Lost Songs – The Basement Tapes Continued – Blu-ray (2015)

Lost Songs – The Basement Tapes Continued – Blu-ray (2015)

Cast: T Bone Burnett; Elvis Costello; Rhiannon Giddens; Taylor Goldsmith; Jim James and Marcus Munford
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment EVB335079 [5/26/15]
Director: Sam Jones
TrackList: Spanish Mary; Lost On The River; Florida Key; Card Shark; Hidee Hidee Ho #16; Nothing To It; Down On The Bottom; Kansas City; Liberty Street; When I Get My Hands On You; Duncan And Jimmy; Six Weeks In Kansas City (Liberty Street) Bonus tracks: Diamond Ring; Down On The Bottom; Hidee Hidee #16; Kansas City; Six Weeks In Kansas City (Liberty Street); The Whistle Is Blowing
Video: 1.78:1 for 1080p HD color
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (main program only), PCM 2.0 stereo
Subtitles: English, French, German, Spanish
Length: 130 minutes
Rating:  ****    Audio: ****     Video: ****     Overall: ****

There has never been a musician with the cultural mystique of Bob Dylan. Perhaps the epitome of this phenomenon is The Basement Tapes. Recorded in upstate New York (1967) with The Band, the collection of roots-based songs graced the underground circuit for years via acetates. Last year a definitive re-mastering of the sessions (culled from Garth Hudson’s master tapes) hit the street in various formats. It would seem that the legacy of The Basement Tapes had been resolved. Not really! Producer T Bone Burnett (once himself a Dylan sideman) completed a project to continue to mine Dylan material. He assembled five musicians to compose music to previously unknown Dylan lyrics from that era. The album titled Lost On The River: The New Basement Tapes was also the subject of a documentary by Sam Jones. Now Eagle Rock Entertainment has released a Blu-ray of this film.

Lost SongsThe Basement Tapes Continued is unusual in its genesis. Upon coming in possession of a box of Basement Tapes lyrics, Burnett attempted to become an impresario and gave these lyrics to Elvis Costello, Rhiannon Giddens, Taylor Goldsmith, Jim James and Marcus Mumford with his blessings to bring their talents to complement Bobby (or in his words collaborate with a twenty-seven year old Dylan). With approval from Dylan, himself, Burnett leads the group to immerse themselves in the songwriting. The movie opens with a “dramatic’ re-enactment of Dylan’s motorcycle ride that led to the crash. This odd dramatic re-enactment technique is utilized to supplement the very limited footage of Dylan, There are significant audio interviews (Robbie Robertson’s are insightful) and original audio versions of The Basement Tapes. Burnett brings in the boxes of unfinished (or unused lyrics) and the musicians begin their collaborative process. They are excited and intimidated by the prospects of writing a song with Bob Dylan.

The documentary (shot inside the legendary Capitol Studios) offers an inside look at the musical process. Directed by Sam Jones, it originally aired on Showtime in 2014. There are many noteworthy moments. Rhiannon Giddens, Taylor Goldsmith and Marcus Mumford work on a folk gospel version of “Lost On The River”.  There are different versions of songs (“Diamond Ring”) and the subtle calm influence of Burnett is always present. The dichotomy of translating a low-fi, analog project to the modern world of cell phones is interesting. All five musicians shine in this environment. And the music is vibrant, despite the deliberate pace of the film. Songs like “Kansas City” and “Liberty Street” run the gamut from raucous to hymnal. The bonus tracks feature full-length versions of the songs. But the snippets of Dylan and The Band approximate a looser spontaneous vibe.

The video footage shot in the studio is crisp and steady. The colors are natural without any gimmicks (other than the grainy dramatic re-enactments). The HD-Master Audio 5.1 (on the main program) is excellent. Undoubtedly the saga of The Basement Tapes is not over.

—Robbie Gerson

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