Bootleg Series Vol 1-3. The recording has been filtered and EQ’d for this release, and the result is near perfection. The overall aesthetics, quality, and material of this package make it one of the best CD boots ever produced. The Colessum version has a slightly nicer disc, as all songs are listed with a one word title.

July 25, 2010 Posted by | Bob Dylan In Concert | , | Leave a comment