Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Still Dreaming: Unreleased Acoustic Recordings, 1975

Tangled Up In Blue - Live - Toronto - December 2, 1975
With God On Our Side - Live - Providence - November 4, 1975 (Early)
I Don’t Believe You - Live - Bangor - November 27, 1975
Simple Twist Of Fate - Live - New York City - December 8, 1975
Mr. Tambourine Man - Live - Toronto - December 2, 1975
Fourth Time Around - Live - Augusta - November 26, 1975
Love Minus Zero/No Limit - Live - Toronto - December 1, 1975
It’s Alright Ma - Live - Providence - November 4, 1975 (Late)
It's All Over Now, Baby Blue - Live - Toronto - December 1, 1975

[links removed due to the release of The Rolling Thunder Revue: The 1975 Recordings in 2019]

I told you there would be a bonus in May, and here it is!

This set of recordings is fairly interesting, if a bit short. Bob Dylan performed at least one acoustic song per night on his 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue tour, and as many as three. This was a brief interlude of sorts between another performer’s act and his second electric set, but was met with significant warmth by the audiences. Just listen to the start of Mr. Tambourine Man, included in this collection, for evidence of the crowd’s appreciation.

Unfortunately, unlike the surprisingly varied selection of acoustic songs in the following year, only nine separate songs are known to have been performed in 1975. One version of each is included here. Generally, sound quality is not as great as the electric sets. I find this a bit shocking, since typically the reverse is true (refer to the 1966 tapes for comparison). In some cases, the entire tape is problematic, like Augusta, but in others, the acoustic songs are inexplicably less distinct than electric tracks from the same night; December 2 is a characteristic example. I altered harmonica levels, re-EQ’d tracks, added some reverb and performed some very minor noise reduction to eliminate some distortion on the November 27 and December 1 & 2 recordings. On the performance from November 4 (Early), a splice was necessary to eliminate feedback.

Happily, some tracks here are crystal clear. “With God On Our Side,” “Simple Twist of Fate,” and “It’s Alright Ma” are beautiful recordings, and little work has been done to them. I worked on the remainder of the tracks to make them a bit clearer. You can compare the edits and the originals to judge for yourself, but I am reasonably proud of the results. There is no way to make these sound as excellent as Columbia’s Bootleg Series Volume 5, but they make an interesting addition to that official release. Much like the electric sets, Dylan’s performance of the acoustic tracks could vary radically from night to night. The songs overall maintain something of a dreamlike character, which inspired the title of the collection.

In short, this compilation should serve as a convenient way to assemble the acoustic performances of the year in one place. It also acts as a nice extension of the full Thousand Highways Rolling Thunder exhibition, Unknown Country. If you haven’t sought that one out, do so as soon as possible. Similarly, Columbia has released several incredible documents from the 1975 tour, including The Bootleg Series Volume 5, The Renaldo & Clara EP, and Biograph/Side Tracks. If you enjoy the tracks here, you’ll love those official releases all the more.

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


Friday, May 1, 2015

Unknown Country: Unreleased Live Recordings, 1975

Unknown Country
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


[links removed due to the release of The Rolling Thunder Revue: The 1975 Recordings in 2019]

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!