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Bob Dylan – [Album]

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Saturday, 31 August 2013

Since starting his Bootleg Series twenty-two years ago, Bob Dylan has proven that there is definitely lots of material left in the vaults which is worth hearing. There are demos, for example, of material from 1961 through 2006 which give indications of the songwriter's working process, and those have proven to be fascinating – as have the live performances which were not lost to the bulk tape erasers. The different facets of the Bootleg Series have all been very illuminating, but of course the perverse question becomes, “What about the music and moments in Bob Dylan's catalogue which weren't so great? What got left behind from there, and how does it sound?

What and how indeed.

The tenth installment of Bob Dylan's Bootleg Series promises to be the most challenging to date as it uncovers music from the first period in the singer's career when the music press really turned on him: the period when Dylan began really testing boundaries (in 1969 with Nashville Skyline), and when the singer started joking around (according to him anyway – but no one got the gag on Self Portrait) and when he finally started getting serious again (with New Morning in 1971). This two-disc, 35-track comp pulls pretty evenly from the unreleased material which surrounds all three of those albums and presents it all in a pretty rapid-fire way, so as not to let listeners split the tracks apart critically. It's a good plan and it works; the outtakes and alternate versions of the songs which came off Self Portrait play well to the ears which don't remember the upset that the album caused, and the huskier croon that Dylan adopted to sing them proves to not sound anywhere near as bad as some might “remember.” Particular standouts including “Alberta #3,” “In Search Of Little Sadie” (the stripped down version), “Copper Kettle” and “Belle Isle” all offer a delicate approach to the material, and the absence of most of the overdubs  which would glut the finished album cuts leaves them feeling far more intimate here; this is definitely a far more welcome presentation than that which would draw the ire of fans in 1971.

In much the same manner as the cuts from Self Portrait included on B.S. Vol. 10, the tracks which were left off of New Morning but are included here offer a few treasures, particularly the outtakes and demos of “Time Passes Slowly,” “Went To See The Gypy” and “Bring Me A Little Water.” Here, it's interesting that Dylan's voice doesn't seem as nasal as fans are accustomed to, as if (after the different tone employed for Self Portrait) he's working his way back up to form as the tape rolls. Regardless of whether that's the case or not, there is a certain Earthy goodness and humanity to the demos from New Morning included here, and listeners will have a difficult time denying them, certainly.

Even so, with all the praise offered here, could it be contended that Self Portrait was unjustly judged years ago? Fans are welcome to revisit the album and decide for themselves, but let's leave it at this: the more sparely  arranged tracks included on Another Self Portrait – The Bootleg Series Vol. 10 (1969 – 1971) are worth checking out because they're free of the production that hobbled them upon their original release. After that, listeners can decide on a listener-by-listener basis if, in fact, these songs sound good; here – if nowhere else.

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www.bobdylan.com/
www.myspace.com/bobdylan
www.facebook.com/bobdylan
www.twitter.com/bobdylan

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Another Self Portrait – The Bootleg Series Vol. 10 (1969 – 1971)
is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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Bob Dylan – [Album]

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Saturday, 16 May 2009

In his 47-year tenure as a professional musician, Bob Dylan has imposed a series of stylistic modifications on his songwriting style to satiate his muse (he's been “reborn” and born again – as just two examples) but usually by the time those changes are presented to fans, they're so complete, seamless and confidently presented that they're regularly referred to as “comeback” albums – even if the creative ground covered on them is fresh to him. With that common critical approach to the singer's work in mind, Together Through Life will probably be called another “comeback” except that, rather than returning to any particular sound, Dylan has returned to a vibe and emotional centre that he hasn't touched on in a while. Since 1993, the singer has remained in a fairly grim and prophetic mode (the irony of “Love and Theft” being released on September 11, 2001 was a perfect accident) but on Together Through Life Dylan returns to the secular pleasures of musing on the beloved.

From the very opening of “Beyond Here Lies Nothin',” listeners are presented with the image of Bob Dylan as the long-absent Southern gentleman returned home to beg his beloved's forgiveness for being gone so long and, jumping back and forth stylistically between Louisiana-flavored rhythm n' blues and Texas country & western, makes anyone within earshot believe his intentions while simultaneously making them weak in the knees. He plays to both sides of the lover-man card here too; by turns, Dylan drips honey enough to soften up even the hardest, most scorned woman's heart (“My Wife's Home Town,” “I Feel A Change Comin' On” and “This Dream Of You” are fall-down romantic and beautiful) or swaggers and preens like Rhett Butler come to collect his rightly deserved prize (“Beyond Here Lies Nothin',” “Shake Shake Mama,” “Jolene”) but, either way, he obviously wants to make sure there is no doubt that both sides end at love as he enunciates every word in these ten songs to ensure that no mistake can be make about his intent. As it turns out, the title of this album is an accurate descriptor: through thick, thin, good, bad, happy and sad, Bob Dylan and his beloved remain together every step of the way and, in the end, the result matches the beauty of the intention. After over a decade of doom-saying, it feels good to know that Bob Dylan still has a heart.

Artist:

Bob Dylan online

Bob Dylan myspace

Album:

Together Through Life
is out now. Buy it now on Amazon .

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Bob Dylan – [Album]

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Wednesday, 29 October 2008

It’d be tough to contend that Bob Dylan’s fans, much like the singer himself, aren't a strange breed of beast. Once bitten by the bug, people become devout fans for life and that appreciation causes them to do strange things and make bizarre claims. In the late Seventies, for example, fans got confused when the singer spontaneously decided to convert to Christianity and release a couple of staunch and devout albums. By the mid-Eighties, Dylan was making it even harder to like him as fans complained that, in addition to a series of records that seemed to have simply been slopped off, the singer was omitting his best new songs from those albums to boot.

In the same breath, Bob Dylan was inducted into the Rock N’ Roll Hall Of Fame in 1988 – the signals don’t get much more mixed than that.

But let’s go back to that nagging question of great songs being left off of albums for a minute – how would anyone have known? Those claims were made in the Eighties – before the rise of the internet, the boom of file sharing commodities and the resulting legitimization of bootlegs, so needless to say that those extra tracks hadn’t been passed around to the moon and back – so how’d they know that there was a cache of fantastic unreleased songs and versions of songs on the books? Were the claims made in hope or some sort of misplaced fanaticism on the level of theories that the most revealing and insightful parts of the book of Revelations got lost in the sand?

Regardless, it doesn’t really matter – those fans that complained were right and the justification of their claims lies in Tell Tale Signs. The tracks collected here – live performances, unused demos, alternate versions and outright unreleased songs – offer a slightly different and wholly enriched view of the period in his career widely regarded as Dylan’s most hit-and-miss. The set opens with “Mississippi” – an unreleased track from the 1997 Time Out Of Mind sessions – that illustrates both the fact that there were diamonds left off of even those albums regarded as celebratory returns to form for the singer and the fact that sometimes even this most didactic and dry-eyed of singers has difficulty letting songs go (there are three different versions of “Mississippi” on Tell Tale Signs, dating back as far as 1992 – each finished, yet somehow each in different stages of development) and they’ve been known to stew for years without amounting to anything other than curiosities on compilations.

From there, Tell Tale Signs picks through the leftovers discarded mainly from Oh Mercy, Time Out Of Mind, World Gone Wrong and Modern Times giving fans the impression that, while some albums are great and celebrated, it doesn’t mean that making them wasn’t a laborious enterprise. This set also shows that there have been times that the directions of albums were developed literally as the tape rolled.

That’s the funny thing too; while the sessions for Tell Tale Signs span seventeen years of work (that’s seven studio albums for those keeping score, and nine live albums, two greatest hits packages – one of which yielded one non-album single – and nine additional singles), there is a conspicuous and unmistakable thread that runs through this set and holds it together. In the time period that this set covers, Dylan has changed many key aspects of his sound several times over (his trademark doom-saying folk of Time Out Of Mind as well as Love & Theft, sweet and lowdown southern soul turns on Modern Times, convoluted but inspired alt-country/cajun on Oh Mercy and more), yet here the studio cuts interlock very well and provide a consistent flow that’s totally unexpected. The combination of that fluidity and the very different arrangements of songs like “Dignity” (performed here as a piano ballad), “Someday Baby” (more conventionally romantic here), the three different versions of “Mississippi” and a more oddly resigned “Everything Is Broken” pushes this set in the direction of being driven by a very different, but unified, thought process that, if that was actually the drive, has gone on for far longer than the inspirations previously assumed to have been the center of the releases; it’s a very thought-provoking prospect.

The point where Tell Tale Signs falls short and begins to lose direction lies in the live tracks included. It does need to be said that the live cuts are fairly representative for the respective periods from which they were taken but, because Dylan has always allowed his songs to grow and mutate in performance and take on elements of the record that Dylan is promoting at that particular moment and so the tracks feel even more scattered here because they don’t exactly sound how listeners might expect they would, but also dive in a variety of unusual directions from one to the next. That frayed presentation detracts a little from this set because it obscures an incredibly strong start. The live cuts can be taken in small doses here, but listeners will have to listen to the whole thing once in order to know how to set their CD players depending on their mood.

None of that takes away from the overall set however. The single most consistent element in Dylan’s bootleg series has been that it throws everything against the wall to see what sticks and, magically, it all ends up running together fairly well in the end. Volume 8 does the same and does have a couple of honestly brilliant moments (again – how every form of “Mississippi” got forgotten from Time Out Of Mind may be one of the greatest mysteries of Bob Dylan’s career, as well as how “32-20 Blues” was jettisoned from World Gone Wrong) but the surprising thing that it reveals is the nuances that have bound the last seventeen years for Dylan that went largely unnoticed; even diehard fans won‘t see it coming, and that makes the reward worth the effort.

Artist:

Bob Dylan online
Bob Dylan myspace

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