Bob Dylan – The Best Of The Cutting Edge 1965-1966/ The Bootleg Series Vol. 12 – Columbia/Legacy – 3 vinyls+2 CDs

Bob Dylan – The Best Of The Cutting Edge 1965-1966/ The Bootleg Series Vol. 12 – Columbia/Legacy 88875124431 (3 vinyl 12” discs + 2 CDs + 56-page booklet) *****:

(Featuring Bob Dylan – guitar, piano, harmonica, slide whistle, vocals; John Hammond Jr. – guitar; Bruce Langhorne – guitar, tambourine; Frank Owens – electric piano; John Sebastian – harmonica, bass; Al Gorgoni – guitar; Kenneth Rankin – guitar; Paul Griffin – electric piano, organ; Joseph Macho Jr. – bass ;Bobby Gregg – drums; Angeline Butler – background vocals; Al Kooper – organ, celeste, electric piano; Robbie Robertson – guitar; Garth Hudson – organ; Rick Danko – bass; Levon Helm – drums; Mike Bloomfield – guitar; Russ Savakus – bass; Harvey Brooks – bass; Sam Lay – drums; Richard Manuel – piano; Sandy Konikoff – drums; Jerry Kennedy – guitar; Charlie McCoy – guitar; Wayne Moss – guitar; Hargus “Pig” Robbins – piano; Joe South – bass, guitar; Kenneth Buttrey – drums; Henry Strzelecki – bass)

As Bob Dylan approaches nearly 60 years as a recording artist, his career sustainability is peerless. After breaking on the scene in 1961 as a folk singer in the mold of Woody Guthrie, he achieved national and international fame. Not content with a limited perception of his music, he embraced rock and roll (as anyone his age would) as a vehicle for his art. Switching to electric may have driven the folk establishment into “freak out”, mode, but it established the folk rock genre. Every teenager with a guitar in the fifties wanted to be Elvis Presley. For a fourteen-month period (1965-1966), Bob Dylan ascended the zenith of the musical culture. Certainly, the Beatles had a significant influence in an abbreviated time period (eight years), their compositions never approach the intellectual depth of Dylan’s unique vision. In that brief time frame, Dylan recorded Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde. Arguably, these are among the most influential albums in rock history. In addition to releasing new material and touring, Dylan’s catalog is now available in a wide array of box sets.

The Best Of The Cutting Edge/ The Bootleg Series Vol. 12 is a collection of various tales, alternate takes and even one false start . Dylan and a select group of New York and Nashville musicians collaborate on what will be the touchstones of rock culture. This set offers a glimpse into the evolving, work-in-progress repertoire. There are multiple solo acoustic takes. “Love Minus Zero/ No Limit” is the opening track. Dylan on guitar (with some harmonica) draws the listener into his exemplary wordplay and singing style. This earlier career is captured in banter with producer Tom Wilson. “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” is funny and invokes a variety of historical figures (Captain Ahab, Columbus) and events. More intriguing is the surreal imagery and inventive rhymes. His romantic side is featured on the solo take of “She Belongs To Me”. The first take of “Subterranean Homesick Blues’ has a freewheeling “freak rap” and bluesy jam. Clearly, he is close to finishing this one.

Many of the songs begin in formats that will not make the final cut. “Outlaw Blues” is “Bo Diddley” tempo-driven and features a harder edge, especially on vocals. And that is the flow of this box set. Stripped-down solo takes (“Farewell Angelina”, “You Don’t Have To Do That”, California”) mixed with band alternate takes (“On The Road Again”, If You Gotta Go, Go Now”). The more recognizable songs, with some individual differences from the finished product are great. “Mr. Tambourine Man” is nearly worked out (at Take 3), and “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry” (Take 8) is raucous and resembles a live performance. Unreleased material (“Sitting On A Barbed Wire Fence”) and an early version of “Temporary Like Achilles” (here titled “Medicine Sunday”) are entertaining.

Landmark songs get a closer look. There are two early versions of “Like A Rolling Stone”. Take 5 is a slower folk version, while Take 11 is jaunty rock and aligned to the eventual arrangement. “Like A Rolling Stone” is considered by many as his major breakthrough and has 20 versions on the extended 18-CD box set. Two opposing recordings of “Desolation Row” (one, a 2:00 piano version, the other an extended take with acoustic guitar) demonstrate the process of a recording artist. Unusual imagery including Ezra Pound, T.S. Ellot, and Einstein playing electric violin makes this song brilliant. Highway 61Revisited put Dylan into the mainstream and is well represented in this compilation. The title cut is heard twice. Take 3 rocks without the slide whistle, which is all over the Take 7 false start.  “Positively Fourth Street” (full band, Take 5) is amplified by Mike Bloomfield’s guitar and Al Kooper’s organ (a story within itself). It remains the standard bearer of the motley context in pop music. “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” (a Take 3 rehearsal) is laid back, but evocative (“….Juarez in the rain…”, “…the Goddess of Gloom…”).

Blonde On Blonde was another landmark accomplishment, a double-LP. Dylan is refining his vocal nuances and it is evident on “Queen Jane Approximately” (Take 5, close to the album track) and a surprisingly robust go at “Visions Of Johanna” (with The Band, but not Levon Helm). Blonde On Blonde was recorded in Nashville (a first for 60s rockers), and the new band shows some honky-tonk grit on “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat”. Signature voice phrasing and enunciation flourishes now infuse Dylan’s repertoire. Listening to “Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again” and “Absolutely Sweet Marie” emphasize this with a studio band that is solid. A swinging jam of “Just Like A Woman” has some of the Highway 61 session players with the Blonde On Blonde group, and it is catchy. Dylan seems to be resurrecting his Midwestern blues roots on the initial take of “Pledging My Time”, and the pumped up “I Want You”.

The 3-180-gram vinyl/ 2-CD box set of The Best Of The Cutting Edge 1965-1966 is exceptional. The re-mastering of both formats is crisp and brings an acoustic warmth and vibrancy to this mercurial performer.  His vocals sound as good, perhaps better than the original recordings. The lush 56-page booklet has some nostalgic photos of Dylan and company. The back cover is hysterical; it sells Dylan as “…The U.S. invasion is underway”. There are anecdotal studio recollections (of course, none from Dylan himself). The art design of the vintage record and CD sleeves is compelling. Dylan aficionados will be ecstatic over this release. So will anyone who appreciates unique musical expression.

TrackList:

LP 1 Side A:Love Minus Zero/No Limit –  Take 2 acoustic (1/13/1965); I’ll Keep It With Mine – Take 1 piano demo (1/13/1965); Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream – Take 2 solo acoustic (1/13/65019; She Belongs To Me – Take 1 solo acoustic (1965) Subterranean Homesick Blues – Take 1 alternate take (1/14/1965); Outlaw Blues – Take 2 alternate take (1/13/1965)

LP 1 Side B:Farewell Angelina – Take 1 solo acoustic (1/13/1965); If You Gotta Go, Go Now – Take 2 alternate take; You Don’t Have To Do That take – 1 solo aciustic( 1/13/1965) California Take – 1 solo acoustic (1/13/1965); Mr. Tambourine Man Take – 3 with band, incomplete (1/15/65); It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry – Take 8 alternate take (1/15/1965); Sitting On A Barbed Wire Fence – take 2 (6/15/65); Medicine Sunday – take 1 (10/5/1965)

LP 2 Side C: Like A Rolling Stone – Take 5 rehearsal (6/15/65); Like A Rolling Stone – Take 11 alternate take(6/16/65); Desolation Row – Take 2 piano demo (8/4/1965); Desolation Row –  Take 1 alternate take

LP2 Side D: Tombstone Blues – Take 1 alternate take (7/29/1965); Positively Fourth Street – Take 5 alternate take (7/29/1965); Can You Please Crawl Out Of Your Window? – Take 1 alternate take (7/30/1965); Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues – Take 3 rehearsal (8/2/1965); Highway 61 Revisited – Take 3 alternate take (8/2/1965)

LP3 Side E: Queen Jane Approximately – Take 5 alternate take (6/2/1965); Visions Of Johanna – Take 5 rehearsal (11/30/1965); She’s Your Lover Now – Take 6 rehearsal (1/21/1966); Lunatic Princess – Take 1 (1/27/1966); Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat – take 8 alternate take (2/14/1966)

LP 3 Side F: One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later – Take 19 alternate take (1/25/1966); Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again – Take 13 alternate take (2/17/1966); Absolutely Sweet Marie – Take 1alternate take (3/7/1966); Just Like A Woman – Take 4 alternate take (3/8/1966); Pledging My Time – Take 1alternate take (3/8/1966); I Want You – Take 4 alternate take (3/10/1966); Highway 61 Revisited – Take 7 false start (8/2/1965)

CD 1: Love Minus Zero/ No Limit – Take 2 acoustic; I’ll Keep It With Mine – Take 1 piano demo; Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream – Take 2 solo acoustic; She Belongs To Me – Take 1 solo acoustic; Subterranean Homesick Blues – Take 1 alternate take; Outlaw Blues – take 2 alternate take; On The Road Again – Take 4 alternate take; Farewell Angelina – Take 1 solo acoustic; If You Gotta Go, Go Now – Take 2 alternate take; You Don’t Have To Do That – Take 1 solo acoustic; California – Take 1 solo acoustic; Mr. Tambourine Man – Take 3 with band incomplete; It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry – Take 8 alternate take; Like A Rolling Stone – Take 11 alternate take; Like A Rolling Stone – Take 11 alternate take; Sitting On A Barbed-Wire Fence – Take 2 unreleased take; Medicine Sunday – Take1; Desolation Row – Take 2 piano demo; Desolation Row – Take 1 alternate take

CD 2: Tombstone Blues – Take 1 alternate take; Positively Fourth Street 5 – Take 5 alternate take; Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window? – Take 1 alternate take; Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues – Take 3 rehearsal; Highway 61 Revisited – take 3 alternate take; Queen Jane Approximately – Take 5 alternate take; Visions Of Johanna – Take 5 rehearsal; She’s Your Lover Now – Take 6 rehearsal; Lunatic Princess – Take 1; Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat – Take 8 alternate take; One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later)  Take 19 alternate take; Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again – Take 13 alternate take; Absolutely Sweet Marie – Take 1 alternate take; Just Like A Woman – Take 4 alternate take; Pledging My Time – Take 1 alternate take; I Want You – Take 4 alternate take; Highway 61 Revisited – Take 7 false start

—Robbie Gerson

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