Combining unreleased tracks, outtakes and false starts, this edition of Bob Dylan's seemingly bottomless Bootleg Series covers a brief period, 1967-1969, where he returned to action from some much deserved time off. This collection is a svelte three discs, much more easily digestible than the previous entries that have run near or over double digits. There is still plenty to pick over as well for veteran Dylanologists or casual fans alike, beginning with some fascinating outtakes from the John Wesley Harding album, where he plays with the word choice and arrangements of that subtle and beautifully enigmatic album. "I Pity the Poor Immigrant" is particularly poignant today as the ghostly guitar and bass frame Dylan's voice, very strongly declaring lyrics that mix spite and compassion. The spiritual nature of that album's material also shines through on strong alternates of "I Dreamed I Saw Saint Augustine" and "Drifter's Escape." The alternates and outtakes of Nashville Skyline that follow show Dylan taking a radical departure in his approach to singing, opting for a much smoother tone for the eventual hit "Lay Lady Lay" as well as tracks like the haunted "I Threw It All Away." The focus of much of the remainder of the collection is the session that Dylan did with Johnny Cash during February of 1969, where Cash sounds excited and eager during the sessions suggesting song after song while the pensive and perhaps nervous Dylan tries to keep up. At times the music get pretty fragmented since the two don't exactly share the same repertoire, causing Cash to call out for lyrics to be written out for songs, or for songs to just stumble to a halt. "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right / Understand Your Man" is an early highlight, two men singing different lyrics to the same music, leading Cash to exclaim "we both stole it from the same song!" They play a mix of material, some ballads like "Careless Love" and a couple of versions of "I Still Miss Someone" along with rockabilly that tries to take off on "Matchbox," "Big River" and Cash's own classic "I Walk The Line" and Cash has a power hitter in fellow Sun Records veteran Carl Perkins on lead guitar. Later on, the scene shifts to the Johnny Cash Show, and while the audio from the old television program is not so hot, it is good enough to hear Dylan play strong versions of "I Threw It All Away" and "Living the Blues" and perform a solid duet version of "Girl from the North Country" with the host. This is followed by a couple of very interesting studio tracks, where Dylan takes an electric bass heavy rock band through Cash's "Ring of Fire" and "Folsom Prison Blues" taking them far away from their austere beginnings. The collection is rounded out by Dylan sitting in with bluegrass legend Earl Scruggs, slotting in well on "East Virginia Blues" and then listening as Scruggs rips his banjo across "Nashville Skyline Rag." All in all it is an interesting set, shedding light into some darkened corners, particularly the Dylan-Cash meeting, which had long been a desired collectible. Travelin' Thru, 1967 - 1969: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 15 - amazon.com
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