2009 saw a flurry of activity from the Bob Dylan camp. Most recently -- with little-to-no fanfare -- Columbia Records snuck out the latest batch of vintage Dylan titles to have been upgraded. The discs boast noticeably higher fidelity and 'limited-edition collector's packaging' closely replicating artwork and other graphic elements from the original vinyl editions.  And while we're on the subject and have your attention, we'll run down the contents of Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8 (2008) and the thoroughly excellent and effectively-titled Zimmy primer, Dylan (2008).

 

 
Volume 6, Number 2 - November 16, 2009
 
   

 


Bob Dylan - New Morning (Columbia - 1970/2009)
Bob Dylan - Before the Flood
(Columbia - 1974/2009)
Bob Dylan - The Basement Tapes
(Columbia - 1975/2009)
Bob Dylan/Grateful Dead - Dylan and The Dead
(Columbia - 1989/2009)

 

New Morning came on the heels of its predecessor, Self Portrait (1970). And to that end, it retains much of the same cozy insularity. Especially on "If Not For You," "Went To See The Gypsy," and the rurally romantic "Sign On The Window." Supporting Dylan (Bob Dylan (acoustic guitar/electric guitar/organ/piano) is a long roster of studio notables, including David Bromberg (electric guitar/dobro), Harvey Brooks (electric bass), Charlie Daniels (electric bass), Al Kooper (organ/piano/electric guitar/french horn), Russ Kunkel (drums) and former Mother Of Invention percussionist Billy Mundi (drums). Many longtime Dylan enthusiasts consider New Morning somewhat of a 'sleeper', if not his finest contribution to the early 1970s singer/songwriter boom.
The live double-disc package Before The Flood finds Dylan joining forces on tour with Rick Danko (bass/vocals), Levon Helm (drums/vocals), Garth Hudson (organ/piano/clavinet), Richard Manuel (piano/electric piano/drums/organ/vocals) and Robbie Robertson (guitar/vocals) -- aka The Band.

As one might anticipate, this 1974 reunion tour was highly touted and favorably lauded at the time. Yet in the intervening years, Dylan cooled considerably on this concert package. Regardless, it is a fascinating live document on a myriad of levels. From a performance perspective, Dylan's vocal delivery is crisp and assertive -- at times, almost to a fault -- most notably as he charges headlong through "Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine)" and "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35". The mini acoustic set is slightly more sensitive -- or as sensitive as one could be during a mid 1970s big rock show in a hockey arena -- with "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right," "Just Like A Woman" and a particularly potent "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)." Highlights from The Band's contributions -- as a quintet w/out Bob -- include spirited readings of "Up On Cripple Creek," "Endless Highway," "Stage Fright," "The Shape I'm In" and the deeper cut "When You Awake".

Ironically, the admittedly lo-fi (to begin with) Basement Tapes project seems to benefit the most from the 2009 audio upgrade. The high end is far less brittle and the low end -- notable during the waning moments of "Yea! Heavy and a Bottle of Bread" and throughout "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" -- returns to the warmth and agility of A-1 vinyl pressings. While the vast majority of the album was documented circa 1967 in the 'Big Pink' house, there was re-recording done as late as the mid 1970s. In fact, in his excellent and exhaustively researched book Bob Dylan: The Recording Sessions, author Clinton Heylin asserts that several "so-called Band basement tapes actually have nothing to do with the Dylan/Band sessions." He parenthetically notes that "of the eight Band cuts on The Basement Tapes, two are Richard Manuel Big Pink piano demos from the summer of 1967, with drums and guitars overdubbed in 1975; two are demos cut in New York in September 1967; two were made shortly after Helm rejoined, probably at Big Pink; and the final pair are actually from 1975 made at Shangri-La." That controversy aside, the music contained within has never sounded better on compact disc.

Chronologically last is the uneven Dylan & The Dead with highlights from Zimmy's six onstage collaborations with The Grateful Dead during July of 1987. Arguably the most glaring weakness is the tune stack. While neither Dylan or The Grateful Dead were at their 'healthiest' at the time, infinitely more interesting and quite simply better executed performances from their mini-tour do exist. Of the seven tunes served up, the opening "Slow Train," as well as "Gotta Serve Somebody" and an authoritative "All Along The Watchtower" surface as the best of the bunch. Curious parties are however encouraged not only to seek out the full-length sets from which Dylan & The Dead is drawn, but also the May '87 rehearsal tapes that circulate in superior sound and include attempts at such Dylan rarities as "Ballad Of Ira Hayes," Union Sundown," "Tomorrow Is A Long Time," "Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking," "The Wicked Messenger," and "Pledging My Time," among many others. The best thing about the 2009 overhaul? Hearing the Jerry Garcia/John Cutler mix the way it was meant to sound -- plenty o' Phil Lesh (bass) and the dual percussion of Mickey Hart (drums) Bill Kreutzmann (drums) being more evenly spread in the mix.


 

 
Bob Dylan - Tell-Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series, Vol 8 - Rare and Unreleased 1989-2006
(Columbia)
 

This is the most recent entry in The Bard's perpetually-engaging Bootleg Series of archival releases. While the majority (ok, all) of the installments so far have dealt with formative phases in Dylan's nearly fifty year career, Tell Tale Signs serves up music from a 17-year epoch that include the albums Oh Mercy (1989), Under the Red Sky (1990), Good as I Been to You (1992), World Gone Wrong (1993), Time Out of Mind (1997), "Love and Theft" (2001) and Modern Times (2006). In addition to unused and formerly vaulted material from those albums, there is an ample cache of one-off projects such as soundtrack contributions and the occasional live cut. The standard two- CD edition of Tell Tale Signs was also released in other distinct and unique versions. There is a three-disc limited pressing boasting an exclusive 150-page book, and  a 7" vinyl single with two tracks from the set, plus a 4 LP vinyl deluxe package as well.

Those who feel as if the artist has gone through a distinct renaissance over the last two decades may find themselves drawn to the one of the multiple 'unreleased' versions of "Mississippi" from Time Out Of Mind. Or the sparse 'piano demo' of "Dignity" circa Oh Mercy. As there has not been a live Dylan album issued domestically in North America in over 20 years, it is a real treat to hear performances of "High Water (For Charley Patton)", -- from a 2003 Niagara Falls, Ontario gig -- "Ring Them Bells" recorded at The Supper Club in New York City in 1993, "Cocaine Blues" which was documented in Vienna, VA the same year and the seven-plus minute "Lonesome Day Blues" from a 2002 show in Sunrise, FL.

Those who spring for the 'Deluxe Edition' are in for a real treat of no less than a dozen additional sides, many of which are second versions. Or, even third, as in the case of the aforementioned "Mississippi". Equally enticing are "Duncan & Brady," "Cold Irons Bound" (at Bonnaroo in  2004), "Things Have Changed" (Live in Portland, OR in 2000 ), and the Time Out Of Mind extras. Among them are a second unissued "Red River Shore," "Marchin' To The City," and "Can't Wait".


 

 
Bob Dylan - Dylan
(Columbia/Legacy Recordings)
 

With 51 key composition and performances spread over three CDs, what's not to like? Right? Well, actually the key to getting the most out of this chronological compilation is keeping in mind that it isn't specifically geared toward hard-core enthusiasts or otherwise uncompromising collector-types. Actually, it is most valuable to those who are new to the wonderful world of Dylan and may simply be stymied by the sheer number of offerings in Dylan's voluminous back catalogue. Of the 32 studio albums that Dylan had issued at the time, only Self Portrait (1970), Dylan (1973) and Saved (1980) are not represented here. However, the point is to provide a cost-effective primer for interested parties. As such there really aren't many surprises or glaring omissions, beginning appropriately enough with the heartfelt {&"Song To Woody"} and concluding with "Someday Baby" as well as "When The Deal Goes Down" from Modern Times (2007).

Presumably in an effort to reach every price point, three additional versions of this package are available: a significantly slimmed-down edition with 18 songs, a deluxe pressing that boasts oversized replica-vinyl packaging, 10 postcards and an expanded liner notes booklet. And for those high-tech consumers who want quality downloads compatible with all iPod and any other mp3 players, Sony Legacy has teamed up with MusicPass for the Platinum MusicPass experience. That means that for less than a buck a tune, anyone can buy a digital download card and not only get access to all 18 songs on the single-disc incarnation of the Dylan anthology, but also a bonus video -- for Mark Ronson's exclusive remix of "Most Likely Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine)," an extra song (the studio version of "Highway 61 Revisited") and a digital booklet. More information can be found at www.musicpass.com.

 

 
     



 
   
     



 
   
     
     
     

 

 

   
 
     

 

Copyright 2002-2009 Matthew Rowe.
All rights reserved.All trademarks are properties of their respective owners.
Disclaimer: various news pieces may state a specific media publication or program as a source. All other news is considered 'rumour' only. That goes double for release dates.

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"Even though most of the people I knew in my youth are gone, I still reach out to them..." Norman Maclean - Paraphrase

"...we should enjoy every sandwich." -- Warren Zevon
"Buy the ticket, take the ride." -- Hunter S Thompson
"...you best wake up 'fore tomorrow comes creepin' in...: -- Mark Farner (Grand Funk Railroad)
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"Because they wouldn't let me go for three..." -- Woody Hayes (OSU)
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