Wednesday, May 25, 2016

June Update

So just to keep everyone in the loop: there will be a new compilation published in June, but it will not be the concluding chapter of A Thousand Highways. In fact, I was so inspired by the exciting new tapes from Japan that I collected the best performances into a 2-Disc set, which will be released on June 1, 2016. Apologies to anyone who was looking forward to my miscellaneous recordings compilation - you'll just have to wait until July. Everyone else, check back in on June 1 for some brilliant new tracks from Bob Dylan's 2016 Tour of Japan.

Thanks for listening,

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Fiddle & Bow: Unreleased Live Recordings, Spring 2005

Fiddle & Bow
On Tour - Spring 2005

Absolutely Sweet Marie - Live - Detroit - April 12, 2005
It's All Over Now, Baby Blue - Live - Seattle - March 8, 2005
Stuck Inside Of Mobile - Live - Seattle - March 7, 2005
Hazel - Live - Mashantucket - April 22, 2005
Tweedle Dum & Tweedle Dee - Live - Oakland - March 14, 2005
Senor - Live - Chicago - April 3, 2005
Under The Red Sky - Live - Detroit - April 12, 2005
I'll Remember You - Live - Detroit - April 12, 2005
Cat's In The Well - Live - Seattle - March 7, 2005
Moonlight - Live - Seattle - March 7, 2005
Honest With Me - Live - Oakland - March 14, 2005
Mississippi - Live - Reno - March 18, 2005
All Along The Watchtower - Live - Seattle - March 7, 2005

This is a truly superlative set of songs. In the Spring of 2005, violinist Elena Fremerman had joined Bob Dylan's band for a tour of the United States, and she contributed significantly to the overall sound of the band. At the same time, recording technology had progressed to the point of capturing audience recordings that often surpassed the soundboard tapes of previous decades. These factors combined to offer one of the most coherent, compelling compilations yet presented on The Thousand Highways Collection.

Highlights include the best renditions of "Absolutely Sweet Marie," "Honest With Me," and "Mississippi" ever played outside of a studio setting. "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" is played with a vocal unrivaled since it had been played in the mid-1990s. The collection also includes a rare outing of "Hazel," including a pleasant violin interlude. Outside of these highlights, the remainder of the songs prove quite strong as well - "Stuck Inside of Mobile," "Moonlight," and "Tweedle Dum & Tweedle Dee" are enhanced not by violin solos, but rather by the presence of a violin on their rhythmic sections, propelling the tracks along delightfully.

A handful of tracks didn't make it past the cutting room floor. "Folsom Prison Blues" was played to great acclaim in Reno, but I didn't think the vocals measured up to past outings of this classic. Similarly, "Sing Me Back Home" is an extraordinary song, but I didn't think it quite came together in the performances. I hope you'll forgive these omissions.

While Fremerman would depart the band at the end of this brief tour, the violin sound lingered on, thanks to the presence of multi-instrumentalist Donnie Herron. Never again, though, would it have such a prominent role. Luckily, due to our community's generous tapers, we've been left with extraordinary documentation of this unique period in Bob Dylan's performance career.

This will be the last entry in the chronological set of compilations that made up the second series of The Thousand Highways Collection, but I should have a set of remaining odds and ends to release next month as a 'best of the rest' affair. Until then, keep yourself healthy and listen to some good tunes!

Thanks for listening,

Friday, April 1, 2016

High Water Rising: Unreleased Live Recordings, 2001

High Water Rising: Live 2001

High Water - Live - Columbus - November 10, 2001
Sugar Baby - Live - Spokane - October 5, 2001
Tough Mama - Live - Telluride - August 20, 2001
Standing In The Doorway - Live - Perth - March 18, 2001
Drifter's Escape - Live - Spokane - October 5, 2001
Mr. Tambourine Man - Live - Fukuoka - March 9, 2001
Tangled Up In Blue - Live - Perth - March 18, 2001
This World Can't Stand Long - Live - Grand Rapids - November 6, 2001
Cold Irons Bound - Live - Las Vegas - August 24, 2001
Ring Them Bells - Live - Fukuoka - March 9, 2001
Cry A While - Live - Grand Rapids - November 6, 2001
Knockin' On Heaven's Door - Live - Spokane - October 5, 2001
Summer Days - Live - New York - November 19, 2001

On September 11, 2001, Bob Dylan released Love & Theft. Unsurprisingly, due to the significant news events unfolding on that day, the record went largely unnoticed. Happily, the artist himself was on the road in early October, playing songs from the album alongside classic songs from his repertoire.

Like many of his albums, though perhaps even a bit more than was typical, Love & Theft would contribute heavily to the live setlist over the coming decade. One could get the impression that the songs were made to be played live, given their origin being recorded live in-studio. In confirmation of that, virtually all of them were performed beautifully from their on-stage debut; note the presence of four such songs on this live collection alone. Within a year, every track from the album had been played for paying audiences!

While the majority of the songs on this compilation are from the extraordinary Autumn tour, some are from earlier in the year. Dylan's setlist was quite varied throughout the year, with some songs being played only a handful of times. Some of these, like "Standing In The Doorway," are carry-overs from the previous year's touring. Some are rarer, like "Tough Mama" or "Ring Them Bells." A recording of "Where Teardrops Fall" was almost included here, but was replaced with "Ring Them Bells" late in the compiling.

In general, the recordings and performances are of a uniformly high quality. I don't find that the 2001 tours reach the heights of 1997 - 1999 or 2002 - 2005, as the singer and band are fairly conservative. The preceding years had a tightness and precision in their arrangements, while the years to come would be more experimental; 2000 - 2001 sit squarely between these two eras as satisfying, if not overly exciting.

Some songs here, though, would never be played so well again. Listen to the intensity of "Drifter's Escape," or the emotion and harmony of "Knockin' On Heaven's Door." Despite it being newly introduced, this performance of "Summer Days" is one of the best you'll ever hear. Charlie Sexton even produces a 'dog bark' guitar noise on the relevant line! Additionally, one of the bluegrass songs common to Dylan's setlists at the time makes it into the acoustic set here.

Concerning production, very little was altered. The low volume was quite challenging on "Cold Irons Bound," and I shifted "Ring Them Bells" from the acoustic set in which it was originally played to the electric set, as it matched the following songs more effectively. Otherwise, only some volume adjustments were necessary.

I hope you enjoy the compilation. It's not one of the best, but it's a compelling listen. Next month will bring the final addition to the second run of the Thousand Highways Collection: Spring 2005. I've been very excited for that, and it'll be a heck of a note to go out on, since it features unique arrangements enhanced powerfully by Elana James' violin. Look forward to it!

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


UPDATE: So I had a bit of an April Fools prank going this morning with the link. I have since upped the actual files pertinent to this compilation, but I hope the 33 people who downloaded the file enjoyed a healthy dose of Spice Girls!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

DIY Playlist Corner: Studio Essentials, 1969 - 1972

Bob Dylan
Studio Essentials: 1969 - 1972

Volume One

To Be Alone With You - Nashville Skyline
Sign On The Window - Another Self-Portrait
Take A Message To Mary - Self-Portrait
Tell Me That It Isn't True - Nashville Skyline
Alberta #3 - Another Self-Portrait
Little Sadie - Another Self-Portrait
Time Passes Slowly #1 - Another Self-Portrait
Down In The Flood - Greatest Hits, Volume 2
If Not For You - New Morning
Pretty Saro - Another Self-Portrait
Lay Lady Lay - Nashville Skyline
This Evening So Soon - Another Self-Portrait
Copper Kettle - Another Self-Portrait
Railroad Bill - Another Self-Portrait
One More Night - Nashville Skyline
Wallflower - Another Self-Portrait
The Man In Me - New Morning
You Ain't Goin' Nowhere - Greatest Hits, Volume 2
Days of 49 - Another Self-Portrait
Father Of Night - New Morning
Gotta Travel On - Self-Portrait

Volume Two

If Not For You - Another Self-Portrait
Living The Blues - Self-Portrait
Belle Isle - Another Self-Portrait
Big Yellow Taxi - Dylan
Let It Be Me - Self-Portrait
Watching The River Flow - Greatest Hits, Volume 2
I Threw It All Away - Another Self-Portrait
New Morning - Another Self-Portrait
Spanish Is The Loving Tongue - Pure Dylan / Masterpieces
Day Of The Locusts - New Morning
Only A Hobo - Another Self-Portrait
Tattle O'Day - Another Self-Portrait
Bring Me A Little Water - Another Self-Portrait
A Fool Such As I - Dylan
Thirsty Boots - Another Self-Portrait
Went To See The Gypsy - New Morning
Country Pie - Nashville Skyline
I Shall Be Released - Greatest Hits, Volume 2
Time Passes Slowly #2 - Another Self-Portrait
When I Paint My Masterpiece - Another Self-Portrait

Alright folks, you should be used to the DIY Playlist drill by now. If not, check out Studio Essentials: The Cutting Edge, 1965 - 1966 and Studio Essentials: 1979 - 1988. The basic concept is taking officially released Bob Dylan recordings and compiling them into a pretty solid playlist to sit alongside your Thousand Highways field recording releases; necessarily, there are no files to download. I will provide the playlist, some cool notes, and links to the recordings necessary to complete the playlist.

Do yourself a favor and gather these jewels - 1969 to 1972 was an especially strong one for Dylan's studio output, in my estimation. After the exciting envelope-pushing of the surrealist mid-1960s, the singer had moved into rootsier material with The Basement Tapes and John Wesley Harding; the former of these will be the subject of a later DIY Playlist, while the latter stands alone as one of the more singular albums of the man's career.

From 1969 to the early 1970s, though, he would go on to perform in a very different style. Listeners would receive not the folksy Bob Dylan of the early 1960s, nor the rocker of the mid-1960s. Instead, they would receive a rather surprising country crooner version of their favorite singer. While this had a detrimental effect on his writing, it would dramatically improve Dylan's vocal performances; many former critics would find themselves nodding along happily with the pleasant tones of "Lay Lady Lay." While later releases in this time frame, including Self-Portrait and New Morning, would not be as well-received as 1969's Nashville Skyline, all contained some classic recordings. This would be made abundantly clear with the release in 2013 of The Bootleg Series Volume 10: 1969 - 1971.

Taking those incredible outtakes and alternate versions, along with the performances on the original releases, you can compile one heck of a two-volume set. While these 42 songs do not push the limits of what can fit on a single CD - Bob Dylan was recording fairly short songs in this era - they provide a delightful listening experience from beginning to end. Grab your cup of coffee, prop your feet up, and put on the stereo!

Volume One

To Be Alone With You - Nashville Skyline

This groovy recording from Nashville Skyline is an exciting way to kick off the set. Dylan spoken intro, a question to his producer, Bob Johnston, sets the tone for a rather laid back experience. Johnston would produce Nashville Skyline and Self-Portrait, but would part ways with Dylan mid-way through the recording of New Morning, being replaced with the keyboardist Al Kooper. It's unclear what came between the producer and the singer, but Dylan's lack of strong artistic direction in this period seems to be the culprit. Johnston was significantly different from Dylan's earlier producer, Tom Wilson, in that he was looking for something of an artistic collaboration. Like many, he saw Dylan's work from 1969 to 1971 as being somewhat commercial, or lacking in artistry. I'd beg to differ, but can understand where he was coming from. Whatever the case, Nashville Skyline is a beautifully recorded record, and we're lucky for the collaboration of the two Bobs, Dylan and Johnston, from 1965 to 1970.

Sign On The Window - Another Self-Portrait

The version of "Sign On The Window" released on New Morning is a perfectly lovely song, and perhaps the strongest on that record, but the strings added by Al Kooper in post-production manage to enhance it even further. This version was finally released on Another Self-Portrait in 2013, though it had circulated among collectors in the intervening years. The lyrics provide something of a motto for Dylan's music in these years; his original compositions tended to espouse a domestic tone, lauding the virtues of a life spent with one's family in a rural setting. This would change dramatically with 1974's Blood On The Tracks, but the consistency of theme makes for a pretty nice throughline to this compilation.

Take A Message To Mary - Self-Portrait

Backing vocals providing a spoken introduction to this song probably exemplify what fans objected to in Dylan's bizarre 1970 album, Self-Portrait. Luckily, this Everly Brothers cover manages to overcome the production hurdles that one would anticipate in a commercial 1970 recording. Unlike his earlier and later recordings, Dylan doesn't strike an especially authentic sound as the murderous narrator, but the tone of the song is quite pretty.

Tell Me That It Isn't True - Nashville Skyline

We're back to 1969 with this excellent country song, recorded with a stable of session musicians in Nashville. We are lucky that Dylan saw the song's charms in later years, and resurrected it on the Never-Ending Tour in the 2000s. The chord progression, along with the song's timeless theme of suspected infidelity, should make for an instant classic. Of particular interest is the slick ending, rather uncharacteristic of the singer's more typically casual approach to the recording process.

Alberta #3 - Another Self-Portrait

All three of the renditions of this traditional song are quite well-done. The third has the benefit of being the rawest in presentation, though, and that's what secures it a spot on this compilation. There's not much to be said about "Alberta," except that you can't help tapping your foot while listening.

Little Sadie - Another Self-Portrait

"Little Sadie" is one of the songs that benefits the most from being freed of overdubs on Another Self-Portrait. It might as well be a different song from the one on the original 1970 album! The song itself is a classic traditional recording most often associated with Leadbelly. Johnny Cash played it to great acclaim on his Live At Folsom Prison record, and that's how I became familiar with it. Dylan doesn't do it quite as well as Cash, but it's still a great recording. The related oddity from these sessions, "In Search Of Little Sadie," doesn't appear on this collection, but it's a fun addition nonetheless.

Time Passes Slowly #1 - Another Self-Portrait

This song would end up being played more strongly in the sessions that led to New Morning, but this whimsical recording featuring George Harrison is too charming not to be included. In particular, Harrison and Dylan singing their "la la las" is a match made in heaven. The two players had been in communication for years, but 1969 represented their earliest artistic collaboration. You can find more of these recordings on the Thousand Highways compilation Pastures of Plenty: 1969 - 1971.

Down In The Flood - Greatest Hits, Volume 2

"Down In The Flood" was originally part of The Basement Tape sessions with The Band in rural New York, but the song was first officially released on Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits, Volume 2. It was evidently selected as a response to the popularity of Basement Tape bootleg recordings, since those were deemed to be unreleasable due to their rough aesthetic and recording quality. I may be in the minority opinion, but I find the versions recorded for Greatest Hits, Volume 2 to be even more effective than their earlier iterations; I only wish Dylan and Happy Traum had recorded more songs!

If Not For You - New Morning

Described by Bob Dylan as an attempt at a Tex-Mex style, the results seem not to have been rated too highly by the singer. A couple other version circulate, including one recorded with George Harrison and one with a piano and violin, but the one chosen to lead 1970's New Morning is exemplary. The mix isn't ideal, as the song suffers a bit from sounding a bit flat, but the joyful tone is truly infectious. This track would go without a live performance until 1992, though it was rehearsed ahead of 1971's Concert For Bangladesh - a recording of this rehearsal performance is available on the Thousand Highways compilation Enough Is Enough: The Best of the Rehearsal Tapes, 1971 - 1989.

Pretty Saro - Another Self-Portrait

Here is one of the best songs on Another Self-Portrait, and one of the strongest rebukes against the old argument that Bob Dylan can't sing. While the vocals are enhanced a bit with some reverb, this guy's clearly got talent. The song itself is quite old, originating with an eighteenth century English song but being preserved in America's Appalachian performance traditions. A rather intriguing music video was produced to accompany the release of this version, in which old Farm Security Administration images from the early twentieth century were set alongside the recording - it's worth seeking out, as it's strangely moving.

Lay Lady Lay - Nashville Skyline

"Lay Lady Lay" was Bob Dylan's most successful song, commercially speaking, from the period covered by this compilation; indeed, it may remain the most commercially successful song from his entire career. Of note is the uncharacteristic bongo accompaniment. While a more generic rhythm track may have been serviceable for the recording, it's nice that the studio musicians opted for this more unique arrangement. The song rapidly became part of the singer's live repertoie, being played in concert in 1969, then regularly on the 1974 and 1976 tours; the 1976 arrangement is notable for being fairly aggressive, and quite distinct from its original studio incarnation. After that, it experienced something of a hibernation from 1978 to 1988, before appearing frequently on the Never-Ending Tour.

This Evening So Soon - Another Self-Portrait

While the song is traditional, the title is actually derived from a story by American author and essayist James Baldwin. It is also commonly known as "Tell Old Bill," from which Dylan would later derive the title for an unrelated recording for the North Country soundtrack. The song itself is quite pleasant, particularly the last bit. At the beginning, he references Bob Gibson, who recorded a version in 1958.

Copper Kettle - Another Self-Portrait

"Copper Kettle" has truly mysterious origins, as it has been dated to various times and places in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Happily, it stands as one of the great successes of the album Self-Portrait, overcoming the poppy string arrangement added to the recording. Like "Belle Isle," you could really take your pick between the more heavily produced version on the original album, or the one on Another Self-Portrait, since both contain the same excellent basic track. The "whiskey tax" referred to in the the song is a reference back to an oft-forgotten historical moment, the Whiskey Rebellion, which was the first true test of federal power against local revolt in the relatively new United States.
Railroad Bill - Another Self-Portrait

This is a song in the same vein as "Stagger Lee," "Pretty Boy Floyd" or "Duncan and Brady," in which the narrator describes a run-in between a charismatic criminal and the corrupt society. In this case, the song was commonly associated with Leadbelly, who'd himself been in prison at one time. Interestingly, it bears no similarity to the song "Railroad Boy," which Bob Dylan performed in 1961 and 1976.

One More Night - Nashville Skyline

Here is one of my favorite songs from Nashville Skyline, a pretty straightforward country song. You can find a fairly rare outtake of it on the Thousand Highways title Pastures of Plenty. The song has only been played live twice, once with vocals by Ronnie Hawkins!

Wallflower - Another Self-Portrait

I'm surprised that multiple takes of this song have been released, as it's a rather odd footnote to Dylan's catalog. He recorded it with Doug Sahm in 1972, and it's a reasonably simple country waltz. The version on Another Self-Portrait is narrowly superior to the one on The Bootleg Series, Volumes 1-3, as the vocals are improved and the harmonica is less piercing.

The Man In Me - New Morning

"The Man In Me" is one of the gems of New Morning, though it received comparatively little popularity until it appeared on the soundtrack to the Coen brothers' film, The Big Lebowski. One wishes a horn arrangement was extant for this song, a la "New Morning", but no such take is known to exist. It went on to have a noteworthy re-written version performed on tour in 1978, and you can find that here.

You Ain't Goin' Nowhere - Greatest Hits, Volume 2

While my personal favorite version of "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" is the truly bizarre lyrical variant played at in 1967 and finally released on The Bootleg Series 11: The Basement Tapes RAW, this one is probably the strongest performance of the song. It originates from the same Happy Traum session that produced other Basement Tapes re-recordings on Greatest Hits, Volume 2.

Days Of 49 - Another Self-Portrait

Here is a rather peculiar track that is more complex than it seems at first glance. One could be mistaken for believing it to be a nineteenth century traditional song, as the singer has often recorded songs of that vintage. In fact, while its roots are in traditional songs collected by John Lomax, the specific words as sung here were written by John Lomax, Alan Lomax and Frank Warner as an adaptation of disparate songs concerning California's gold rush. As for this recording, it's outstanding - benefiting from the absence of overdubs on its Bootleg Series release, Dylan's off-mike remarks are a delight and the guitar accompaniment is solid.

Father Of Night - New Morning

New Morning is noteworthy for being the first album on which Bob Dylan played a significant amount of piano, and this song is the most emblematic of that musical aspect. It is almost unaccompanied, except by some backing vocalists, and stands out as a stark conclusion to an otherwise light record. After John Wesley Harding, it is also one of the singer's earliest songs explicitly pertaining to matters of faith. This would end up being the primary focus of a few later records, including Slow Train Coming and Saved, but those would be less ambiguous than this fleeting piece from 1970.

Gotta Travel On - Self-Portrait

"Gotta Travel On" is not a song that's received much praise, but I would like to offer that here. This is a fantastic, light recording that concludes Volume One with the same feeling of hope that characterizes much of Dylan's output from 1969 to 1971. It was eventually played on stage with the Rolling Thunder Revue in 1976, though no especially compelling recordings of that arrangement circulate. Luckily, we are blessed with this performance from the sessions for Self-Portrait.

Volume Two

If Not For You - Another Self-Portrait

This version of the opening track from Dylan's New Morning LP is a mellow way to start a mellow collection. The unknown violist lays the groundwork for a poetic rendition, as the singer pines away to his muse. The only blemish is an overly hot moment on the vocal track, which evidently could not be scrubbed away when the outtake was compiled on The Bootleg Series Volume 10: Another Self-Portrait. A version of "Went To See The Gypsy," possibly from this session, was released alongside this song on Another Self-Portrait, but it did not make it onto this collection due to similar issues with the recording.

Living The Blues - Self-Portrait

This groovy little song was one of Dylan's only original compositions between Nashville Skyline and New Morning, when he was primarily recording covers. Luckily, it's outstanding, as the backing vocals and band accompaniment provide a distinctly Elvis-esque soundscape. Surprisingly, the melody is based on Thelonius Monk's 1957 recording "Blue Monk." "Living The Blues" would go on to be performed live exactly one time, on Johnny Cash's television show. You can find a recording of this performance on The Thousand Highways Collection.

Belle Isle - Another Self-Portrait

Opting for the version of this on Another Self-Portrait or the original 1970 Self-Portrait LP is something of an arbitrary decision. Both releases are great, though the Bootleg Series version allows David Bromberg's guitar work to shine a bit brighter. This is a very, very old song - this lyrical was collected from Canada in the early twentieth century, but the template is actually a much older traditional Irish ballad.

Big Yellow Taxi - Dylan

In stark contrast to the preceding song, this was written and released in 1970 by Dylan's contemporary, Joni Mitchell. While the version on Dylan was not released until 1973 (as something of a retaliation by Columbia to Bob Dylan switching recording labels), it was recorded only a couple of months after Mitchell had released her original performance. This rendition is not revelatory, but it's a lot of fun.

Let It Be Me - Self-Portrait

This English-language performance of a French original is a pet favorite of mine. Surprisingly, the song would be performed live twice in 1981, eleven years after this version was released! On the first of those occasions, the song was played in its native France, while Canada received the second airing.

Watching The River Flow - Greatest Hits, Volume 2

Unlike Greatest Hits, released in the midst of Bob Dylan's 1960s popularity, Greatest Hits, Volume 2 was actually compiled by the singer himself. As a result, the final side of the record contained a number of formerly unreleased recordings from sessions in the early 1970s. One of these was "Watching The River Flow," backed by Leon Russell. It's a rough, bluesy number that had more in common with the years to come than it did with Nashville Skyline, Self-Portrait, or New Morning.

I Threw It All Away - Another Self-Portrait

This song sounds great in its original release, on 1969's Nashville Skyline, but I find the one on Another Self-Portrait slightly prettier. In either case, it's a beautiful, succinct confession of lost love. While it never entered the live setlist for that long, it was played on tour in 1976, 1978, and several times throughout the 1990s and 2000s. Despite the strength of the original composition, the song's lyrics tend to be altered to varying degrees in concert; you can find one such example on the 1976 live release, Hard Rain.

New Morning - Another Self Portrait

The title track of New Morning is great on that 1970 album, but Al Kooper's horn overdubs add a lot to the recording. It ended up being one of the standout tracks on the second disc of Another Self-Portrait even though its basic recording, sans horns, had already been released decades before! This is one of the songs that is said to have been written for an Archibald Macleish play.

Spanish Is The Loving Tongue - Pure Dylan / Masterpieces

Bob Dylan played this song several times between 1967 and 1976. My favorite rendition, aside from the solo piano performance released on the 1978 Japanese compilation Masterpieces, is the one played at San Antonio in 1976. As for that solo piano rendition, a remastered recording appears on the same obscure German CD, Pure Dylan, that includes a remastered recording of "Trouble In Mind." As I said when that album came up on an earlier DIY Playlist, you really ought to add this compilation to your collection. Other than Masterpieces and Pure Dylan, alternative versions of "Spanish Is The Loving Tongue" were recorded and released on The Bootleg Series Volume 10: Another Self-PortraitThe Bootleg Series Volume 11: The Basement Tapes Complete, and Dylan. A stray comment in the liner notes of either Another Self-Portrait or The Basement Tapes Complete suggests that an outtake exists from the Blood On The Tracks session too, and fans of the song like me are eagerly awaiting that release, as it does not circulate. If you can't secure the version on Pure Dylan or Masterpieces, I suggest substituting the very similar version from Another Self-Portrait.

Day Of The Locusts - New Morning

"Day Of The Locusts" chronicles a trip by Bob Dylan, his wife, and David Crosby to a ceremony at Princeton awarding Dylan an honorary degree. This is the song that first made me a fan of New Morning, as it's a fairly uncharacteristic gospel-esque track. It may, in fact, be the singer's first public flirtation with the genre, though he would go on to play that style quite effectively from 1979 to 1981. Additionally, it contains one of (but not the only) sample of insect noises in Dylan's catalog; "Man In The Long Black Coat," from 1989, would return to this rather odd technique.

One More Weekend - New Morning

Though New Morning was not characterized by a blues sound, as earlier and later Bob Dylan albums would be, at least one blues track managed to work its way in. "One More Weekend" is a paean to domestic bliss, as the narrator looks forward to spending some time alone with his sweetheart after having left all the children home. It's nice stuff, and is actually fairly rare in its portrayal of this situation within the blues genre.

Only A Hobo - Another Self-Portrait

"Only A Hobo" is one of four songs recorded by Bob Dylan and Happy Traum in anticipation of Greatest Hits, Volume 2. Unlike the three others, this one is a unique banjo arrangement of one of the singer's earliest recordings. The harmonica is a bit piercing, but it's otherwise a beautiful recording of a moving piece.

A Fool Such As I - Dylan

This is a surprisingly funky take on the venerable country song popularized by Hank Snow. Like "Spanish is The Loving Tongue," it was first recorded by Bob Dylan at the Basement Tape sessions in rural New York. Unlike that other song, though, the version released on 1973's Dylan LP is a joy to listen to.

Thirsty Boots - Another Self-Portrait

Similar to "Big Yellow Taxi," "Thirsty Boots" is one of the singer's performances of his contemporaries' original compositions. In this case, the original song was released by Eric Andersen on a 1966 album. It is perhaps the earliest resurgence of Bob Dylan's interest in songs concerning civil rights after he had largely abandoned that subject from 1964 to 1969. He would go on to record and release "George Jackson" and "Hurricane" about the same subject in the 1970s.

Went To See The Gypsy - New Morning

We are lucky to have three different recordings of this song to choose from! This version, released in 1970 on New Morning, was one of the highlights of that record. Though it is said to relate a story of the singer visiting Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan has explicitly denied this interpretation. If only fictional, the story in the song is a compelling tale of the narrator briefly meeting some mystical musical figure before being left to watch the sun rise over a little Minnesota town. Beautiful tale, to be sure.

Country Pie - Nashville Skyline

This song is reminiscent of "Father of Night" in its brevity, though in content they couldn't be further apart. A fragmentary outtake was released on Another Self-Portrait, but the final take couldn't really be bettered. As a fun fact, Dylan's mother apparently once stated that this was her favorite song that he had recorded!

I Shall Be Released - Greatest Hits, Volume 2
Along with "Only A Hobo," "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" and "Down In The Flood," Dylan recorded this Basement Tapes song with Happy Traum for his Greatest Hits, Volume 2 LP.

Time Passes Slowly #2 - Another Self-Portrait

"Time Passes Slowly" was first recorded with George Harrison in 1970, and it went on to be recorded at the studio sessions for New Morning. This is the most electrified rendition. Relatively laid-back in the other performances, it was appreciably louder in one of the arrangements; that's the one I find most effective, and is indeed the one I picked for this compilation. If you don't feel the same way, I suggest including the pleasant one played with George Harrison, also released on Another Self-Portrait.

When I Paint My Masterpiece - Another Self-Portrait

This classic song was originally released on Greatest Hits, Volume 2, but the definitive studio version is actually the solo demo released on Another Self-Portrait. It lacks some of the nice lyrics that it picked up before the final take was recorded, but they are replaced by some whimsical words about an old victrola, and that good old rock and roll-a. The song would go on to be featured somewhat frequently in Dylan's live shows after its first appearance at The Band's New Year's Eve show in 1972 - this was released as Rock of Ages.

You can buy these albums using the links below, or seek them out wherever you purchase your music. I would especially recommend Amazon's The Complete Album Collection MP3 versions, as they tend to sound quite nice alongside each other - little volume adjustment is necessary. You may need to bring down the volume on the tracks from Another Self-Portrait, but not by much.

Nashville Skyline
New Morning
Greatest Hits, Volume 2
Pure Dylan
The Bootleg Series, Volume 10: Another Self-Portrait
The Complete Album Collection - The 60's
The Complete Album Collection - The 70's

I hope you all enjoy the sets! They don't quite fill up the CDs, but I think they offer a very listenable, pleasant overview of Bob Dylan's recording career from 1969 to 1972. This wasn't one of the singer's most popular periods, but quite a bit of treasured recordings were produced; at this point, it is one of the more well-documented portions of his career.

Check back in on April 1, as we will be reviewing Bob Dylan's 2001 tour, which introduced Love & Theft to the setlist. until then, keep yourself healthy and listen to some good tunes.


Tuesday, March 1, 2016

After Hours: Unreleased Live Recordings, 1998

After Hours
Live 1998

Gotta Serve Somebody - Live - College Park - November 5, 1998
Tears Of Rage - Live - New London - January 13, 1998
Million Miles - Live - New York - January 17, 1998
To Be Alone With You - Live - Goteborg - June 10, 1998
Across The Borderline - Live - Rochester - November 3, 1998
'Til I Fell In Love With You - Live - Springfield - February 2, 1998
Rank Strangers To Me - Live - Rome - July 5, 1998
Desolation Row - Live - Stockholm - June 9, 1998
One Too Many Mornings - Live - Miami - March 31, 1998
This Wheel's On Fire - Live - New London - January 14, 1998
Make You Feel My Love - Live - Puyallup - September 22, 1998
All Along The Watchtower - Live - Copenhagen - June 11, 1998
Love Sick - Live - Stockholm - June 9, 1998
I'm Not Supposed To Care - Live - Anaheim - May 23, 1998
Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat - Live - New York - January 17, 1998

As with the preceding ten years, Bob Dylan set out on tour again early in 1998. Despite early concerns, the year turned out much better than folks had expected. Dylan and his management had set up several high-profile tours with other big names in the music business, including The Rolling Stones, Joni Morrison, and Van Morrison. While this could have led to a paint-by-numbers, phoned in series of concerts designed to check a box for disinterested concertgoers, the singer instead rose to the occasion of giving everyone quite the bang for their buck, so to speak.

The compilation kicks off with a raucous, call-and-response rendition of "Gotta Serve Somebody," always one of my favorites. A menacing, guitar-heavy "Tears Of Rage" follows. David Kemper's drums are brought to the forefront of the following two songs, as he and the guitarists first lay down an off-kilter jazz backing to "Million Miles" and then a thumping, high-energy arrangement of Nashville Skyline's "To Be Alone With You." This last is a song that often falls short of its potential, but on this Scandinavian summer night, it comes alive as it did back in 1969. A rare late 1990s outing of "Across The Borderline" follows, with Dylan pouring his heart and soul into the borderlands tale, and then the first electric set draws to a close with a characteristically groovy "'Til I Fell In Love With You."

"Rank Strangers To Me" showcases the bluegrass-flecked harmonies of Larry Campbell and Bucky Baxter before Bob Dylan and the band move into an epic arrangement of "Desolation Row." The acoustic set is finished with an appropriately laid back, bass heavy ballad, "One Too Many Mornings."

The second electric set opens with the second Basement Tapes song of the collection, "This Wheel's On Fire." The song had just debuted in concert a couple years before, and Dylan's playing it for all it's worth by 1998, utilizing his backing band's vocals to great effect. Next is a much more recent hit, "Make You Feel My Love." This song would go on to be something of a disappointment in later years, as the dreaded upsinging often destroyed the song's natural charms, but here it is an unblemished beauty, superior even to the lovely album recording. Surprisingly, Dylan played organ on the song sometimes in 1998, but none of those recordings compared to this one. A very unique cascading arrangement of "All Along The Watchtower" follows; as far as I know, it was only played this way on the Summer 1998 tour. "Love Sick" is the next song, and it's clear that the song has already evolved from its 1997 incarnation - the band members are tight, sharp, and allow Dylan to showcase some snarling vocals. A tender performance of Gordon Lightfoot's "I'm Not Supposed To Care" is the penultimate track, followed by some straightforward bluesy fun in "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat."

Concerning the recordings, 1998 is a really great year. Perhaps moreso than any other year from the 1990s, the recordings from these tours are spellbinding and beautifully mixed. I had to do very little production work for the compilation. The band was tight, and unlike preceding years, no meandering instrumental sections robbed the songs of their power. The result is a distinctly unified, strong collection of tracks.

Next month will bring 2001, which I haven't yet got finalized. The tracks are still pretty up in the air! Excitingly, 2001 brought the release of my favorite Bob Dylan record, Love & Theft. So expect a few live renditions of those songs, if nothing else. I'll try to get up another DIY Playlist this month too, so be sure to check in around March 15th.

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


Note: This description was edited to reflect that it is actually Bucky Baxter, not Charlie Sexton, who is singing backup with Larry Campbell on "Rank Strangers To Me." A kind listener alerted me to this fact.

Monday, February 15, 2016

DIY Playlist Corner: Studio Essentials, 1979 - 1988

DIY Playlist
Studio Essentials: 1979 - 1988

Volume One

Gotta Serve Somebody - Slow Train Coming - 1979
Got My Mind Made Up - Knocked Out Loaded - 1986
I & I - Infidels - 1983
Trouble In Mind - Slow Train Coming, Outtake - 1979
Jokerman - Infidels - 1983
Saved - Saved - 1980
Blind Willie McTell - Infidels, Outtake - 1983
Trouble - Shot Of Love - 1981
Ninety Miles An Hour (Down A Dead End Street) - Down In The Groove - 1988
Property Of Jesus - Shot Of Love - 1981
When He Returns - Slow Train Coming - 1979
Solid Rock - Saved - 1980
Lord Protect My Child - Infidels, Outtake - 1983
Man Of Peace - Infidels - 1983
Brownsville Girl - Knocked Out Loaded - 1986

Volume Two

Shot Of Love - Shot Of Love - 1981
Someone's Got A Hold Of My Heart - Infidels - 1983
Let's Stick Together - Down In The Groove - 1988
I Believe In You - Slow Train Coming - 1979
You Changed My Life - Shot Of Love, Outtake - 1981
Something's Burning Baby - Empire Burlesque - 1985
Union Sundown - Infidels - 1983
Angelina - Shot Of Love, Outtake - 1981
Slow Train - Slow Train Coming - 1979
Caribbean Wind - Shot Of Love, Outtake - 1981
Foot Of Pride - Infidels, Outtake - 1983
Pressing On - Saved - 1980
Are You Ready? - Saved - 1980
The Groom's Still Waiting At The Altar - Shot Of Love - 1981
Every Grain Of Sand - Shot Of Love - 1981

Welcome to the second installment of A Thousand Highways DIY Playlist project! As with the earlier edition, these are officially released recordings, so you'll have to purchase them and assemble the playlist yourself; I'm just offering guidance.

This iteration will be dedicated to a much-maligned era, 1979 to 1988. It was originally intended to cover the 1980s, but I found that Slow Train Coming had much in common with the records that followed, and that Oh Mercy represented a pretty clear break with the past; as such, the beautiful songs of Oh Mercy will be covered in a future entry.

As for the earlier years of the 1980s, I find that there's a unity of sound in spite of the radically different recording conditions. From 1979 to 1985, Dylan was produced by no fewer than six people: Jerry Wexler, Barry Beckett, Bumps Blackwell, Chuck Plotkin, Mark Knopfler, Arthur Baker. From 1986 to 1988, the details get a bit hazier, but Dylan did quite a bit of the production himself. With this melange, and particularly the scattershot method of recording for Knocked Out Loaded and Down In The Groove, one could wrongly assume that the resulting recordings would lack any sense of coherence.

There is something to that theory, but the overall tone is surprisingly consistent - Dylan sings with full band and chorus accompaniment on the subject of high-minded themes of faith, world politics, and corruption of the physical world. A handful of relationship-oriented tracks round out the bunch, but they serve more as additions than anything else. The popular narrative, that the writer's talents were steadily diminishing from the late 1960s on, can be disproven with even a cursory listen to this set. If anything, to my ears, Dylan's writing has steadily improved throughout his career, as he moved from basic concerns to relationship matters, to surrealism, and then on into much broader thematic content, including faith, family, and the relationship of the individual and his or her society to their history.

In any case, I'm getting carried away. Let's review the recordings:

Volume One

01. Gotta Serve Somebody - Slow Train Coming - 1979

Here is the first track from the record that started Bob Dylan's 1980s era. From the start, it's clearly very different from his 1970s recordings. Jerry Wexler and the team at Muscle Shoals studio had been employed, after the sonic disaster of the Street Legal sessions, to give Dylan's music a significantly more professional sound; a quick listen to this recording makes the listener aware that Wexler was successful. The song sets out something of an ideological mission statement that divides Dylan's work into two periods, too - the era prior to 1979, and the era after it. While the tone of the message would broaden and become more complex, particularly after 1989's Oh Mercy, the idea that a person is either working for good or working for evil is present from the chorus of "Gotta Serve Somebody" up to Dylan's most recent output. Concerning the lyrics and sound, I hear echoes of Memphis Slim's "Mother Earth," though you might not feel the same way.

02. Got My Mind Made Up - Knocked Out Loaded - 1986

To be clear, Knocked Out Loaded is not a great record. It resulted from a variety of recording sessions held between 1983 and 1986, and the record suffers for this lack of focus. With that said, Knocked Out Loaded has some great tracks. The first on this compilation is "Got My Mind Made Up," about which I don't have a lot to say. It includes the only reference to Libya in Bob Dylan's recordings, as far as I know, and the music has something of a 1950s Bo Diddley sound. One of my favorite modern bands, Langhorne Slim, recorded a rocking version in 2014 for A Tribute To Bob Dylan in the '80s.

03. I & I - Infidels - 1983

Bob Dylan's 1983 album, Infidels, was considered to be something of a return to form at the time of its release, but to my ears it's just another of the singer's excellent 1980s records. In full disclosure, Shot Of Love is a personal favorite, but regardless, I understand why the general public took to Infidels - it was a distinct move away from the sermonizing of Bob Dylan's albums recorded between 1979 and 1981. Listening to "I & I," you can hear that shift, but the lyricist is clearly still quite preoccupied with spiritual matters. The rough cut of this song is a little stronger, but the overdubs do little to harm its powerful darkness.

04. Trouble In Mind - Slow Train Coming, Outtake - 1979

Labeling this song as an outtake is a tad misleading, since it was officially released as the b-side to "Gotta Serve Somebody" in 1979, but it was not released on the album itself. That's a shame, because I'd say it's one of the strongest tracks from those sessions. It sounds like a reflection on the singer's life before his conversion, as would be heard again in a more melancholy later song, "Every Grain Of Sand." While this song is something of a rarity in Dylan's catalog, you can find a beautiful remastered version it on Pure Dylan: Intimate Look At Bob Dylan, a compilation released by Rolling Stone in Germany in 2011. If you would not like to go so far afield, you can replace this song with "Seeing The Real You At Last," another excellent 1980s mid-tempo rocker.

05. Jokerman - Infidels - 1983

"Jokerman" is the lead song off of Bob Dylan's 1983 Infidels record, and it's evident why it was picked to start the album. The song is one of the singer's visionary tales, in the vein of "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," "Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands" and "Changing Of The Guards." I'm not fully sure what the lyrics are getting at, but there's quite a bit to take in. It was inspired by journeys around the Caribbean in the early 1980s - these are the same inspirations for "Caribbean Wind" and "I & I," among others. Moreover, as is typical for the album, the production and instrumentation are superb. An outtake exists, but I think the released version is superior. This track was accompanied by a music video, and would go on to be performed extraordinarily well in a live setting on the David Letterman show, as well as on tour in 1994, 1995, and 2003.

06. Saved - Saved - 1980

Though Saved was recorded at the same studio as its predecessor, Slow Train Coming, it had an appreciably rougher sound. With a minimum of overdubs, it is effectively a live recordings. Unfortunately, Dylan and his road band had trouble replicating the sound from their concerts, and the album is not as strong as it could have been. Happily, the title track suffered little from this process; I'd make the case that it is a major exception, being performed more tightly here than it generally was on tour. The piano riff in the middle of the song is especially groovy.

07. Blind Willie McTell - Infidels, Outtake - 1983

This is one of Bob Dylan's indisputably towering, classic recordings. Strangely, it was not included in Infidels final track list, though that didn't keep it from folks who sought out bootleg recordings. Finally released on the first installment of Sony's Bootleg Series, it immediately attained a status appropriate for its stature. The central figure, Blind Willie McTell, seems to have been chosen primarily for the meter of the song rather than any specific blues-singing abilities; he's an excellent performer, but you'd be hard-pressed to make the case that he's an extraordinarily noteworthy blues singer. This is more an excuse for the writer to explore themes of his nation's complex, dark history. Using the melody from "St. James Infirmary," to which he makes explicit reference in the final verse, he weaves through fleeting images of plantations burning, whips cracking, and tribes moaning. Mark Knopfler's guitar acts as a stirring counterpoint for Dylan's piano, and the acoustic version here is even more potent than the alternative electric cut recorded at the same sessions.

08. Trouble - Shot Of Love - 1981

Another song about which I have little to say. The lyrics are not particularly compelling, but the overall sound and effect are powerful. The band strikes a brooding blues riff, and the singer explores his preoccupation with what he perceives as the world's corruption.

09. Ninety Miles An Hour (Down A Dead End Street) - Down In The Groove - 1988

As with Knocked Out Loaded, Down In The Groove is an assembly of songs recorded at various sessions. Together, the two comprise something of a sequel to Self-Portrait. Concerning this song, I was primarily familiar with it from Hank Snow's delightful country version. It was quite a surprise to hear Bob Dylan play it in a gospel style, reminiscent of Saved's "Satisfied Mind." The harmonizing is especially interesting here, as the singer employs some male singers in contradiction of his typical dependence on a female chorus.

10. Property Of Jesus - Saved - 1981

This is a pretty cool gospel meditation that reflects the same concerns found on Dylan's two previous records, Slow Train Coming and Saved. In particular, it concerns the narrator's feeling of being set apart from his contemporaries, who have a more secular character and have little time for his spiritual mindset. Musically, it's great, with a live-in-the-room sound accentuated by someone going to town on a cowbell. The rhythm section is top-notch. It is notable for being the only song from Shot Of Love to never be performed live, though it would take almost ten years for "Trouble" to get a live airing. I'm of the opinion that this song, along with "Slow Train Coming," represents one of the first instances of the writer arguing against globalization - he rails against "Olympic Games" for reasons not explicated - a theme that would be more fully explored on Infidels.

11. When He Returns - Slow Train Coming - 1979

"When He Returns" is the closing track of 1979's Slow Train Coming, and with good reason: it's hard to follow this song up. It's a stark statement of expectation for the second coming of Christ, sung with only piano accompaniment. Interestingly, the song was almost not sung by Dylan at all - he originally intended to have one of his backing singers record the song. Luckily, an engineer recorded the demo and Dylan liked it enough to sing the song himself on the record. Apparently, the studio recording sheets indicate that an alternative version was recorded with the band, but it does not circulate. One more reason to keep hoping for a gospel-era Bootleg Series release, I guess!

12. Solid Rock - Saved - 1980

One of the standout tracks from Saved, "Solid Rock" is also one of only a couple that were played on the Never-Ending Tour, having been revived in 2002. It's not hard to hear why - Dylan's band gets a muscular looping groove going, and even his typically reserved lead guitarist gets a chance to shine. The song was well-received on the road, and had a few arrangements tried out from 1979 to 1981. Lyrically, it's quite similar to "Trouble" or "Slow Train Coming," as the singer reflects on the world's flaws, but it carries with it a more hopeful attitude for redemption.

13. Lord Protect My Child - Infidels, Outtake - 1983

Here is a brief, somewhat slight song recorded for, but not released on Infidels. It is superior to that album's "Sweetheart Like You" and "License To Kill," but may have rung as overly confessional for the singer. In any case, it was eventually released alongside "Blind Willie McTell" on The Bootleg Series, Volumes 1-3. The narrator expresses concern over the state of the world that his child will grow up in, which is a fairly common theme for Bob Dylan in this period (albeit with an uncharacteristically personal touch). Most intriguing is the way that the vocals, strong as ever, present something of a counterpoint to the musical backing. Not having a musical education myself, I would find it difficult to express this in words, but the vocal melody does not proceed in quite the way the listener would expect it to. Whatever the case, it's a pretty great little track.

14. Man Of Peace - Infidels - 1983

This is another marvelous song from Bob Dylan's 1983 album, and it outspokenly puts the lie to any claims that the singer abandoned his focus on the Bible. Someone plays a blazing slide guitar on this song, and while it's been performed excellently in live incarnations over the years, the original is still among the best outings. Evidently, it was recorded in only a single take!

15. Brownsville Girl - Knocked Out Loaded - 1986

"Brownsville Girl" is often regarded as the masterpiece of Knocked Out Loaded, and with good reason. Despite some unsympathetic production that de-emphasized the lead vocals, this is one of Bob Dylan's low-key epics in the vein of "Highlands." He recounts a relationship intertwined with his memories of several films starring Gregory Peck. The song has some great non-sequiturs, but they don't distract from the central theme of American cinema and lost love. In terms of background, the song was originally recorded during the Empire Burlesque sessions as "New Danville Girl." The version I recommend is the one from 2007's Dylan compilation, as the song was remastered to present a cleaner overall sound, though I've not heard the one on Amazon's 2013 Complete Album Collection - The '80's, which I tended to depend on for these songs. As a fun side-note, comedian Reggie Watts recorded a very entertaining cover of this song, which you can find on 2014's A Tribute To Bob Dylan in the '80s.

Volume Two

01. Shot Of Love - Shot Of Love - 1981

The title track from Shot Of Love also happens to be one of that record's strongest performances. Surprisingly, it was not produced by Chuck Plotkin, who recorded the rest of the album - this one was produced by Bumps Blackwell, who had an excellent reputation for having recorded Ray Charles, among others. Here he achieved a raw sound that is significantly more impressive than the circulating alternate take of the song.

02. Someone's Got A Hold Of My Heart - Infidels, Outtake - 1983

"Someone's Got A Hold of My Heart" is fascinating as a rough draft of Empire Burlesque's "Tight Connection To My Heart." Melodically identical, the song would transition from a fairly basic, emotive song to a heavily produced, largely opaque final version. Part of this is down to rewrites - the original version is full of Biblical allusions and original writing, which the Empire Burlesque version trades for cinema references. These are interesting, but hardly as powerful as the earlier draft. Luckily, the originally circulates both in this version, released officially on The Bootleg Series, Volumes 1-3, as well as an unreleased version from the same sessions.

03. Let's Stick Together - Down In The Groove - 1988

This song, originally released in 1962 by Wilbert Harrison, was a memorable hit for the band Canned Heat in 1970. Bob Dylan opened his 1988 album with the cover, which is quite effective as a bluesy rock song. The harmonica playing, in particular, is outstanding.

04. I Believe In You - Slow Train Coming - 1979

More than most of the songs on Slow Train Coming, "I Believe In You" bears the mark of guitarist Mark Knopfler. His clean sound allows Dylan's deeply passionate vocals to shine, and his sympathetic accompaniment emphasizes the bright, optimistic theme of the song. The song would go on to be performed regularly in concert, both during the gospel tours of 1979 to 1981 as well as semi-regularly on the Never-Ending Tour.

05. You Changed My Life - Shot of Love, Outtake - 1981

"You Changed My Life" is one of my favorite songs from this era, as it's just so hard not to love. The rhythm section is especially strong, propelling the song forwarded with a rollicking sound that would later be employed on live renditions of "Early Morning Rain" and "Series Of Dreams." Lyrically, the song is interesting as a counterpoint to other tracks chronicling the narrator's feeling of being pulled from a corrupt world, like "Trouble In Mind," "Property Of Jesus," and "Solid Rock" - this one dwells on the narrator's optimism rather than the feeling of being above an evil material existence. In that way, it is more closely connected with one of the writer's masterpieces, "Every Grain Of Sand." Perhaps those two songs' similar thematic content is what kept this recording from being included on the album upon release in 1981. Whatever the reason, I'm grateful that Sony opted to release it on The Bootleg Series, Volumes 1-3.

06. Something's Burning Baby - Empire Burlesque - 1985

Here we have this compilation's only track from 1985's Empire Burlesque. It's not necessarily a bad record, but most of its songs were later performed in much more effective live renditions. Unfortunately, "Something's Burning Baby" has never been played in concert. The production threatens to overwhelm most of the songs on this album, but there are two notable exceptions - "Something's Burning Baby" and "Dark Eyes." The first of these circulates in an alternate take, but it went through a couple of lyrical improvements before the final release; in particular, the rewrites served to emphasis the apocalyptic nature of the narrative, placing the song in a context similar to "Caribbean Wind," "The Groom's Still Waiting At The Altar," and "Angelina," among others. Arthur Baker's production here also manages to enhance the song, rather than detract from it, as the sound on the final release is a distinct improvement on the outtake. The best aspect of the song, though, is Dylan's vocals - he really gives it his all. As for the second song from Empire Burlesque referenced above, "Dark Eyes," it will appear on a later all-acoustic DIY Playlist, where it fits much more comfortably.

07. Union Sundown - Infidels - 1983

This song is a reminder that the writer never really moved away from secular social causes, even though he hadn't written such an avowed "protest" song since 1975. Between 1975 and 1983, however, Bob Dylan's writing had become much more focused on faith, so this new protest anthem carried with it a spiritual dimension. As noted by Clinton Heylin in his book, Still On The Road, "Union Sundown" echoes Dylan's earlier song, "North Country Blues," updated to reflect the significant globalization that had occurred since the 1960s. While the outtake is quite remarkable in its own right, with many lyrics that wouldn't survive to the final draft, the bluesy guitar and reverberated vocals make the version on Infidels an excellent addition to Dylan's 1980s catalog.

08. Angelina - Shot Of Love, Outtake - 1981

"Angelina" is part of a core group of song from Bob Dylan's Shot Of Love sessions to dwell powerfully on apocalyptic and redemptive imagery. Along with the other tracks, "The Groom's Still Waiting At The Alter" and "Caribbean Wind," "Angelina" would have formed a poetic backbone to the record if it had been released on the album in 1981; as it stands, the song would have to wait until The Bootleg Series, Volumes 1-3 to be heard by the public. This song has sparer instrumentation than most of the songs on Shot Of Love, so perhaps it was found to be too different from the surrounding recordings. The backing vocals are put to excellent use here as a chorus to strengthen the song's single-word chorus. Unfortunately, unlike its sister songs, "Angelina" has never been performed live.

09. Slow Train - Slow Train Coming - 1979

I'm not sure if this can be called a title track. It's quite similar to the title of the album, but a word seems to have been omitted... Whatever the proper nomenclature, "Slow Train" is one of the most effective songs on Dylan's 1979 album. It would be echoed by an excellent 1991 Buddy Guy record, Damn Right I've Got The Blues, and it represents Dylan in his most effective R & B mode. He rails against earthly corruption with righteous anger, and the sound is enhanced powerfully with a horn section. In a rather amusing story of what might have been, the singer had to choose whether to take this horn section or his backing singers on the road in 1979 - budgetary restrictions - and he opted for the singers. One wonders how his live sets might have sounded over the following decade with horn accompaniment.

10. Caribbean Wind - Shot Of Love, Outtake - 1981

It's been referred to several times in the notes above, and with good cause - "Caribbean Wind" is one of Bob Dylan's best songs of the 1980s, though it occupies a peculiar place in the singer's catalog. Like "She's Your Lover Now" in the 1960s, the singer apparently tried this song many times without ever quite nailing it down. The gulf between the single live version, the circulating outtake, and the version released on Biograph (the one on this compilation) make the mercurial nature of the song quite clear. The song's story is a compelling one, as the singer confronts not only his weakness when confronted with the possibility of carnal lust, but also the world's general corruption. It was inspired by Dylan's travels in the Caribbean, as he evidently dreamed the song up while sailing that region. If ever there was a song for which I'd love to hear the complete recording sessions, this is the one.

11. Foot Of Pride - Infidels, Outtake - 1983

This track was the subject of some deeply contentious recording sessions, having been played an alleged 43 times in the studio, including a bossa nova and reggae version! It was almost included in the final release of Infidels, but was sadly left on the cutting room floor. Given its stream-of-consciousness lyrics, putting across a scathing critique of contemporary culture, this is really quite a loss. The song was finally released in 1991 on The Bootleg Series, Volumes 1-3, and it is one of the greatest gems of that collection. Surprisingly, it was actually covered by Lou Reed at 1992's tribute concert.

12. Pressing On - Saved - 1980

"Pressing On" is one of my favorite Bob Dylan songs, because it's just so inspiring. Rather than looking at the world's failures, the singer emphasizes his own experience in moving past worldly weakness. It's hard not to be moved by such a powerful performance, which was luckily caught effectively on tape at the Saved recording sessions. Interestingly, a third verse was originally present, but was either cut before recording or cut in the editing process; you can hear that verse on some live performances of the song.

13. Are You Ready? - Saved - 1980

1980's Saved ends with this confrontational track, which harkens back to the more fire-and-brimstone Dylan of Slow Train Coming. With a beautiful harmonica solo and a fiery band performance, the singer describes Armageddon and asks the listener if he or she is ready for that inevitable occurrence if it was to occur today. Intriguingly, this was the only song from Saved that had not been written prior to the singer's 1979 tour in support of Slow Train Coming.

14. The Groom's Still Waiting At The Altar - Shot Of Love - 1981

Though it was not included on the released record in 1981, this has luckily been included in editions published since 1985. Thank goodness, since it represents one of Bob Dylan's peaks as a blues performer. Here he marries a muscular blues performance with lyrics about the sorry state of the world. In particular, I like the ambition of the couplet "Don't know what I can saw about Claudette, ain't seen her since January / She could be respectably married or running a whorehouse in Buenos Aires." Incidentally, this is one of the strangely numerous reference to Argentina in Dylan's early 1980s output; other such songs include "Angelina" and "Union Sundown." The live performances from 1980's Musical Retrospective Tour represent an earlier draft, with lyrics that would be improved by the time the song was recorded for Shot Of Love.

15. Every Grain Of Sand - Shot Of Love - 1981

Along with "Blind Willie McTell," this song represents the height of the writer's lyrical prowess in the 1980s. "Every Grain Of Sand" was originally composed as a poem, shared with the writer Paul Williams backstage at a concert in 1980, but was eventually set to music. A demo, released on The Bootleg Series, Volumes 1-3, documents that the song was effectively in its final lyrical form from early in the process, but the beautiful accompaniment found on the final release had yet to be added. This is one of Bob Dylan's most moving songs, as he uses classic poetic language, Biblical allusion, and confessional honesty to convey the experience of the person who has found redemption in something greater than himself.

I hope you enjoy the compilation. It's quite easy to compile, as you can find virtually all of the tracks on Amazon's Complete Collections - '70's and '80's. The one challenge will be locating "Trouble In Mind," though if you are willing to purchase the German Pure Dylan album, you won't regret it. As far as production tweaks go, the songs from Biograph need to be raised in volume. Similarly, "Something's Burning Baby" also needs its volume raised, as the vocals are a bit buried when juxtaposed with surrounding songs. Otherwise, you've got yourself a pretty representative collection here. I find it's surprisingly good to work out with, though your mileage may vary.

Come on back next month for another installment of the DIY Playlist. Until then, keep yourself healthy and listen to some good tunes.


Monday, February 1, 2016

From New Orleans To New Jerusalem: Unreleased Live Recordings, 1997

From New Orleans To New Jerusalem
Live Recordings - 1997

Shooting Star - Live - Fukuoka - February 14, 1997
I & I - Live - Fredericton - April 7, 1997
Maggie's Farm - Live - Lincoln - August 3, 1997
One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later) - Live - Scranton - August 12, 1997
Obviously 5 Believers - Live - Waltham - April 12, 1997
Blind Willie McTell - Live - Montreal - August 5, 1997
Can't Wait - Live - Starkville - October 24, 1997
Long Black Veil - Live - Wheeling - April 28, 1997
Cold Irons Bound - Live - Lisle - November 11, 1997
Pretty Peggy-O - Live - Albany - April 18, 1997
Don't Think Twice, It's Alright - Live - Los Angeles - December 20, 1997
Shelter From The Storm - Live - Tokyo - February 10, 1997
God Knows - Live - Bournemouth - October 2, 1997

This was a deeply challenging collection to assemble, because 1997 is one of the best years of Bob Dylan's Never-Ending Tour.

As a bit of history, this was the year that Dylan released his notable comeback record, Time Out Of Mind. That album, possibly influenced by the preceding half-decade of performing and recording songs from the traditions of North America and the British Isles, offered a unique and forward-looking interpretation of the singer's past. While rooted in history, Dylan had enlisted the help of Daniel Lanois to produce a lush modern sound. He soon took these songs on the road, and turned increasingly away from the earlier songs that had characterized much of his 1990s live show.

To that end, this compilation includes two new songs from Time Out Of Mind, along with some traditional songs, some recently introduced songs from Dylan's 1960s catalog, and some intriguing songs from his past handful of releases.

The first track, "Shooting Star," is admittedly a peculiar start. It's a slow, tentative rendition that picks up steam as it rolls along. The portrait feels like an artist performing, as he would describe on-stage the following year, for himself rather than an audience of adoring fans; the results are transcendent.

"I & I" is one of Dylan's more successful songs of the preceding decade, though it had a tendency to get mired in lengthy jams throughout much of the 1990s. The version here was already excellent, but I slimmed it down just a touch through the editing process. This is the first song on the set emphasizing two sounds that would dominate the band's profile throughout the year - jagged, distorted guitar and resonant drums.

"Maggie's Farm" is among the best arrangements of this song performed in the half century since its conception. It gets the full Time Out Of Mind treatment, pulling back from what can some times be a bombastic approach to instead be represented by a slick beat and snaky guitars.

The next song, "One Of Us Must Know," is a very rare outing for this Blonde On Blonde classic. After one or two performances in 1976, and a strong showing in 1978, it only appeared again at a handful of dates in 1997 before disappearing permanently (as of 2015). The listener may take issue with the occasionally less than perfect lyrical recall, but the passion of the vocals, both primary and backup in the final chorus, put the song across with feeling.

"Obviously 5 Believers" is another Blonde On Blonde song that has been played only rarely outside the studio. Though it was played with some regularity in 1995, it only appeared briefly in 1996 and 1997 before fading away entirely. One suspects that it was part and parcel with Dylan's refocus on sparse, riff-oriented rhythmic blues tracks in the mid-1990s; this was the same impulse that produced much of the comparatively sparse, focused record referred to above. While his session players had evidently struggled with the rhythm in 1966, his 1997 band proves more than up to the challenge of producing the scathing blues track here.

The sixth performance, "Blind Willie McTell," is an exciting first. The song, which had only grown in stature since its release on 1991's The Bootleg Series, Volume 1-3, has often been declared one of the writer's masterpieces. Its sudden appearance in 1997 was not a coincidence though - apparently Dylan had heard The Band performing this song earlier in the decade and decided he could do it better than them onstage. This friendly rivalry would produce wonderful results for fans, as the singer would go on to play the song beautifully throughout the next two decades.

"Can't Wait" is one of the two songs from the recently released Time Out Of Mind, and it does not stray distantly from its studio incarnation. For better or for worse, though fans generally hew to the former assessment, it is rendered here in a cleaner sound than would be possible under Daniel Lanois' style of production. Many of the songs from those sessions would see release in the late 1990s on semi-obscure Sony/Columbia releases in live form, reinforcing the impression that Dylan had not necessarily been happy with the overwhelming swampy presence of the producer on his most recent record.

The next track, "Long Black Veil," is one of a variety of songs that many fans had long wished Bob Dylan to cover in performance. Having done justice to so many American, Scottish, British and Irish songs over the previous thirty years, listeners were delighted when the singer finally unveiled his deeply atmospheric rendering of this beloved ballad. Though many of his Americana covers in the 1999 - 2002 era would be produced in acoustic arrangements (and indeed you can find a later performance of this song on the Thousand Highways compilation Keep Humming), this rendition is in a slow, brooding electric style.

"Cold Irons Bound" is one of the highlights of this compilation, and it would go on to be one of the highlights of the next ten years. David Kemper's addition to the band is nowhere more valued than in his drumming contributions to this powerfully rhythmic experience.

Though "Pretty Peggy-O" already appeared on the One More Night overview compilations, I couldn't bear to leave it off of my 1997-focused collection. Since its appearance on a noted bootleg compilation, Bathed In A Stream Of Pure Heat, this recording from Albany, New York has long been considered one of the gems of the Never-Ending Tour, and I'd be inclined to agree.

"Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" represents a song that was really starting to come into its own. This may seem to be a bit absurd as a remark about a song originally recorded in 1962, but Bob Dylan had avoided performing the track for a fair amount of his middle period. After he "went electric" in 1965, the song would go on to appear with regularity in 1974 and 1978 alone before becoming something of a standard in 1986 and later. Outside of an inventive reggae arrangement in 1978, it had often been performed either solo or with minimal accompaniment, so the song hadn't really been able to evolve past its simplest form; this began to change in the mid-1990s, though, as the song rapidly transitioned into something of a bluegrass stomper. Sometimes it was more relaxed, while other times it was more reflective, as it appears here; either way, it soon became one of the most reliable songs in the singer's songbook.

The penultimate performance, a Tokyo rendition of "Shelter From The Storm," was both an early and a late addition to the compilation. I love this unique, bouncy arrangement, but it went by the wayside as I came to emphasize the darker side to Dylan's 1997 performance catalog; only in the last few days before publishing did the song come back to its place in the setlist. It's admittedly a bit meandering, but the overall tone of the recording is remarkable - the song evolves dramatically from its relaxed early minutes to an intense conclusion. My recommendation is to just get into the groove and go with it. One intriguing note about this one - the inventive arrangement of "Shelter From The Storm" that appeared on One More Night: Volume Four would also originate in Tokyo. I wonder what it is about that city that inspires such remarkable, bizarre versions of this song?

"God Knows" is a song that I'm drawn to, and this version is an exemplary one. Beginning with an almost solo vocal and guitar performance, the song grows into a powerful electric fervor before slowing to an elegant closure. Again, Kemper's drumming pulls the track together from start to finish.

Listeners may find a couple of omissions to take issue with here: other Time Out Of Mind songs are absent, including "Love Sick," "'Til I Fell In Love With You," "Make You Feel My Love," and "Not Dark Yet" were played in 1997 but are not represented on this release. The first three of those are likely to appear on next month's 1998 compilation, After Hours; while "Not Dark Yet" would go on to attain extraordinary stature by 1999 and demonstrate that quality time and again over the following decade, it was still evolving in its earliest performances. One other notable performance from this year, "When I Paint My Masterpiece," from the singer's December El Rey residency, is not present here - I don't agree with the common consensus, and find it a bit rushed. You might want to seek it out, since your take could very well differ from my own.

Whatever you take away from this release, I hope you find something to enjoy. 1997 was a remarkable year for the evolution of Bob Dylan's performance art, and I'm happy to finally add it to the Thousand Highways Collection.

Next month will feature another long-awaited compilation: 1998. A handful of songs from that year are featured on the overview set, One More Night, but this one will be a keeper you don't want to miss.

As always, keep yourself healthy and listen to some good tunes. Thanks for listening!


February 3, 2016 Update: I've been informed that the date on the rear art is incorrect for "Blind Willie McTell" - it should read August 5 instead of April 5. I'll try to get new art up as soon as possible.