Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Bob Dylan - The Best Of The Cutting Edge 1965 - 1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12 (Legacy, 2015)

Bob Dylan was arguably at his most potent during 1965-66, releasing classic after classic and rewriting the rulebook for folk music and rock and roll. During this period he shifted firmly from the former to the latter with the albums Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde, which are landmarks in the history of rock and roll. This particular collection brings together the alternate and discarded takes from the studio sessions from which these albums were culled. It is available in three configurations: a two disc highlights set (this is what I purchased), a six disc boxed set that contains many more alternates, and then finally a limited edition eighteen disc monstrosity. The highlights set works quite nicely and shows the very high level that he was working at during this period, changing lyrics, tempos and formats looking for the best available configuration. There is some very funny banter between Dylan and his producer about whether to call a song “Alcatraz to the 9th Power” or “Bank Account Blues” before he then launches into a nearly complete version of the fantasia that would become “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream.” There is an interesting stab at “Mr. Tambourine Man” with a full band along with rehearsal and alternates of the epochal song “Like a Rolling Stone.” If you go with the six disc version, one entire disc is taken up by all of the takes and breakdowns of this song. It is also fascinating to hear him looking for the right order and setting to complete his narrative songs, like on “Tombstone Blues” where the characters are in alternate settings than they would be in the final version. He’s searching for order and meaning in “Desolation Row” too, starting on piano and then discarding it then moving to guitar as things drop into place and the epic begins to take its final form. These sessions could be quite grueling as an example the version of “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later) is take nineteen and counting. The latter half of the second disc moves into the material from Blonde on Blonde, with rehearsal takes of “Visions of Johanna” and alternates of “Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat” and “Just Like A Woman.” Dylan was writing furiously in the studio at this stage fleshing out the music while Nashville studio musicians played cards and waited while he would alter the music, sometimes radically. This was a very interesting collection, a peek behind the curtain at one of the most prolific periods of one of America’s greatest musicians. There is a also a well done booklet with essays, photographs and session information. The Best Of The Cutting Edge 1965 - 1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12 - amazon.com

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