The Rolling Thunder Revue
When I Paint My Masterpiece - Live - New York City - December 8, 1975
It Ain't Me, Babe - Live - New York City - December 8, 1975
The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll - Live - New Haven - November 13, 1975 (Early)
Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You - Live - New York City - December 8, 1975
It Takes A Lot To Laugh - Live - New York City - December 8, 1975
Romance In Durango - Live - Waterbury - November 11, 1975
Isis - Live - Toronto - December 1, 1975
Never Let Me Go - Live - Waterbury - November 11, 1975
I Dreamed I Saw Saint Augustine - Live - Toronto - December 1, 1975
Dark As A Dungeon - Live - Boston - November 21, 1975 (Late)
Mama, You Been On My Mind - Live - Boston - November 21, 1975 (Late)
I Don't Believe You - Live - Boston - November 21, 1975 (Late)
Oh Sister - Live - Providence - November 4, 1975 (Late)
Hurricane - Live - Toronto - December 2, 1975
One More Cup Of Coffee - Live - Providence - November 4, 1975 (Late)
Sara - Live - Plymouth - October 31, 1975
Just Like A Woman - Live - New York City - December 8, 1975
A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall - Live - Waterbury - November 11, 1975
The Times They Are A-Changin' - Live - Toronto - December 1, 1975
I Shall Be Released - Live - New York City - December 8, 1975
Mama, You Been On My Mind - Live - Bangor - November 27, 1975
Isis - Live - Waterbury - November 11, 1975
It Takes A Lot To Laugh [Extended Edition] - Live - New York City - December 8, 1975
Welcome to the Rolling Thunder Revue. This set is made up of eighteen tracks depicting the mayhem associated with Bob Dylan's outstanding 1975 tour. It's all a bit hectic, and sometimes sounds a bit disorganized, but the result is some of the best art in the man's career.
I won't be writing a history of the Revue here. For that, I suggest consulting Larry Sloman's On The Road and/or Sid Griffin's Shelter From The Storm; as always, the best account of the music is Paul Williams' Performing Artist. I mention these because it's worth reading about the tour. It's aesthetic and sound were very tied up in its genesis - Dylan collaborated with playwright Jacques Levy for the composition of his new Desire songs and stage direction for the show, while recruiting various New York Greenwich Village personalities both known and unknown to populate a caravan inspired by his recent visit to rural France.
Concerning the songs themselves, they really form a rich tapestry of Bob Dylan's music up to 1975. Desire is very well-represented, having just been recorded prior to the tour. Interestingly, the texture of Dylan's voice and delivery change on these quite a bit from the start of the tour to its conclusion barely over one month later. Generally, early dates catch the singer with an airier voice but the arrangements suffer from caution; by the tour's end, the arrangements are loose and lived-in but the vocals are necessarily rougher. Unsurprisingly, Columbia's own excellent document of the period is largely derived from shows in the middle of the tour. My selections are a bit broader - songs that benefit from a bit of madness ("Isis", "When I Paint My Masterpiece") are generally from later in the tour, while songs that benefit from more precise vocals ("One More Cup Of Coffee," "Sara") tend to originate from earlier dates. The balance come from mid-November.
Note that no songs are included from the esteemed Montreal show of December 4. This is entirely down to sound quality, and good representation elsewhere. Columbia has done a very good job documenting this tour in general, and that concert in particular. Similarly, the Wolfgang's Vault soundboard releases were excluded here since they are considered officially released. You aren't missing too much there, though, since their thinness can be detrimental to the overall sound at times. If you like the tracks on Unknown Country, I strongly recommend seeking out these various official releases.
As far as particularly strong performances, it would be very hard to single them out. The relatively short running time of Bob Dylan's contribution to the Rolling Thunder shows (which were composed of many artists' sets) made it possible to include a fairly complete hypothetical setlist. Of the included tracks, "Isis" sounds particularly wild, "Hurricane" is an exceptionally spirited performance, and "Just Like A Woman" features a harmony vocal that is dramatically improved from earlier appearances in the tour; "Hattie Carroll" is also slowed down a bit, providing a particularly moving experience. Finally, the rhythm section on "One More Cup Of Coffee" is more inventive than some nights, which improves an always-welcome song just a hair.
A purist might note that the acoustic sets were sometimes longer, and this is true, but Dylan's solo portions were rarely the most noteworthy parts of the show. The final two songs of each night, "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" and "This Land Is Your Land," are omitted because they are just not that interesting. Both were very collaborative, and in my eyes suffer a bit for this. I'm sure it would have been great to be there, but I rarely want to hear Roger McGuinn when listening to a Bob Dylan album - they duet on "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" - and "This Land Is Your Land" tends to be a bit rudderless.
Edits were kept to a minimum, but some work needed to be done. The tracks from December 1 contained a very distracting buzz, and this was eliminated through limited noise reduction; the overall sound was not hurt a bit. The tracks from December 2 ran fast, and had to be slowed slightly; similarly, the December 8 tracks were sourced from Knight of the Hurricane, and had to be sped up slightly. Admittedly, between-song chatter is not emphasized here, in order to accommodate all eighteen songs. The only track that really loses much from this omission is "It Takes A Lot To Laugh," in which Dylan introduces Robbie Robertson as a guest on guitar and describes attendee Al Grossman as a man who "won't be the next president." Your guess is as good as mine.
I hope you enjoy the songs! This compilation took quite a bit more work than most of the Thousand Highways Collection, due to the sound peculiarities discussed above and the rather extreme differences in performances from night to night. I have about 200 tracks in a folder on my computer, though most of these are versions of the ones on the CD in louder, quieter, faster, slower, longer, or shorter forms. If these pique your interest, I strongly suggest seeking out the complete shows from November 4, December 1, and December 8. Overall, they probably represent the best of the unreleased content.
Next month we will be covering the second, even more on-the-edge 1976 Rolling Thunder Revue tour. At some point in May, I am hoping to release a small bonus, so check in on the site every once in a while; I promise it'll be worth your while. Until next time, keep yourself healthy and listen to some good tunes.
Update - May 2 2015: A generous soul has informed me that the CD ran approximately 2 seconds too long to fit onto a standard CD. I have re-edited the final track to be 4 seconds shorter, and all links have been updated. As an added bonus, I have included four "outtakes" - among these a much slower "Isis" and more countrified "Mama, You Been On My Mind" that is unfortunately marred by some vocal distortion - and an extended version of "It Takes A Lot To Laugh" that retains the introduction discussed above. Enjoy!