Thursday, December 24, 2015

Melancholy Mood: Unreleased Live Recordings, Fall 2015

Melancholy Mood
Fall Tour of Europe - 2015

Melancholy Mood - Live - Basel - November 13, 2015
Where Are You - Live - Copenhagen - October 8, 2015
The Night We Called It A Day - Live - Hamburg - November 9, 2015
Why Try To Change Me Now - Live - Hamburg - November 9, 2015
Full Moon & Empty Arms - Live - London - October 22, 2015
All Or Nothing At All - Live - Saarbrucken - October 17, 2015
Come Rain Or Come Shine - Live - Basel - November 14, 2015
I'm A Fool To Want You - Live - Bregenz - November 16, 2015
What'll I Do - Live - Copenhagen - October 8, 2015
Autumn Leaves - Live - Oslo - October 1, 2015

Welcome to a special installment of the Thousand Highways Collection. By special request, I turned my attention to Bob Dylan's covers on his 2015 Fall Tour of Europe. There was quite a bit to pick through, since he and the band performed about seven of these each night, and most nights were recorded.

Choosing the best recordings was the greatest challenge. As can sometimes be taken for granted, the excellent tapers were out with their recording gear throughout the tour. Bach, Spot, RCM, JOY, hhtfp, and Hide presented the songs in lovely sound quality, though the specific sonic landscape changed from night to night. I sought to capture the best tracks in terms of performance, which required significant effort from the singer, and the warmest audio presence. While supremely clean, digital recording does not always present a warm landscape naturally, so some tweaking was necessary at times. I hope I have not caused any harm to the recordings, but for the purest form, as ever, listeners should seek out the source tapes.

One of the greatest obstacles for this set was a cold that Dylan seems to have developed in mid-October. In person, and on the harder-rocking songs, the effect would likely be fairly unnoticeable. On the crystal-clear recordings of these ballads, however, the illness could detract from the singer's central role. Most of the tapes from the middle of the tour, then, were taken out of consideration. This eliminated an otherwise excellent rendition of the title track, "Melancholy Mood," from the Paris show on October 19th, among others. By early November, happily, Dylan's voice had again cleared.

The most intriguing songs are those that had not yet been released on Bob Dylan's wonderful 2015 LP, Shadows In The Night. Three such songs were played: "Melancholy Mood," "Come Rain Or Come Shine," and "All Or Nothing At All." Each was rumored to have been recorded for that record, and studio renditions may yet surface in the coming years. Until then, these great live performances will need to tide us over. Unfortunately, three songs recorded for the aforementioned record were not played: "Stay With Me," "Some Enchanted Evening," and "Lucky Old Sun." You can find live renditions of the first and last of these on Things Have Changed - 2014 and Shadows & Rust - Summer 2015, respectively. "Some Enchanted Evening" has not yet been played live as of December, 2015. Though I endeavor not to tip my personal preferences too much, my favorite tracks are likely the last two. This recording of "What'll I Do" epitomizes the warm sound I was seeking, and the final track, "Autumn Leaves," may be Bob Dylan's finest and most committed vocals on the set.

While I hope everyone enjoys this new, abbreviated collection, I especially hope that I have lived up to the expectations of the listeners who requested the album. I've dedicated quite a bit of time to this project, and would like to submit it to you all as something of a Christmas gift. Thanks for visiting A Thousand Highways in 2015, and I look forward to presenting more content to you in the coming year.

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


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Thundering Sky: Unreleased Live Recordings, 1995

The Thundering Sky: Live 1995

Volume One

Down In The Flood - Live - Bethlehem - December 13, 1995
When I Paint My Masterpiece - Live - Bloomington - October 26, 1995
Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues - Live - New York City - December 13, 1995
Under The Red Sky - Live - Philadelphia - December 15, 1995
West LA Fadeaway - Live - Philadelphia - December 17, 1995
Jokerman - Live - London - March 30, 1995
Joey - Live - London - March 31, 1995
Dignity - Live - Brussels - March 23, 1995
What Good Am I? - Live - Philadelphia - June 22, 1995
Highway 61 Revisited - Live - London - March 31, 1995

Volume Two

Visions Of Johanna - Live - Philadelphia - June 21, 1995
Mama, You Been On My Mind - Live - Philadelphia - December 15, 1995
A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall - Live - Philadelphia - December 16, 1995
One Too Many Mornings - Live - Philadelphia - June 22, 1995
Tangled Up In Blue - Live - Philadelphia - June 21, 1995
Mr Tambourine Man - Live - Manchester - April 3, 1995
Dark Eyes - Live - Philadelphia - December 15, 1995
Desolation Row - Live - Bethlehem - December 13, 1995

I hope listeners are ready for some powerful electric performances and some deeply meditative acoustic renditions, because this collection has those in spades.

The Never-Ending Tour rolled steadily through the 1990s, but after shifting from a garage rock sound to a jazz-like aesthetic by 1992, it evolved once again into a heavy rock sound by the middle of the decade. It would change again before 2000, but the only documentation of this ‘heavy’ period in the Thousand Highways Collection so far has been a compilation of the Prague residency in March, 1995. While that residency was a high point of the year, so many more were still to come.

In the electric set, the most notable performances are likely “West LA Fadeaway,” “Dignity,” and “Joey.” The first was a Grateful Dead song that Bob Dylan had been playing at his concerts from the early 1990s, but it really came into its own in 1995. While it was also performed in a semi-acoustic arrangement at Dylan’s unique Fort Lauderdale covers show earlier in 1995, this rendition from the winter tour presents the song at its most elemental. The central riff is in place, and loops throughout the painted picture of Los Angeles’ seedy underbelly. “Dignity,” which was something of a minor hit due to its inclusion on Greatest Hits Volume Three and the MTV Unplugged show, was played intermittently on the 1995 tours. It took some time to find its footing, and would only achieve its full potential a decade later in 2004, but this performance from Brussels is a beautiful, smooth treatment of the song. It’s a little more lively than its studio arrangement, and benefits from the looser style. Finally, this version of “Joey” from London is one of the most stirring performances of the Desire centerpiece. Dylan really lays into the vocals, and though he’s not word-perfect, the passion of the singing and the crunch of the guitars carries you fully into this contentious mobster ballad.

The acoustic set is anchored by “Visions Of Johanna,” “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” “Dark Eyes,” and “Desolation Row.” The first is often spoken of as one of the song’s best outings during the 1990s. The singer’s fully committed, and presents the song with the precision he afforded it back in 1966; his unique way of singing the iconic lines “the ghost of electricity / howls in the bones of her face” is one highlight among many. “Hard Rain” is provided one of the more fascinating arrangement I’ve heard - while the song starts in a typical style, a baroque guitar riff becomes more present as the song continues, spurring Dylan into more curious vocal styles. It has to be heard to be believed, and gives the long song an evolving dynamic to pull the listener in. “Dark Eyes” had previously been played live only once, in a truncated fashion, on Bob Dylan’s 1986 tour. Patti Smith, for whom Dylan had arranged his rare December tour, requested the song specifically, and it was played as a duet throughout the brief stint. It was performed to varying degrees of success, but this rendition from Philadelphia stands out as the best of the recordings available. At last, “Desolation Row” acts as an apt conclusion to the compilation. I’ve heard that author Clinton Heylin has claimed this as the best performance of the song, and you’d be hard-pressed to better it. It really is something of a journey, and the listener will no doubt be compelled to stick with the narrator clear through to the end.

Normally, as the consistent visitor will know, I don’t like to present a tour’s acoustic and electric portions separately. In this case, though, I made an exception. I found that including three acoustic performances on the electric disc truncated the set conspicuously, and it seemed to diminish the power of both styles. In the end, I settled on a full-running electric disc and a briefer acoustic disc, which would be suitable for different occasions. The electric set rocks, ideal for a commute, a workout, or some other kind of activity; the acoustic set, soft and confessional, would be preferable for an evening’s drive in the country or relaxing with a glass of wine after a long day. However you choose to enjoy these songs, I have no doubt you’ll enjoy them quite a bit.

On a humorous, informal note, did anyone notice that the first four songs on Volume Two are from different dates in Philadelphia? Shows from that city make up a full 75% of the songs on the acoustic set! I wonder what was going on in Philadelphia that year that added up to excellent recordings married to excellent performances.

Next month will see the appearance of a long-overlooked year on this website. By popular demand, 1996 will finally be getting its due. It gave us Bob Dylan's spectacular reading of "Shake Sugaree," but it really gave so much more. Check in on January 1 for the full exploration of this content. Until then, keep yourself healthy and listen to some good tunes.