The Bootleg Series Vol. 11 – Bob Dylan And The Band/ The Basement Tapes Raw – Columbia/Legacy 88875016131 – Deluxe Box Set (3 vinyl stereo 12-inch, 2 CDs, 56-page booklet) *****:
(Featuring Bob Dylan with The Band/ Robbie Robertson; Levon Helm; Richard Manuel; Rick Danko and Garth Hudson)
In a career that has encompassed more than five decades, Bob Dylan has created an aura of unpredictability and brooding mystique. His unconventional choices resulted in a shift from folk singing (which included a controversial electric performance at the Newport Jazz Festival and subsequent tour that alienated his fans) to rock and roll stardom. He embraced this change on Highway 61 Revisited (1965) and the first rock double album, Blonde On Blonde (1966).But after a serious motorcycle accident, he retreated to West Saugerties, New York. At the height of his newly-found prominence, Dylan reunited with The Hawks (later to be known as The Band) to work on the tour film, Eat The Document and began a new project. This musical undertaking in 1967 elevated Bob Dylan to mythical status.
Referred to as The Basement Tapes, Dylan and The Band recorded in a “living room environment” (mostly at Dylan’s residence and the Big Pink house). They eschewed the populist overdub studio process and instrumental effects, choosing stripped down jams of roots-based material, including blues, rock and roll, folk and other traditional music. This music (according to Dylan) was never intended to be released, but he did sell some of the original songs (“You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” and “The Mighty Quinn”). Other songs became part of The Band’s Music From Big Pink. Demand for the source material grew. A new form of recording called “bootleg tapes” was introduced to the music business. Acetates and “secret” cassettes of these sessions began to surface. In 1975 Columbia Records released a two-LP Basement Tapes (produced with overdubs) to mixed critical reviews. It would take forty-seven years to amass a definitive compilation.
Columbia Records has released a box set, The Bootleg Series – Bob Dylan And The Band/ The Basement Tapes Raw. Three 180-gram vinyl records and two CDs each contain thirty-eight tracks of restored, unreleased and alternative cuts from these fabled sessions. From the opening chords of “Open The Door, Homer” it’s clear that Dylan is in a relaxed groove and actually having fun. “Odds And Ends” is rollicking and could be an outtake from “Blonde On Blonde”. They know blues, and “Crash On The Levee” is proof of that. Dylan’s vocals are filled with energy. Garth Hudson’s atmospheric organ reminds the listener of his musical expertise. Each cut bristles with inspired, ragged chemistry. “Lo And Behold” is pure talking blues and arranged to showcase Dylan’s lyrics. In the spirit of the “New Dylan”, there is uncontrolled laughter during the take.
The Basement Tapes is homage to musical roots. “I Don’t Hurt Anymore” is back-porch country wailing and does justice to the Hank Snow hit. With the tough Band sound, “Folsom Prison Blues” (a hit for Dylan’s pal, Johnny Cash) is country with rhythm and blues swagger. Traditional folk songs display reverence. As a folk performer in the early 60’s, Dylan covered many of these, including the gospel-inflected “Ain’t No More Cane”. “Johnny Todd” is a jaunty Irish or Scottish ditty that showcases Richard Manuel’s piano. Even on partial original songs like “I’m Alright” (a shout out to gospel soul), “Clothes Line Saga” (a tribute to country storytelling whose contextual style has to be associated with the 1967 Bobbie Gentry chart-topper, “Ode To Billie Joe”), the Dylan/Band sound is prominent.
Surprising and daring, even well-known tunes are re-invented. “Blowing In The Wind” is arranged in a slow blues groove that is reminiscent of “It Takes A lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry”. Richard Manuel sings the first verse of “One Too Many Mornings” (from The Times They Are A-Changin’) as the loose, electrified translation (with back alley vocals) takes over. (Note: The members of The Band were all multi-instrumentalists. There is no definitive information on musical credits.). Soon after The Basement Tapes, The Band recorded Music From Big Pink and that album is well represented. “Tears Of Rage” (co-written by Dylan and Manuel) is emotive and a glimpse into a soon-to-be iconic band. Vocal harmonies envelop “I Shall Be Released” and it glows as a modern gospel classic. Hudson’s spooky organ underscores “This Wheel’s On Fire” which displays the ambiance of “Ballad Of A Thin Man”. Songs that were covered at first by other artists include the unlikely “Quinn The Eskimo” (a demo that was turned into a pop hit by Manfred Mann) and “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” (two versions are featured, including an alternate version with humorous lyrics….”feed that buzzard, lay him on the rug…”). Several unfinished tunes hint at the extemporaneous, ambitious nature of the project.
Dylan’s next album, the starkly acoustic John Wesley Hardin would be another departure. The impetus for this was the 1967 Basement sessions. The Bootleg Series Vol.11–Bob Dylan And The Band/The Basement Tapes Raw is a small piece of rock history (Technically, it is a highlight compilation. There is a 6-CD complete Basement Tapes box set for aficionados that must have everything. ) Both the 180-gram vinyl and CD audio quality is excellent, subject to individual preference. There is a measured balance of restorative translation and a commitment to maintain the raw (no overdubs), original material. While this is not a purist audiophile recording, Garth Hudson’s 1967 recording (and later restoration and re-mastering) captures the aesthetic intention. Instrument separation and balance supports Dylan’s vocals proportionately. The art design is stellar. The two CD sleeves have replicas of reel-to-reel labels on them. The vinyl albums display vintage blank labels. The lush booklet is printed with a hi-gloss finish and contains incisive liner notes and many photographs (color and b & w) of Dylan and The Band, including the 1975 album cover. There are blow-ups of Hudson’s notes on the master reels. The box cover is a shot of a short-haired Bob Dylan staring intently into the camera.
At $65-$70, this not an inexpensive box set. For many, it will be well worth the price!
Disc 1 (vinyl) =
Side A: Open The Door Homer (restored version); Odds And Ends (alternate version); Million Dollar Bash (alternate version); One Too Many Mornings (unreleased); I Don’t Hurt Anymore (unreleased); Ain’t No More Cane (alternate version); Crash On The Levee (restored version)
Side B: Tears Of Rage (without overdubs); Dress It Up, Better Have It All (unreleased); I’m Not There (previously released); Johnny Todd (unreleased); Too Much Of Nothing (alternate version)
Disc 2 (vinyl) =
Side C: Quinn The Eskimo (restored version); Get Your Rocks Off (unreleased); Santa-Fe (previously released); Silent Weekend (unreleased); Clothes Line Saga (restored version); Please Mrs. Henry (restored version); I Shall Be Released (restored version)
Side D: You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere (alternate version); Lo And Behold! (alternate version); Minstrel Boy (previously released); Tiny Montgomery (without overdubs); All You Have To Do Is Dream (unreleased); Goin’ To Acapulco (without overdubs); 900 Miles From My Home (unreleased)
Disc 3 (vinyl) =
Side E: One For The Road (unreleased); I’m Alright (unreleased); Blowin’ In The Wind (unreleased); Apple Suckling Tree (restored version); Nothing Was Delivered (unreleased)
Side F: This Wheel’s On Fire (without overdubs); Yea! Heavy And A Bottle Of Bread (restored version); Don’t Ya Tell Henry (alternate version); Baby, Won’t You Be My Baby (unreleased); Sign On The Cross (unreleased); You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere (without overdubs)
CD One: (Same as Sides A, B, C)
CD Two: (Same as Sides D, E, F)