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Monday, January 6, 2014

In Prague: Unreleased Live Recordings, 1995

  

In Prague: Live 1995

Down In The Flood - March 11
Just Like A Woman - March 13
Tangled Up In Blue - March 12
License To Kill - March 13
Boots Of Spanish Leather - March 11
Mr. Tambourine Man - March 13
Desolation Row - March 12
God Knows - March 11
If Not For You - March 11
All Along The Watchtower - March 13
Shelter From The Storm - March 11
It's All Over Now, Baby Blue - March 11

Lossless Links:

MP3 Link:

Friends,

This is one of the keepers! Collected here are what I believe to be the best performances from Bob Dylan’s three-night residency in Prague during the Spring of 1995. This was a legendary series of concerts, as the vocals are even more engaged than usual. After “Tangled Up In Blue,” the singer notes that he has the flu, but that at least Prague is a fine place to recover from this ailment. Clearly, the recovery is working, as all three nights were truly remarkable.

The first song is a debut of the Basement Tapes-era classic “Down In The Flood.” It would go on to become a mainstay of the live set in the years to come, but at the time this was quite a surprise. Following that are a couple of songs very familiar to the collector of Never-Ending Tour tapes: “Just Like A Woman” and “Tangled Up In Blue.” All are exceptional, with the phrasing on each extraordinary, allowing the listener to hear these words anew. Then, of course, comes the first show-stopper – “License To Kill.” This is a song that is virtually always performed well, but it may be at its best on this tape. Unfortunately, the vocals are a bit low in the mix at times, and while I have edited the track to make them a bit more prominent, they remain intermittently indistinct. It’s really no matter, though, since the feeling comes across with every second.

The beautiful tapestry continues in the acoustic set. “Boots Of Spanish Leather” is relatively up-tempo, but the mournful soul of the song is at the forefront. “Mr. Tambourine Man,” on the other hand, is deeply meditative. Many regard this song as rarely sounding better than in Prague, 1995. The acoustic set wraps up with a majestic rendition of “Desolation Row.” The few lyrical misses in these tracks are unable to dim the fire that comes forth with each verse. There were some minor digital distortions in these files that have been carefully excised to present the songs in a fittingly elegant fashion. Hopefully that has been a success.

The final five songs are again backed by Dylan’s band in a fully electric style. “God Knows” propels the listener forward into a lovely “If Not For You.” “All Along The Watchtower,” again a song that has the potential to feel rote, is rendered with the fire and brimstone suggested by the menacing lyrics. A graceful “Shelter From The Storm” completes the electric collection, undoubtedly the best that the song had sounded since 1987. Finally, the set is completed with a track that many consider one of the most beautiful performances of the Never-Ending Tour: "It's All over Now, Baby Blue." Dylan takes the grace of the 1994 arrangement and achieves a perfect reading of the song.

This has taken some time to compile and remaster, but I think the results speak for themselves. It would be reasonable to quibble with the song selection, as a number of other songs played during the residency are not included here. These include “Man In The Long Black Coat,” “I Don’t Believe You,” “Don’t Think Twice (It’s Alright),” and “Maggie’s Farm,” among others. I just didn’t find that those songs were performed as exquisitely as the thirteen here. There has been some work to balance the volume between tracks, and between instruments and vocals; despite the clarity of the recording, Dylan’s voice was fairly quiet on the tapes. I believe that this was largely, if inconsistently, successful.

I hope this collection stands as a worthy companion to Bob Dylan’s 1995 Prague Residency. It was a legendary series of shows, and deserves to be remembered. If you are wondering where you can buy the original studio versions of these songs, look no further:


Next week, we will be skipping ahead to 1999 for an overview of one of the most spectacular years of Bob Dylan's touring career. Until then, keep yourself healthy and listen to some good tunes.

-CS

15 comments:

  1. Amazing versions - what a residency that was ! Does anyone else really do a "residency" by the way - or only Dylan ? It just doesnt sound right saying it about any other artist ! No Man In a Long Black Coat ? Tough omission ....

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    1. I think residencies are reasonably common among certain acts, but I couldn't say for sure. The most common, of course, is the "Vegas Residency" - see Elvis Presley or Britney Spears, though these are longer-term things.

      As for "Long Black Coat," it was a surprisingly easy omission for me, haha. I find Dylan's voice a little whiny during much of the 1992-1998 era, and all renditions from Prague '95 have a bit too much of that singing style. It's an excellent song, at it'll turn up on a later compilation, but the versions from 1995 don't work for my ears. To each his own, I suppose.

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    2. maybe Elvis could carry off the term "residency" - but no one else, bar Bob Dylan !

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  2. Can't wait to hear this. Do you plan to cover 1996-8, or are those years poorly regarded?

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    1. No covering 1996-1998 on this blog, I'm afraid. They are generally considered pretty good years, but they aren't my cup of tea. For 1996, I recommend the concert recording titled "Soul," which was from Berlin if memory serves. For 1997, check out Bathed in a Stream of Pure Heat; this is one of the best Dylan compilations around, and there is no way that I could improve upon it. 1998 is interesting, in that I attempted to compile a release but found it ultimately unsatisfying. The project was shelved.

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    2. Thanks for the recommendations. Given how incredibly good you have been at curating these compilations, perhaps when you are done you could be persuaded to do a final post(s) recommending existing bootlegs that cover the periods that you are not addressing (I know you have given some already here and there, but it might be worth putting them in one place (a comp of comps!)? Or even a series of reviews of the stuff you love best.

      I’m not an uber-completist, but I will feel the need to try to cover the pre-65 and 1996-8 period with some compilations that do a similar job.

      I have stacks of boots already, but they are mostly individual shows rather than cream-of-the-crop comps or excellent outtake&live year-in-review sets like you have assembled here.

      Once again – THANK YOU

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    3. Will do! Thanks for the suggestion.

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  3. I've downloaded this, not yet listened, looking forward to it. Thank you as ever.

    This is interesting, your comments about the mid-90s. As I mentioned before, I'm very new to this "unreleased recordings" business, haha, and especially new to downloading concerts. And right around this period is when I start to have troubles. My first hint was the "Lay Lady Lay" from one of the Supper Club performances, which I thought was just awful - yet symptomatic of his singing issues going forward. (I do, however, like many of the other Supper Club takes.) I've downloaded a variety of shows, recommended and otherwise, and it's often a struggle. And I downloaded the four show I've personally been to, which were in 1995 (RFK), 1998 (Cole Field House, MD), 2001 (Philly), & 2002 (Fairfax, VA) - and the 1995 show is by far the best, most listenable. The other shows have started to make me think I'm not really cut out for the larger NET experience.

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  4. If anyone can recommend me a MS Word template for making the covers I'd be grateful - I'm having a bit of a nightmare with them.

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  5. Holy crap, I just heard Tambourine Man. If it isn’t the best version I ever heard. For a long time I’ve had a copy of the version from two nights before from the ½ a Pound bootleg, and thought it amazing. But compared to this version it’s an abridged, sloppy mess. My word.

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    1. Yeah, I can't really imagine a more beautiful performance of this song. The tape that I had originally had some rather frustrating digital noise on it, but that's been excised, leaving only this masterpiece. I had the joy of listening to it on a snowy drive home from the library a couple days ago, and it was downright magical.

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  6. Hey everyone,

    For the moment, links are available for the esteemed 1995 European Tour compilation over at Expecting Rain: http://www.expectingrain.com/discussions/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=78882

    If you enjoy the Prague residency, I'm sure you'll like the tour overview as well.

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    1. Thanks!

      I wanted to say... I've listened to these Prague recordings a couple of times, and they are fantastic. It really sounds, to me, like his voice is stronger here than at any time since the mid-80s.

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  7. Many thanks for a wonderful record

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