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.



  1. As ever many thanks for your time and effort. Trally appreciate these monthly conributions for us here in Liverpool..UK. Merry XMas

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    2. I also appreciate your hard job and many times I downloaded from here fantastic material but... also many times your posts have voice muffled or hard to listen sound which deters me from keeping them. From the recent post I retained only 4 songs because of their unusual rendition. The rest is for ardent fans only.
      Is it really that 1995 recordings sound so bad? I doubt.
      Anyway, thanks for your hard work

    3. Thank you for the comment. I haven't heard this criticism before, so it may be an issue with the download or sound system/headphones. Would you mind trying it out with another pair of speakers/headphones, and/or another manner of listening to it (switching from car stereo to computer, or home stereo to iPod, etc.)?

      You're right to be skeptical of 1995 recordings sounding muffled - they're generally among the better ones of their era. Could you let me know if you found the acoustic or electric material more muffled, since I mixed them differently?


    4. Acoustic sounds worse. To me always critical point is voice not guitars.
      I saved Desolation only - very unique. From electric: Paint My Masterpiece, West LA, and Highway also because of unheard rendition.
      I don't think is a matter of my system. Your earlier post from NY sounded fantastic, better than one bootleg which I had. Congratulations.
      Hope that you did not fell hurt.

    5. Don't worry, I didn't feel bad. I like the criticism as much as I like the praise. I wonder what happened to the sound on here, though. I did mess around with the acoustic more than the electric, so I suspect it is my mix that you're hearing. I felt that the vocals were a bit harsh and out front on the acoustic cuts. Maybe I'm not testing on enough sound systems myself, as I only really use my headphones and a car stereo. Perhaps higher end systems pick up more of the highs and lows that I miss, making it a bit muffled. Let me know if you find this to be the case for next month's 1996 record too.


    6. Ok. I will. I noticed it earlier too but reading enthusiastic comments I did not have enough courage to make negative remarks. Simply delated material which I did not have patience to listen to. One of the best of yours which made me to construct my own compilation (based on yours) was Down The River/Outtakes & Special Appearances, 1999 - 2012. Generally, to my taste, the voice should be as much possible upfront and of course as much clear as possible.

  2. Are the mp3 download options a thing of the past? My backwoods internet issue won't let me get the bigger files (over 299), so the mp3s were my only option.

    1. Sorry about that - I had very, very limited time last night to work on the upload, so this is what's up for the moment. I should be able to get strictly MP3 versions up later today, as I know that not everyone can grab the larger files.

    2. Thanks so much, CWS. (And for your great work in general.) I look forward to the next TH sets like it's Christmas every month. Looking forward to hearing what you cooked up from '95. Your excellent Prague disc is what introduced me to the greatness of this period.

    3. Same here - CWS, you sir are a hero.

      Are you willing to give us an updated run-down of your planned sets? Is seem to recall you had plans for 1996, 1997, 1998 & 2001?

    4. You may have noticed that I failed to get the MP3s uploaded last night. I'll do my best to get them up this evening.

    5. Good news, friend: the MP3s are now live in the folder over on Mediafire, and those links come with artwork and notes included. Enjoy!

    6. This is another fine one, CWS! Just gave it the initial listen, but about to dive in again. Until now most of what I've heard is from earlier in the year, the spring tour in Europe, but there's some great stuff from the other end of the year as well. Hard Rain really is amazing. Never heard that one before (or any of the shows later than June. The live Dark Eyes duet is another new favorite. One of my favorite 1980s Bob tunes. Too bad it didn't get a later day revival like Blind Willie. As a guitar player it's one of those songs that just blows my mind how creative Dylan is with guitar chord patters (despite all that talk about him being Just About The Lyrics). Anyways. Thanks again for another great set -- and thanks too for posting them in mp3 for the techno-impaired!

    7. I just remembered that Ben Myring asked about upcoming CDs. Here is the roster:

      January: 1996
      February: 1997
      March: 1998
      April: 2001
      May: Spring 2005

      That'll be that, unless inspiration strikes!

  3. Really looking forward to hearing more form this era. There isn't enough!

  4. Thank you so much for all of your good efforts. Bob has been the best for since 1966. I was 14 and now I am 63. Thank you again and Merry Christmas to you and all of your loved ones.

  5. Again brilliant collection - thank you so much!

  6. Thanks so much CS! Always appreciate a new compilation and your notes are always enlightening. Keep up the great work and I look forward to all your postings here but will especially watch for the next one. And now I come to think of it . . ."All things considered, I'd rather be in Philadelphia."

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  8. Another winner! Many thanks ... now if I can just prise The Cutting Edge off my playlist .....

    1. I hear that! You'll note that there was no bonus CD in November, specifically for this reason. I'm not going to compete with the man himself, haha.

    2. But the man himself competes with himself ... it's overload city round about now! Which is not a bad thing ... and thanks for this!

  9. That Hard Rain... might just have beaten the version from your 2003 collection. Just lovely.

  10. Hi CS!
    The download for the Electric rar. is not working (not the MP3, but the AIFF or complete) I can connect to Mediafire, but can't download that file.
    I've found my pot of gold on your blog and have been obsessively downloading and listening all week. Can't thank you enough!!! Huge HUG.

  11. Mr. Tambourine Man is gorgeous !
    Great Job as always !

    For your information the link provided for this particular song on the alphabetical song index is not correct. When you click on it, you end up on the 1991 compilation.