Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Bob Dylan - The Rolling Thunder Revue: The 1975 Live Recordings (Legacy Recordings, 2019)

The music itself is released as a fourteen disc box set with a nice booklet, that provides a wide angle view of the tour. The first two discs give you a fly on the wall view of the group trying to bang together arrangements of the songs at S.I.R. Rehearsals in New York City. It can be a bit of a slog as they work through new songs from the upcoming Desire LP like the unwieldy “Joey” and complex tunes from Blood on the Tracks such as “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts.” But it is fascinating to hear behind the scenes content, and see the confidence of the group grow as the performances tighten, finally coalescing into a well played no breakdown set entitled Seacrest Motel Rehearsals.

Then comes the main event: ten discs of live performances, in small theaters November – December 1975, performed in Worcester, Cambridge, two shows from Boston and Montreal. The music is all good and frequently excellent, and Dylan keeps things interesting by constantly tinkering with the set list and playing songs from the length of his career as well as some traditional folk songs. The Montreal concert may be the best example of the live music and it is particularly energetic, beginning with a yearning acoustic version of the beautiful Basement Tapes track, “When I Paint My Masterpiece” before bringing the electric group around and playing some surprisingly amped up versions of  “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” and “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall.” Scarlet Rivera's swooping and swaying violin is the centerpiece of some of his more recent narrative based music like “Hurricane” and “One More Cup of Coffee” and they even end with a singalong of Woody Guthrie's “This Land Is Your Land.” The final disc consists of rarities recorded during the tour, like the biographical song “The Ballad of Ira Hayes,” performed at the Tuscarora Indian Reservation, and “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry” recorded during a fundraiser for the Rubin Carter defense fund.

For dabblers there's a selection of tracks on the streaming services that give a glimpse of the music in the box set, and there's also an overpriced three LP collection that could have been a fine budget CD release, but I digress. Apart from getting bogged down a bit in the rehearsals, the music soars, Dylan is in fine mettle, with something to prove he sounds focused and pure, and the addition of guests adds variety to the mix without diluting its punch. Dylan fanatics can buy the big box without shame, the music within will pay for itself time and again. The Rolling Thunder Revue: The 1975 Live Recordings - amazon.com

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