Saturday, January 12, 2019

News Update: Coming Soon

Hi everybody,

As you can imagine, I enjoyed Bob Dylan's increasingly experimental 2018 tour. A 2-CD compilation of the best 2018 live recordings will be coming to Thousand Highways on February 1, 2019.

I'll also be putting out a handful of DIY Collections at a bimonthly interval afterwards. Check in on the 1st of each even-numbered month in 2019 for a new one.

I'm looking forward to sharing some great music with y'all this year. Until next time, keep yourself healthy and listen to some good tunes.

- CS

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

DIY Playlist: Live Essentials, 1971 - 1981

Live Essentials: 1971 - 1981

Volume One

When I Paint My Masterpiece - Rock of Ages - 1972
It Ain't Me Babe - The Bootleg Series Volume 5: The Rolling Thunder Revue - 1975
Romance in Durango - Biograph - 1975
Solid Rock - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 6) - 1980
Oh Sister - Hard Rain - 1976
Gotta Serve Somebody - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 1) - 1979
Stuck Inside of Mobile - Hard Rain - 1976
Mr. Tambourine Man - The Concert for Bangladesh - 1971
Most Likely You Go You Way (And I Go Mine) - Before the Flood - 1974
One Too Many Mornings - Hard Rain - 1976
Heart of Mine - Biograph - 1981
Don't Think Twice, It's Alright - At Budokan - 1978
Isis - Biograph - 1975
Girl from the North Country - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More - 1981
The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar - From His Head to His Heart to His Hands - 1980
Pressing On - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 2) - 1979

Volume Two

Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You - The Bootleg Series Volume 5: The Rolling Thunder Revue - 1975
Down in the Flood - Rock of Ages - 1972
Love Minus Zero/No Limit - At Budokan - 1978
One More Cup of Coffee - The Bootleg Series Volume 5: The Rolling Thunder Revue - 1975
Seven Days - The Bootleg Series Volume 1-3 - 1976
When You Gonna Wake Up - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 1) - 1981
When He Returns - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 1) - 1979
Highway 61 - Before the Flood - 1974
It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry - The Concert for Bangladesh - 1971
Slow Train - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 1) - 1979
Shelter From The Storm - Hard Rain - 1976
In The Summertime - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 2) - 1981
A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall - The Bootleg Series Volume 5: The Rolling Thunder Revue - 1975
Caribbean Wind - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 2) - 1980
Idiot Wind - Hard Rain - 1976
It's All Over Now, Baby Blue - The Bootleg Series Volume 5: The Rolling Thunder Revue - 1975

Welcome to a long-delayed DIY Playlist. This time we turn our attention to Bob Dylan's live tours from 1971 to 1981. These tours are, by a significant margin, the most-documented by Sony/Columbia's official releases, so narrowing it down was an exceedingly challenging prospect. Still, I think you'll enjoy the result.

Volume One

01. When I Paint My Masterpiece - Rock of Ages - 1972

By the end of 1972, Bob Dylan had been more or less off the road for six years with a handful of notable exceptions: the Woody Guthrie Memorial Concert in 1968, the Isle of Wight Festival in 1969, and the Concert for Bangladesh in 1971. These shows were oddities in their own right, as Dylan played Guthrie songs backed by The Band at the '68 show and songs in his distinctly country-flavored Nashville Skyline guise during the '69 set. Only the Concert for Bangladesh offered a glimpse of the classic performer fans had come to love during the 1960s, and even that was brief as Dylan played just a few songs.

Following in this fashion, Bob Dylan made a surprise appearance at The Band's New Year's Eve show on December 31, 1972. He and the other musicians seem to have been dipping pretty thoroughly into celebratory beverages, as the night's rendition of "Like A Rolling Stone" is barely coherent. On the other hand, his more recent compositions end up sounding much more effective. Before it would go on to become the opener at every night of 1975's Rolling Thunder Revue, "When I Paint My Masterpiece" was debuted on-stage by Dylan during this 1972 guest appearance. It is perhaps his first newly written piece of the decade, and I thought it a lovely place to begin this look at how he evolved over the following ten years.

02. It Ain't Me Babe - The Bootleg Series Volume 5: The Rolling Thunder Revue - 1975

"It Ain't Me Babe" would be played after "When I Paint My Masterpiece" in every Bob Dylan set on the Rolling Thunder Revue's 1975 tour. It seems only natural that it do so here, even if the preceding song was recorded three years earlier! This peculiar, quasi-calypso arrangement of "It Ain't Me Babe" was a consistent highlight due in no small part to the idiosyncratic instrumental duets anchoring the song's back half. 

With regard to the recording, the performance from Cambridge on November 20, 1975 has been released in two very different mixes: the earlier version appeared on the 4 Songs From Renaldo & Clara LP in 1978 and Live 1961-2000 in 2001, while a remixed version appeared on 2002's The Bootleg Series Volume 5: The Rolling Thunder Revue - 1975. Many fans swear by the earlier mix, finding the latter too bright, but I think both are excellent; given the difficulty in getting a digital copy of the earlier mix, I recommend settling for the remix from 2002.

03. Romance in Durango - Biograph - 1975

As with the preceding song, live performances of "Romance in Durango" have been released several times over the years. In fact, I suspect the song's inclusion on 1985's Biograph is primarily down to the fact that it is a dramatic improvement on the studio rendition featured on Desire. In any case, I think the version from Montreal that appears on Biograph is narrowly superior to the one from Cambridge that appears on The Bootleg Series Volume 5: The Rolling Thunder Revue - 1975. Both are easily accessible in digital form, thank goodness. Whichever way you get it, I think you'll enjoy the live arrangement of this homage to Marty Robbins' "El Paso".

04. Solid Rock - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 6) - 1980

At the end of 1978, Bob Dylan converted to Christianity. This had a profound impact on his music, leading him to exclusively play new gospel compositions throughout much of 1979 and 1980. One of the most notable residencies during these tours - indeed the best-recorded one - is a five-night stint in Toronto during April 1980. A compilation of the best performances from this residency makes up Discs 5 and 6 of the singer's 2017 Bootleg Series release, and it's genuinely spectacular. To represent that set, I've picked out "Solid Rock". This song was a consistent high point of Dylan's shows from 1979 to 1981, but I think the one from Toronto might be the best I've heard. Its lyric are derived primarily from the Gospel of Matthew 25:34 and the Book of Isaiah 53:3-5.

05. Oh Sister - Hard Rain - 1976

"Oh Sister" is one of the first songs from 1976's Desire to be played live, as it was debuted alongside "Hurricane" at an abbreviated performance by Bob Dylan on The World Of John Hammond in September 1975 (though this live rendition would not be broadcast until after the first leg of the Rolling Thunder Revue in December 1975). The lyrics of the song are not particularly strong, but Dylan consistently displayed his ability to transform a mediocre composition into an incredible performance piece on-stage. Happily, Columbia Records published a version from the Rolling Thunder Revue's 1976 Tour on that year's Hard Rain. The recording quality, particularly at the song's start, leaves a bit to be desired, but the raw passion shines through nonetheless. Interestingly, the song's acknowledgment of a heavenly Father also seems to unintentionally foreshadow the singer's  conversion several years later.

06. Gotta Serve Somebody - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 1) - 1979

Most fans would have first discovered Dylan's newfound faith through the song "Gotta Serve Somebody," as it opened his first gospel LP in 1979. Similarly, the song opened almost every one of his shows between 1979 and 1981, becoming something of an anthem for its writer. Its arrangement would also shift over time, moving from a sprightly uptempo affair to a moodier midtempo piece in the studio and then from a straightforward rock song in 1979 to an arrangement featuring a Bo Diddly-esque beat in 1981. The recording I've selected for this playlist features the singer at the height of his incisive vocal precision during 1979's Fall Tour. The song itself seems to be inspired by Memphis Slim's "Mother Earth," first published in 1951.

07. Stuck Inside of Mobile - Hard Rain - 1976

The metallic, jangly sound of 1976's ramshackle Rolling Thunder Revue Tour is captured nowhere better than this reckless take on Blonde on Blonde's "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again." The arrangement is as far from that studio take as can be, seemingly influenced by cantina bands in the American Southwest. This was actually the version of the song that I first heard, and indeed remains my favorite performance. Surprisingly, the drums and some backing vocals seem to have been dubbed in later due to a problem with the recording - according to Sid Griffin in Shelter From the Storm: Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Years, tour drummer Howie Wyeth and engineer Don Meehan overdubbed drums and backing vocals, respectively, as the album was mixed.

08. Mr. Tambourine Man - The Concert for Bangladesh - 1971

"Mr. Tambourine Man" is one of two songs on this DIY Playlist to be drawn from the singer's surprise appearance at George Harrison's Concert for Bangladesh in 1971. The titular country was in the midst of a horrifying combination of civil war and drought, and former Beatle George Harrison organized the world's first large-scale benefit concert to route much-needed money to Bangladeshis. Though Bob Dylan had turned up at the soundcheck as a favor to Harrison, he expressed trepidation at the crush of press and was unwilling to commit to an on-stage appearance. To Harrison's great relief, however, Dylan overcame his anxiety and helped the cause with a five-song set at both benefit shows on August 1, 1971.

09. Most Likely You Go You Way (And I Go Mine) - Before the Flood - 1974

Bob Dylan had appeared at two shows between 1969's Isle of Wight Festival and the beginning of 1974, but these collectively amounted to less than a single complete concert. Al Kooper, the keyboardist from Blonde on Blonde and New Morning, claims that a tour was planned and even rehearsed for in 1970 but was abandoned prior to scheduling dates. By the middle of the decade, though, Dylan was ready to go out on the road with The Band. These musicians had backed him on tour in 1966 as The Hawks and at all of his special appearances from 1968 to 1972, but their sound had evolved by 1974. Dylan's singing style had also evolved, and the combination of propulsive backing music with an over-emphatic singer was disappointing for fans who had been awaiting a new tour for much of the preceding decade. The tour's least-effective later dates were extensively documented by Columbia on 1974's Before the Flood, and a handful of tracks stand up to scrutiny - the first of these is actually the first track from that album, an intense arrangement of Blonde on Blonde's "Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I Go Mine)".

10. One Too Many Mornings - Hard Rain - 1976

"One Too Many Mornings" represents one of the rare occasions when Bob Dylan has altered the lyrics to one of his 1960s songs. This practice would become common with compositions written from 1971 to the 2010s, but lyrics drafted in the singer's first decade have generally been sung as recorded in-studio. Partway through Dylan's 1976 tour, however, he would add half of a verse to The Times They are a-Changin's "One Too Many Mornings." The other half of the verse remained instrumental, and the rewritten lyrics would never appear again after 1976.

11. Heart of Mine - Biograph - 1981

In Fall 1980, Bob Dylan reintroduced covers and pre-1979 compositions back into his setlist. New tracks were also debuted, and the singer was writing entirely secular songs by the following year. "Heart of Mine" is one of these songs devoid of any apparent spiritual character. During the Summer 1981 Tour, the song often featured Dylan on organ; by the Fall 1981 Tour, however, it had reverted to an arrangement reminiscent of the one which had appeared on Shot of Love. The song was rarely a concert highlight, but a noteworthy exception was selected by Columbia for 1985's Biograph retrospective. This performance originates at a New Orleans show from November 10, 1981, which was also the source for a version of "Dead Man Dead Man" released as the b-side to 1989's "Everything is Broken" single and re-released on Live 1961-2000 in 2001.

12. Don't Think Twice, It's Alright - At Budokan - 1978

As in 1974, Bob Dylan's 1978 Tour of Japan ended up less effective than the shows that preceded or followed it. The concerts from the early part of 1978, which were cataloged on At Budokan, were characterized by stilted over-embellished arrangements, and fans are still awaiting a release covering the year's later dates. "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" is one of the album's successes, though - the 1962 classic had only been performed previously as an acoustic solo track, but it's inexplicably reinvented here as a reggae song. Interestingly, At Budokan was originally intended only for Japanese audiences as a souvenir of the tour; it was only after requests by Western fans that Columbia released the album outside of Asia.

13. Isis - Biograph - 1975

"Isis" is one of fans' favorite songs from Desire and the Rolling Thunder Revue tours. A version would be included on The Bootleg Series Volume 5: The Rolling Thunder Revue - 1975, but the best rendition published by Sony/Columbia appeared on 1985's Biograph. A film of that performance, from a 1975 Montreal concert, also appeared in 1978's Renaldo & Clara and as a bonus DVD included in 2002's The Bootleg Series Volume 5.

14. Girl from the North Country - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More - 1981

Many songs were reimagined by Bob Dylan and his band throughout the 1981 tour, but few were as profoundly successful as "Girl from the North Country." The song had typically been performed as a solo acoustic track in the 1960s and 1970s, but an organ-oriented arrangement had debuted in 1978. Once the song returned to Dylan's setlist in 1981, it had become a fusion of these two styles.

15. The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar - From His Head to His Heart to His Hands - 1980

"The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar" was written in 1980 and performed five times on the Fall 1980 tour, after which it would never again be played live. The arrangement from 1980 is slower than the one eventually released on a re-release of Shot of Love in 1985, and has a largely unique set of lyrics; even the chorus is different! Dylan frequently featured guest guitarists on his 1980 live performances of the song, including Carlos Santana, Jerry Garcia and Michael Bloomfield. The latter recording was released on a 2014 Michael Bloomfield retrospective, and is the one I've decided to include on this DIY Playlist. Bloomfield's powerful guitar improvisation manages to elevate the already-exceptional song to incredible new heights.

16. Pressing On - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 2) - 1979

Bob Dylan has never sounded more like a traditional gospel performer than in "Pressing On," which closed most of his concerts from 1979 to early 1980. Unlike the version that would be released on 1980's Saved, the live arrangement builds gradually and is largely a duet of piano and vocals. The lyrics are inspired by the Gospel of John 6:30 and the Gospel of Mark 6:11.

Volume Two

01. Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You - The Bootleg Series Volume 5: The Rolling Thunder Revue - 1975

This song opened he Bootleg Series Volume 5: The Rolling Thunder Revue, but never actually opened a show on the 1975 tour represented by that album. It was instead performed about halfway through Dylan's first set. In fact, according to Clinton Heylin, the cheers from the audience when the words "rolling thunder" are sung have been overdubbed as well. Despite being something of an artificial construction, the song is outstanding as an introduction to what comes after.

02. Down in the Flood - Rock of Ages - 1972

This is another of the four songs played by Bob Dylan and The Band at their New Year's Eve 1972 show, and is every bit as good as "When I Paint My Masterpiece." Unlike that recently written song, it's a funky rearrangement of a Basement Tapes track from 1968. The horn section is a lovely addition, and makes the song's appearance here one of its most effective outings despite Dylan and The Band not being entirely in sync on their harmonies.

03. Love Minus Zero/No Limit - At Budokan - 1978

"Love Minus Zero/No Limit" received a jarring, flute-oriented arrangement on the 1978 tour. It would end up being played primarily in the Spring, disappearing from the setlist later in the year, and I suspect much of this is down to the constricting of the singer's vocal capacity as the long tour went on. This weird arrangement would prove to be something of a one-off, and the song would return to being played as a more stately ballad in later years.

04. One More Cup of Coffee - The Bootleg Series Volume 5: The Rolling Thunder Revue - 1975

The studio version of "One More Cup Of Coffee" that was released on Desire is one of that album's highlights, but the song would only grow in stature throughout the 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue tour. In particular, Scarlett Riviera has the opportunity to improvise extensively with her violin and Dylan renders his vocals more adventurously on-stage than he had when laying down tracks for Desire. The song would go on to be rearranged with bongo accompaniment in 1978 and occasionally as a dark rock ballad on the Never-Ending Tour, but the strangest rearrangement would be the song's appearance in 1976 as an acoustic guitar/violin duet.

05. Seven Days - The Bootleg Series Volume 1-3 - 1976

"Seven Days" was never recorded for an album, but was instead used as a performance piece at several shows in 1976 before being offered to Ron Wood for the 1979 album Gimme Some Neck. It was played by Wood at the Bob Dylan's 1992 30th Anniversary Concert and was revived again on the Never-Ending Tour in 1996. The lyrics never seem to have been completely nailed down, humorously enough.

06. When You Gonna Wake Up - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 1) - 1981

"When You Gonna Wake Up" is not a particularly appealing song in its studio guise on Slow Train Coming, but would become a centerpiece of the singer's concert setlists throughout 1979 to 1981 and then again in 1984. During that time, it would evolve from a heavy gospel track to a percussive arrangement in 1981 (included here) to a rock ballad in 1984. Its lyrics would also be revised, though only the 1984 version features a significant overhaul. The song made its final appearance in 1989 as an inexplicably piano-oriented one-off but the lyrics to that performance are unclear.

07. When He Returns - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 1) - 1979

Though many of Bob Dylan's gospel compositions feature backing vocals and a loud band, a handful are quieter. The core ballad of this period is Slow Train Coming's closing track, "When He Returns." The song was intended to be recorded by Dylan's backing vocalists without his participation before being attempted as a full-band arrangement and then finally captured as a vocal/piano duet. Fans are lucky that it was not abandoned, given that it underwent such a radical evolution in the studio, and it the song would go on to become a major showpiece for Dylan's vocals throughout 1979 and early 1980.

08. Highway 61 - Before the Flood - 1974

The song is a title track to one of Bob Dylan's most significant albums, but "Highway 61" would very rarely be performed on-stage prior to 1984. Indeed, the only tour on which it regularly appeared was 1974's tour with The Band. The arrangement plays to that tour's strengths, featuring a powerful rock sound and expressive, energetic vocals. Unlike its debut at 1969's Isle of Wight, this rendition features God's request for Abraham to "kill [him] a son" rather than "give [him] a son".

09. It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry - The Concert for Bangladesh - 1971

From one Highway 61 Revisited track to another! This one is toned-down, however, rather than being blown up as its predecessor had. Dylan is backed here by George Harrison and Leon Redbone at the Concert for Bangladesh. The song is a stripped-down take on the arrangement featured on the published Highway 61 Revisited rather than the energetic arrangement that the song would have on-stage at Newport in 1965 or in its early studio rehearsals.

10. Slow Train - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 1) - 1979

"Slow Train" is the title track from Bob Dylan's 1979 album, and would be played in concerts regularly from his first show in 1979 until 1989. It would undergo a number of major rearrangements during that time, if not rewrites like "When You Gonna Wake Up," but the version I've included here is very similar to the studio version. Improving on the basic studio take, it features appropriately apocalyptic vocals and blazing lead guitar by the characteristically-reserved Fred Tackett.

11. Shelter From The Storm - Hard Rain - 1976

Bob Dylan tried playing slide guitar on-stage for the first time in 1976. The results could have been disastrous, but Dylan's messy style befits the reckless approach to Blood on the Tracks' beloved "Shelter from the Storm." Like "Oh Sister," this song includes some biblical allusions that perhaps unintentionally point towards the gospel tracks recorded in 1979 and 1980. It is arguably closer to the singer's compositions from late 1980 and 1981, in which the secular has begun to blend with more overt religious references. Whatever the case may be, Bob Dylan's vocals when playing this song on his 1976 tour are among the very best in his long career.

12. In The Summertime - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 2) - 1981

This song is something of a brief, apparently throwaway track on 1981's Shot of Love, but I'm quite fond of its live performances. The harmonica from the album version is absent, but the vocal passion is palpable in every line. Dylan unfortunately flubbed a few lyrics in the version included on Trouble No More, but his vibrato performance is an uncharacteristic vocal flourish that would not often be replicated. More than almost any other song aside from "Caribbean Wind," "In The Summertime" represents the coalescence of sacred and secular that formed the identity of Dylan's 1981 output. Surprisingly, the song would briefly be revived on tour in 2002 with backing vocals by Larry Campbell and Charlie Sexton

13. A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall - The Bootleg Series Volume 5: The Rolling Thunder Revue - 1975

Contrary to its origins as an apocalyptic poem set to an acoustic guitar, Bob Dylan played this song as a Muddy Waters-influenced blues-rock track with the Rolling Thunder Revue in 1975. It would revert to a more standard arrangement in 1976, but its versatility had been established. By 1981 it had been rearranged again, though it would never be played in as idiosyncratic a style as it was in 1975.

14. Caribbean Wind - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 2) - 1980

"Caribbean Wind" is often seen as the singer's great lost masterpiece. It faced an odyssey in the recording studio, being rearranged multiple times before being abandoned entirely. In the midst of this transition, it was played a single time on-stage at the request of author Paul Williams in Fall 1980 after Dylan showed him the lyrics backstage. Fans were blessed with the most effective version (of the four circulating as of Summer 2018), though the singer appears to have been less happy with it - he mused afterwards that "I don't know if we did that any good. I don't know if we got off or not." In spite of Dylan's reservations about the performance quality, the song is absolutely transcendent in its single live appearance. As a bonus, please listen to the song's fascinating introduction in which the singer muses about Leadbelly and fan response to musicians' changing styles; this was not included on Trouble No More due to an error in the soundboard recording.

15. Idiot Wind - Hard Rain - 1976

The brutality of "Idiot Wind," originally recorded in both acoustic and electric arrangements for 1974's Blood on the Tracks, was most clearly conveyed by the versions played on tour in 1976. The acoustic version had foregrounded the song's sadness more than its anger, while the electric studio version lacked the raw power that could be produced by a large band on-stage. At the same time, the lyrics have been re-written to lean into the singer's rage at the song's target. The live track closed out 1976's Hard Rain, and I can think of no way better to close out the main portion of this DIY Playlist. It's a ten minute roller-coaster ride that's worth every moment.

16. It's All Over Now, Baby Blue - The Bootleg Series Volume 5: The Rolling Thunder Revue - 1975

Finally, this acoustic track functions as something of a palette-cleanser after the intensity of what came before. Dylan's shows throughout the '70s tended to be characterized by power and aggression, but a couple of songs were played most nights in an acoustic guise. These were often intensely expressive, featuring some of the singer's warmest vocals since his early folk days in New York City. In many cases, they come across as more naked and honest than even those early recordings. This performance of "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" manages to convey a very different sense of weary meaning than the wild, experimental renditions played in 1966 - it's incredible that a singer can totally reinvent the sound of a song while still only using his voice and a guitar.

That bold sense of reinvention is, of course, the key through-line in Bob Dylan's career from 1971 to 1981. There would be experimental period before and after, but these ten years feature the singer at his most adventurous, exploring various genres and arrangements without regard for what came before. I hope you enjoy listening to the resulting live performances as much as I do!

With regard to fades and volume, this one is something of a mess. Several of these albums feature songs that flow from one into the next, as if it was a complete concert - consequently, the transitions on the playlist will be jarring. Additionally, some songs are louder or quieter than others: "The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar" and the Bootleg Series Volume 5 & Hard Rain tracks are quite loud, while the Biograph recordings and the Bootleg Series Volume 13 tracks are quieter. You can alter these in a sound editor (I use Audacity), or simply keep one hand on the volume button. Until next time, keep yourself healthy and listen to some good tunes.


PS: Happy Independence Day to American readers! Happy Wednesday to everybody else :)

Friday, June 15, 2018

In The Summertime: Unreleased Live Recordings, 1981

Volume One

Gotta Serve Somebody - Live - London - June 29, 1981
I Believe In You - Live - London - June 29, 1981
Like A Rolling Stone - Live - Avignon - July 25, 1981
I Want You - Live - New Orleans - November 10, 1981
The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll - Live - Houston - November 12, 1981
Man Gave Names To All The Animals - Live - Houston - November 12, 1981
Maggie's Farm - Live - London - June 29, 1981
Girl Of The North Country - Live - Basel - July 23, 1981
I'll Be Your Baby Tonight - Live - Houston - November 12, 1981
All Along The Watchtower - Live - New Orleans - November 10, 1981
Barbara Allen - Live - Birmingham - July 4, 1981
Watered-Down Love - Live - New Orleans - November 10, 1981
Shot Of Love - Live - New Orleans - November 10, 1981
Simple Twist Of Fate - Live - New Orleans - November 10, 1981
A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall - Live - Houston - November 12, 1981
Forever Young - Live - New Orleans - November 10, 1981

Introduction to Maggie's Farm - Live - Houston - November 12, 1981
Introduction to Watered-Down Love - Live - Columbia - June 14, 1981
Introduction to Shot Of Love - Live - Avignon - July 25, 1981

Volume Two

The Times They Are A-Changin' - Live - Houston - November 12, 1981
Saved - Live - Avignon - July 25, 1981
Solid Rock - Live - Houston - November 12, 1981
Just Like A Woman - Live - New Orleans - November 10, 1981
Dead Man, Dead Man - Live - London - June 28, 1981
Heart Of Mine - Live - Houston - November 12, 1981
Ballad Of A Thin Man - Live - Birmingham - July 4, 1981
Jesus Is The One - Live - Avignon - July 25, 1981
Lenny Bruce - Live - Avignon - July 25, 1981
Let's Begin - Live - Avignon - July 25, 1981
Slow Train - Live - Avignon - July 25, 1981
Mr. Tambourine Man - Live - Drammen - July 9, 1981
When You Gonna Wake Up? - Live - London - June 29, 1981
In The Summertime - Live - Avignon - July 25, 1981
Love Minus Zero/No Limit - Live - London - June 29, 1981
Knockin' On Heaven's Door - Live - Basel - July 23, 1981

Introduction to Ballad Of A Thin Man - Live - Nashville - November 14, 1981
Introduction to Lenny Bruce - Live - London - June 26, 1981
Introduction to Knockin' On Heaven's Door - Live - Houston - November 12, 1981

Volume Three

Gotta Serve Somebody - Live - Houston - November 12, 1981
I Believe In You - Live - Drammen - July 10, 1981
Like A Rolling Stone - Live - London - June 28, 1981
What Can I Do For You? - Live - Birmingham - July 4, 1981
Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues - Live - Columbia - June 14, 1981
When He Returns - Live - Cincinnati - November 4, 1981
Heart Of Mine - Live - Drammen - July 9, 1981
Solid Rock - Live - London - June 28, 1981
Let It Be Me - Live - Toronto - October 29, 1981
Dead Man, Dead Man - Live - Birmingham - July 4, 1981
It's All In The Game - Live - Merrillville - October 19, 1981
Masters Of War - Live - New Orleans - November 10, 1981
Abraham, Martin & John - Live - Columbia - June 14, 1981
When You Gonna Wake Up? - Live - Houston - November 12, 1981
Don't Think Twice, It's Alright - Live - Drammen - July 9, 1981
City Of Gold - Live - Birmingham - July 5, 1981

1981 is my favorite year of Bob Dylan's touring career. Consequently, I've put quite a bit of time and attention into this uncharacteristically lengthy entry in the Thousand Highways Collection.

The third and final year in Bob Dylan's so-called 'gospel period' is a peculiar, unique experience. The early days of the tour were actually quite reminiscent of the preceding Musical Retrospective Tour of Fall 1980. Note the appearance on Volume Three of "Abraham, Martin & John," which was played only twice in 1981 after being featured regularly throughout the earlier tour. Other songs shared between Dylan's four appearances in the United States during June 1981 and his popular return to secular performances between November to December 1980 after a year of pure gospel were "Rise Again," "Covenant Woman" and "We Just Disagree." These tracks would disappear from the set after the singer set foot on European soil for a Summer tour, and the new year would quickly acquire its own identity.

Most conspicuously, a Caribbean influence pervaded Dylan's sound. Tracks which had formerly been compellng but staid, like "I Believe In You," somehow grew in power after receiving more idiosyncratic vocals and a more complex drum pattern courtesy of Jim Keltner. The new tracks, which would be published on Shot of Love in August 1981, were a consistent highlight of the concerts and contributed to the Caribbean flair. As he'd done during the Rolling Thunder Revue in 1975, Dylan managed to put across these new songs even more powerfully on the road.

The recent Trouble In Mind, by Clinton Heylin, presents a narrative of the tour running out of steam as it moved from Summer to Fall. I disagree wholeheartedly with this assessment, much as I respect Heylin's research into the unreleased recordings of this time period. The Summer shows are incredible - Avignon is among the best recordings of the singer's career - but Fall includes a more bizarre setlist and increasingly on-the-edge performances. Check out the seemingly Cheap Trick-influenced "I Want You" or the passionate "Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" for a look into Dylan's idiosyncratic reinventions of classic songs. A soundboard recording of New Orleans, mixed by studio legend Daniel Lanois, circulates in fan circles, but my favorite show from the Fall Tour is Houston. Introduced by Hugues Aufray, a French artist and fan, Dylan performed a particularly loose concert to the enthusiastic Texas audience. The show circulates in a lossless audience recording, but I have opted here for the comparatively lossy cassette master that sounds absolutely magnificent to my ears.

As his performances grew in unique arrangements - consider the total reinvention of "Mr. Tambourine Man" featured in Drammen on July 9 - Dylan also grew uncharacteristically talkative with his fans. At Columbia on June 14, he offered his amusing if condescending assessment of a writer penning a biography of him. At Avignon on July 25, on the other hand, he lauded fans who had followed the tour from Toulouse. At London on June 26 he offered insight into how quickly "Lenny Bruce" had been written (two minutes), and at Nasvhille on November 14 he reminisced about how dangerous the city was for a man with long hair when he'd recorded Highway 61 Revisited in 1965. In my favorite instance, he mused about the ascent of computers and their role in air traffic at Houston on November 12. All in all, it's a lovely year for the singer's on-stage commentary.

The first two volumes here are intended to represent something of a standard show. As Paul Williams notes in his inimitable Performing Artist series of books, Bob Dylan's 1981 tours were something of an anomaly. Rather than focus on a single element of the singer's career - either a self-conscious career retrospective like 1974 or 1978, or an emphasize on recent albums like 1966 or 1975 - this year would be uncharacteristically free of such constraints. Setlists were clearly used, as many song sequences remained the same throughout the year, but the overall selection of songs would be wider than anything that had come before. 1981 was a year where the singer seems to have felt untethered by expetations: he played songs from his upcoming (or recently released) record, but didn't dwell on it, while looking to the past through a new lens.

The third volume instead focuses on tracks which didn't make the initial selection. Some of these have been included on other Thousand Highways compilations and I wanted to centralize them here. Others, like an unsuccessful yet entirely unique full-band performance of "When He Returns," are new to my collection. "Gotta Serve Somebody" represents the surprising fact that the song went from the exciting rearrangement that appeared on the Summer Tour to a more straightforward, if charmingly rendered, arrangement from the following Fall Tour. "Solid Rock" moved in the opposite direction, as it was performed in a guise reminiscent of 1979-1980 during the Summer but was rearranged as a slow funk crawl in the Fall. Other tracks appear here which sadly lacked better-quality recordings - "It's All In The Game" and "Let It Be Me" chief among these - while "Heart Of Mine" is an intriguing look at what might have been: Dylan played organ on the up-tempo Summer 1981 performances of this Shot Of Love single, but it reverted to a more standard arrangement on the Fall Tour.

I hope you enjoy this selection of songs. I absolutely adore Bob Dylan's 1981 live performances, and I'll admit a touch jealousy for those who had the chance to attend them in person. Still, I'll remain content with this surprisingly extensive set of beautiful recordings. Until next time, keep yourself healthy and listen to some good tunes.


Saturday, June 2, 2018

Coming Soon: In The Summertime - Live 1981 (3 Disks)

Welcome to summer, friends! 

I haven't forgotten you all. The new collection should have posted yesterday, wrapping up our re-exploraiton of the gospel years in light of Sony's 2017 release of Trouble No More: Live 1979 - 1981. Unfortunately, I started a new job in the past month (after ten years at my last one!) and have been more than a little distracted. 

This is all the more challenging because 1981 is my favorite year of Bob Dylan's touring career and I really want to do it justice with an expanded set. Consequently, I have an exhaustive three-volume set coming to you soon. I'm still putting the finishing touches on it, but it should be ready by June 15. Check back in on that day and I'm sure you'll find an exciting new chapter of the Thousand Highways Collection. Until then, keep yourself healthy and listen to some good tunes.


Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Caribbean Wind: Unreleased Studio Recordings, 1980 - 1981

Caribbean Wind
Unreleased Studio Recordings
1980 - 1981

Mystery Train - Outtake, 1981
Heart Of Mine - Outtake, 1981
Caribbean Wind - Outtake, 1980
Wind Blowing On The Water - Outtake, 1981
Shot Of Love - Outtake, 1981
Watered-Down Love - Rough Mix, 1981
Hallelujah - Outtake, 1981
Let It Be Me - Outtake, 1981
Is It Worth It? - Outtake, 1981
Let's Keep It Between Us - Outtake, 1980
Magic - Outtake, 1981
Dead Man, Dead Man - Rough Mix, 1981
Ah Ah Ah Ah (High Away) - Outtake, 1981
In The Summertime - Rough Mix, 1981
Borrowed Time - Outtake, 1981

[Link Offline]

Welcome to a lovely and oft-overlooked corner of Bob Dylan's recording career - the sessions that led to 1981's Shot of Love. Shot of Love is a remarkably good record, whatever else you've heard, and was Dylan's last to sound like a bunch of people playing in the same room until Love & Theft in 2001. There was no sleek shine to this production, and consequently it breathed with the passion found in much of the man's best work. Unfortunately, many of the finest recordings from these sessions were not released on that album. In particular, "Yonder Comes Sin" and "Caribbean Wind" are absolutely essential, and "Heart of Mine" was recorded in a much better rendition than the one that appears on the official release.

Outside of these classics, more minor gems were recorded. No collection of Dylan outtakes would be complete without these covers of "Mystery Train" and "Let It Be Me." The fragmentary songs, including "Hallelujah" (not the Leonard Cohen song) and "Borrowed Time" make one wonder what could have been; "Is It Worth It" and "Ah Ah Ah Ah (High Away)" point to the reggae-influenced road ahead to Infidels, and contribute to the overall Caribbean sound of this era.

The other studio cuts are intriguing as well. "Let's Keep It Between Us" is a fairly recently unearthed prototype for a song that would become transcendent on the road in Fall, 1980; you can find a live recording of the song on Rise Again: Live, Fall 1980. The rough mixes of "Dead Man, Dead Man," "Watered-Down Love," and "In The Summertime" are all interesting, but "Watered-Down Love" stands above the others, retaining an extra verse not present on the official release but conspicuous in live performances from 1981. It's likely that, like the longer version of "Dead Man, Dead Man" that appears on 2017's Trouble No More, this extra verse was cut for time constraints on the 1981 Shot of Love LP. "In The Summertime," too, stands out for the inclusion of a mournful harmonica that extends the song by a full minute beyond its officially released version.

A handful of songs have been cut from this updated publication of an earlier Thousand Highways compilation. Of these, "The Groom's Still Waiting At The Altar" was abandoned for its similarity to the officially released studio performance; the only difference was an extended conclusion in which the band eventually stops playing. Live recordings have also been omitted to improve the sense of cohesion. An extended two-disc collection representing the 1981 tours will cover this material.

I hope you enjoy this newest compilation, and include it in your collections alongside the inimitable Shot of Love and extraordinary Trouble No More. It was a blast to put together. Until next time, keep yourself healthy and listen to some good tunes.


Note: Links have been removed for the moment, as a kindly commenter brought a significant error to my attention - the so-called rough mix of Dead Man, Dead Man included here is actually a live performance of the song from New Orleans. This was included on a rare official CD (Live 1961-2000) and as such cannot be hosted on my website. A new version of Caribbean Wind will be forthcoming.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Rise Again: Unreleased Live Recordings, Fall 1980

Rise Again
Live: Fall 1980

Blowin' In The Wind - Live - San Francisco - November 13, 1980
A Couple More Years - Live - Portland - December 3, 1980
What Can I Do For You? - Live - Portland - December 3, 1980
Precious Angel - Live - San Francisco - November 12, 1980
Slow Train - Live - Seattle - November 29, 1980
We Just Disagree - Live - Portland - December 4, 1980
Fever - Live - Seattle - November 30, 1980
To Ramona - Live - San Francisco - November 16, 1980
Senor - Live - San Francisco - November 11, 1980
Mary From The Wild Moor - Live - San Francisco - November 15, 1980
Let's Keep It Between Us - Live - Portland - December 3, 1980
Monologue: The Same Man - Live - San Francisco - November 12
Rise Again - Live - Seattle - November 29
The Groom's Still Waiting At The Altar - Live - San Francisco - November 16, 1980
Ain't Gonna Go To Hell For Anybody - Live - Seattle - November 29
In The Garden - Live - San Francisco - November 11, 1980
City Of Gold - Live - San Francisco - November 13, 1980

Intro & False Start to Slow Train - Live - San Francisco - November 11, 1980
Intro to Fever - Live - San Francisco - November 22

After touring with an all-gospel revue in 1979 and early 1980, Bob Dylan made the surprising decision to reintegrate some of his classic songs with his newer bible-influenced repertoire while touring the US West Coast. At the same time, he pulled in a number of cover songs ranging from traditional Scottish ballads ("Mary From The Wild Moor") to recent radio hits (Dave Mason's "We Just Disagree") and contemporary Christian songs (Dallas Holm's "Rise Again").

It is not clear what moved Dylan to alter his earlier goal of playing explicitly religious material to fans night after night, regardless of the reception. As he and his band rehearsed in Los Angeles' Rundown Studio during September 1980, the change was apparent. The earliest focus from the rehearsal sessions was on newly written content, including "Caribbean Wind," "Every Grain of Sand" and "Yonder Comes Sin." Then after tossing off a handful of attempts at songs played on previous tours, Dylan then led his crew into numerous country and pop covers. Several of these would work their way into the following shows, but most remain unheard. One rare gem unearthed from these sessions by 2017's excellent Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More is an acoustic rendition of "Rise Again"; it's fascinating to hear just how much the song had changed between the studio and the stage in November.

For an extended residency at San Francisco's Warfield Theater from November 9 to November 22, Bob Dylan would pull out all the stops on his setlist. It varied little from night to night, but the breadth of material performed was enormous. Most shows opened with the same two songs that had introduced his concerts since the preceding year - "Gotta Serve Somebody" and "I Believe In You" (neither present on Rise Again) - before he launched into an electrified gospel arrangement of "Like A Rolling Stone." The latter is omitted from this set since it would be dramatically enhanced the following year.

With these introductory songs played, along with a nightly one-song performance by Regina McCrary, the setlist then began to open up to an intriguing combination of old and new material. "To Ramona" and "Girl From The North Country" appeared often, the former in a toned-down version of its 1978 arrangement and the latter in an all-new elegant semi-acoustic guise; Jerry Garcia, only one of numerous guests throughout the tour, plays guitar on the November 16 performance of "To Ramona" included on Rise Again. Though some of his recent gospel songs had lost a bit of their luster during the summer touring hiatus, tracks like "Slow Train" and "In The Garden" seemed to have somehow gained even more strength.

One of the most impressive elements of the Fall 1980 shows, though, was the emphasis on new compositions which, in many cases, failed to make it onto any albums. We know now that these were being worked up during the September 1980 studio sessions, perhaps in anticipation of a forthcoming album, but at the time they must have been quite surprising to audiences. "Let's Keep It Between Us," "Caribbean Wind," "The Groom's Still Waiting At The Altar," "City Of Gold" and a newly re-written "Ain't Gonna Go To Hell For Anybody" are extraordinary compositions, and we are lucky to have so many of them performed and recorded in marvelous condition at these shows. Only "The Groom's Still Waiting At The Altar" would make it onto 1981's Heart of Mine single as a b-side, and even that song had been heavily re-written between its November 1980 live appearance and the recording studio. Some of the others were recorded in the studio to less success, like "Let's Keep It Between Us" and "Caribbean Wind," or seem not to have ever been attempted in a studio session, like "City Of Gold." Whatever the case, they are excellent concert performance pieces and I'm sure you'll enjoy them here.

While "Caribbean Wind" has been omitted from Rise Again due to an official release on The Bootleg Series Volume 13, I felt compelled to include its introduction. No direct mention is made of the song, and a problem with the soundboard recording kept it from being published on said official release. It's an illuminating meditation on Dylan's own philosophy regarding his mercurial performance philosophy, as he muses about Leadbelly recording prison songs, then children's songs, all while remaining the same man; Leadbelly's audiences, of course, had been polarized about which version of him they preferred. This discomfort with audience expectations would go on to be explored more bitterly during the following year's European tour, as Dylan would openly speculate from the stage that audiences should enjoy the new songs now since, if he came back, he'd eventually just be playing the old hits that everyone wanted to hear.

I've also included a lengthy introduction to Eddie Cooley and Otis Blackwell's "Fever," which had been a hit in the '50s when recorded by Little Willie John and then Peggy Lee. Though the timeline doesn't quite sync up, Bob Dylan recalls his first time coming face to face with R&B in a Detroit bingo parlor as a young man. Having formerly listened primarily to country music, this seems to have been a formative experience in pushing the young Minnesotan out of his element and into a relationship with other musical genres. This is one of my favorite on-stage speeches by the singer, so I'm happy to include it alongside the great songs on Rise Again.

Until next time, keep yourself healthy and listen to some good tunes.


Saturday, March 31, 2018

Slight Delay: Rise Again - Live, Fall 1980

Happy Easter/Passover/April Fool's Day, folks!

The blog post today will be going up a day late. It's more or less done, but I need to touch up the art and notes. You'll have it on April 2, 2018. Enjoy your weekend, friends :)