Wednesday, July 4, 2018

DIY Playlist: Live Essentials, 1971 - 1981

Live Essentials: 1971 - 1981

Volume One

When I Paint My Masterpiece - Rock of Ages - 1972
It Ain't Me Babe - The Bootleg Series Volume 5: The Rolling Thunder Revue - 1975
Romance in Durango - Biograph - 1975
Solid Rock - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 6) - 1980
Oh Sister - Hard Rain - 1976
Gotta Serve Somebody - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 1) - 1979
Stuck Inside of Mobile - Hard Rain - 1976
Mr. Tambourine Man - The Concert for Bangladesh - 1971
Most Likely You Go You Way (And I Go Mine) - Before the Flood - 1974
One Too Many Mornings - Hard Rain - 1976
Heart of Mine - Biograph - 1981
Don't Think Twice, It's Alright - At Budokan - 1978
Isis - Biograph - 1975
Girl from the North Country - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More - 1981
The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar - From His Head to His Heart to His Hands - 1980
Pressing On - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 2) - 1979

Volume Two

Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You - The Bootleg Series Volume 5: The Rolling Thunder Revue - 1975
Down in the Flood - Rock of Ages - 1972
Love Minus Zero/No Limit - At Budokan - 1978
One More Cup of Coffee - The Bootleg Series Volume 5: The Rolling Thunder Revue - 1975
Seven Days - The Bootleg Series Volume 1-3 - 1976
When You Gonna Wake Up - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 1) - 1981
When He Returns - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 1) - 1979
Highway 61 - Before the Flood - 1974
It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry - The Concert for Bangladesh - 1971
Slow Train - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 1) - 1979
Shelter From The Storm - Hard Rain - 1976
In The Summertime - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 2) - 1981
A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall - The Bootleg Series Volume 5: The Rolling Thunder Revue - 1975
Caribbean Wind - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 2) - 1980
Idiot Wind - Hard Rain - 1976
It's All Over Now, Baby Blue - The Bootleg Series Volume 5: The Rolling Thunder Revue - 1975

Welcome to a long-delayed DIY Playlist. This time we turn our attention to Bob Dylan's live tours from 1971 to 1981. These tours are, by a significant margin, the most-documented by Sony/Columbia's official releases, so narrowing it down was an exceedingly challenging prospect. Still, I think you'll enjoy the result.

Volume One

01. When I Paint My Masterpiece - Rock of Ages - 1972

By the end of 1972, Bob Dylan had been more or less off the road for six years with a handful of notable exceptions: the Woody Guthrie Memorial Concert in 1968, the Isle of Wight Festival in 1969, and the Concert for Bangladesh in 1971. These shows were oddities in their own right, as Dylan played Guthrie songs backed by The Band at the '68 show and songs in his distinctly country-flavored Nashville Skyline guise during the '69 set. Only the Concert for Bangladesh offered a glimpse of the classic performer fans had come to love during the 1960s, and even that was brief as Dylan played just a few songs.

Following in this fashion, Bob Dylan made a surprise appearance at The Band's New Year's Eve show on December 31, 1972. He and the other musicians seem to have been dipping pretty thoroughly into celebratory beverages, as the night's rendition of "Like A Rolling Stone" is barely coherent. On the other hand, his more recent compositions end up sounding much more effective. Before it would go on to become the opener at every night of 1975's Rolling Thunder Revue, "When I Paint My Masterpiece" was debuted on-stage by Dylan during this 1972 guest appearance. It is perhaps his first newly written piece of the decade, and I thought it a lovely place to begin this look at how he evolved over the following ten years.

02. It Ain't Me Babe - The Bootleg Series Volume 5: The Rolling Thunder Revue - 1975

"It Ain't Me Babe" would be played after "When I Paint My Masterpiece" in every Bob Dylan set on the Rolling Thunder Revue's 1975 tour. It seems only natural that it do so here, even if the preceding song was recorded three years earlier! This peculiar, quasi-calypso arrangement of "It Ain't Me Babe" was a consistent highlight due in no small part to the idiosyncratic instrumental duets anchoring the song's back half. 

With regard to the recording, the performance from Cambridge on November 20, 1975 has been released in two very different mixes: the earlier version appeared on the 4 Songs From Renaldo & Clara LP in 1978 and Live 1961-2000 in 2001, while a remixed version appeared on 2002's The Bootleg Series Volume 5: The Rolling Thunder Revue - 1975. Many fans swear by the earlier mix, finding the latter too bright, but I think both are excellent; given the difficulty in getting a digital copy of the earlier mix, I recommend settling for the remix from 2002.

03. Romance in Durango - Biograph - 1975

As with the preceding song, live performances of "Romance in Durango" have been released several times over the years. In fact, I suspect the song's inclusion on 1985's Biograph is primarily down to the fact that it is a dramatic improvement on the studio rendition featured on Desire. In any case, I think the version from Montreal that appears on Biograph is narrowly superior to the one from Cambridge that appears on The Bootleg Series Volume 5: The Rolling Thunder Revue - 1975. Both are easily accessible in digital form, thank goodness. Whichever way you get it, I think you'll enjoy the live arrangement of this homage to Marty Robbins' "El Paso".

04. Solid Rock - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 6) - 1980

At the end of 1978, Bob Dylan converted to Christianity. This had a profound impact on his music, leading him to exclusively play new gospel compositions throughout much of 1979 and 1980. One of the most notable residencies during these tours - indeed the best-recorded one - is a five-night stint in Toronto during April 1980. A compilation of the best performances from this residency makes up Discs 5 and 6 of the singer's 2017 Bootleg Series release, and it's genuinely spectacular. To represent that set, I've picked out "Solid Rock". This song was a consistent high point of Dylan's shows from 1979 to 1981, but I think the one from Toronto might be the best I've heard. Its lyric are derived primarily from the Gospel of Matthew 25:34 and the Book of Isaiah 53:3-5.

05. Oh Sister - Hard Rain - 1976

"Oh Sister" is one of the first songs from 1976's Desire to be played live, as it was debuted alongside "Hurricane" at an abbreviated performance by Bob Dylan on The World Of John Hammond in September 1975 (though this live rendition would not be broadcast until after the first leg of the Rolling Thunder Revue in December 1975). The lyrics of the song are not particularly strong, but Dylan consistently displayed his ability to transform a mediocre composition into an incredible performance piece on-stage. Happily, Columbia Records published a version from the Rolling Thunder Revue's 1976 Tour on that year's Hard Rain. The recording quality, particularly at the song's start, leaves a bit to be desired, but the raw passion shines through nonetheless. Interestingly, the song's acknowledgment of a heavenly Father also seems to unintentionally foreshadow the singer's  conversion several years later.

06. Gotta Serve Somebody - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 1) - 1979

Most fans would have first discovered Dylan's newfound faith through the song "Gotta Serve Somebody," as it opened his first gospel LP in 1979. Similarly, the song opened almost every one of his shows between 1979 and 1981, becoming something of an anthem for its writer. Its arrangement would also shift over time, moving from a sprightly uptempo affair to a moodier midtempo piece in the studio and then from a straightforward rock song in 1979 to an arrangement featuring a Bo Diddly-esque beat in 1981. The recording I've selected for this playlist features the singer at the height of his incisive vocal precision during 1979's Fall Tour. The song itself seems to be inspired by Memphis Slim's "Mother Earth," first published in 1951.

07. Stuck Inside of Mobile - Hard Rain - 1976

The metallic, jangly sound of 1976's ramshackle Rolling Thunder Revue Tour is captured nowhere better than this reckless take on Blonde on Blonde's "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again." The arrangement is as far from that studio take as can be, seemingly influenced by cantina bands in the American Southwest. This was actually the version of the song that I first heard, and indeed remains my favorite performance. Surprisingly, the drums and some backing vocals seem to have been dubbed in later due to a problem with the recording - according to Sid Griffin in Shelter From the Storm: Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Years, tour drummer Howie Wyeth and engineer Don Meehan overdubbed drums and backing vocals, respectively, as the album was mixed.

08. Mr. Tambourine Man - The Concert for Bangladesh - 1971

"Mr. Tambourine Man" is one of two songs on this DIY Playlist to be drawn from the singer's surprise appearance at George Harrison's Concert for Bangladesh in 1971. The titular country was in the midst of a horrifying combination of civil war and drought, and former Beatle George Harrison organized the world's first large-scale benefit concert to route much-needed money to Bangladeshis. Though Bob Dylan had turned up at the soundcheck as a favor to Harrison, he expressed trepidation at the crush of press and was unwilling to commit to an on-stage appearance. To Harrison's great relief, however, Dylan overcame his anxiety and helped the cause with a five-song set at both benefit shows on August 1, 1971.

09. Most Likely You Go You Way (And I Go Mine) - Before the Flood - 1974

Bob Dylan had appeared at two shows between 1969's Isle of Wight Festival and the beginning of 1974, but these collectively amounted to less than a single complete concert. Al Kooper, the keyboardist from Blonde on Blonde and New Morning, claims that a tour was planned and even rehearsed for in 1970 but was abandoned prior to scheduling dates. By the middle of the decade, though, Dylan was ready to go out on the road with The Band. These musicians had backed him on tour in 1966 as The Hawks and at all of his special appearances from 1968 to 1972, but their sound had evolved by 1974. Dylan's singing style had also evolved, and the combination of propulsive backing music with an over-emphatic singer was disappointing for fans who had been awaiting a new tour for much of the preceding decade. The tour's least-effective later dates were extensively documented by Columbia on 1974's Before the Flood, and a handful of tracks stand up to scrutiny - the first of these is actually the first track from that album, an intense arrangement of Blonde on Blonde's "Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I Go Mine)".

10. One Too Many Mornings - Hard Rain - 1976

"One Too Many Mornings" represents one of the rare occasions when Bob Dylan has altered the lyrics to one of his 1960s songs. This practice would become common with compositions written from 1971 to the 2010s, but lyrics drafted in the singer's first decade have generally been sung as recorded in-studio. Partway through Dylan's 1976 tour, however, he would add half of a verse to The Times They are a-Changin's "One Too Many Mornings." The other half of the verse remained instrumental, and the rewritten lyrics would never appear again after 1976.

11. Heart of Mine - Biograph - 1981

In Fall 1980, Bob Dylan reintroduced covers and pre-1979 compositions back into his setlist. New tracks were also debuted, and the singer was writing entirely secular songs by the following year. "Heart of Mine" is one of these songs devoid of any apparent spiritual character. During the Summer 1981 Tour, the song often featured Dylan on organ; by the Fall 1981 Tour, however, it had reverted to an arrangement reminiscent of the one which had appeared on Shot of Love. The song was rarely a concert highlight, but a noteworthy exception was selected by Columbia for 1985's Biograph retrospective. This performance originates at a New Orleans show from November 10, 1981, which was also the source for a version of "Dead Man Dead Man" released as the b-side to 1989's "Everything is Broken" single and re-released on Live 1961-2000 in 2001.

12. Don't Think Twice, It's Alright - At Budokan - 1978

As in 1974, Bob Dylan's 1978 Tour of Japan ended up less effective than the shows that preceded or followed it. The concerts from the early part of 1978, which were cataloged on At Budokan, were characterized by stilted over-embellished arrangements, and fans are still awaiting a release covering the year's later dates. "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" is one of the album's successes, though - the 1962 classic had only been performed previously as an acoustic solo track, but it's inexplicably reinvented here as a reggae song. Interestingly, At Budokan was originally intended only for Japanese audiences as a souvenir of the tour; it was only after requests by Western fans that Columbia released the album outside of Asia.

13. Isis - Biograph - 1975

"Isis" is one of fans' favorite songs from Desire and the Rolling Thunder Revue tours. A version would be included on The Bootleg Series Volume 5: The Rolling Thunder Revue - 1975, but the best rendition published by Sony/Columbia appeared on 1985's Biograph. A film of that performance, from a 1975 Montreal concert, also appeared in 1978's Renaldo & Clara and as a bonus DVD included in 2002's The Bootleg Series Volume 5.

14. Girl from the North Country - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More - 1981

Many songs were reimagined by Bob Dylan and his band throughout the 1981 tour, but few were as profoundly successful as "Girl from the North Country." The song had typically been performed as a solo acoustic track in the 1960s and 1970s, but an organ-oriented arrangement had debuted in 1978. Once the song returned to Dylan's setlist in 1981, it had become a fusion of these two styles.

15. The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar - From His Head to His Heart to His Hands - 1980

"The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar" was written in 1980 and performed five times on the Fall 1980 tour, after which it would never again be played live. The arrangement from 1980 is slower than the one eventually released on a re-release of Shot of Love in 1985, and has a largely unique set of lyrics; even the chorus is different! Dylan frequently featured guest guitarists on his 1980 live performances of the song, including Carlos Santana, Jerry Garcia and Michael Bloomfield. The latter recording was released on a 2014 Michael Bloomfield retrospective, and is the one I've decided to include on this DIY Playlist. Bloomfield's powerful guitar improvisation manages to elevate the already-exceptional song to incredible new heights.

16. Pressing On - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 2) - 1979

Bob Dylan has never sounded more like a traditional gospel performer than in "Pressing On," which closed most of his concerts from 1979 to early 1980. Unlike the version that would be released on 1980's Saved, the live arrangement builds gradually and is largely a duet of piano and vocals. The lyrics are inspired by the Gospel of John 6:30 and the Gospel of Mark 6:11.

Volume Two

01. Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You - The Bootleg Series Volume 5: The Rolling Thunder Revue - 1975

This song opened he Bootleg Series Volume 5: The Rolling Thunder Revue, but never actually opened a show on the 1975 tour represented by that album. It was instead performed about halfway through Dylan's first set. In fact, according to Clinton Heylin, the cheers from the audience when the words "rolling thunder" are sung have been overdubbed as well. Despite being something of an artificial construction, the song is outstanding as an introduction to what comes after.

02. Down in the Flood - Rock of Ages - 1972

This is another of the four songs played by Bob Dylan and The Band at their New Year's Eve 1972 show, and is every bit as good as "When I Paint My Masterpiece." Unlike that recently written song, it's a funky rearrangement of a Basement Tapes track from 1968. The horn section is a lovely addition, and makes the song's appearance here one of its most effective outings despite Dylan and The Band not being entirely in sync on their harmonies.

03. Love Minus Zero/No Limit - At Budokan - 1978

"Love Minus Zero/No Limit" received a jarring, flute-oriented arrangement on the 1978 tour. It would end up being played primarily in the Spring, disappearing from the setlist later in the year, and I suspect much of this is down to the constricting of the singer's vocal capacity as the long tour went on. This weird arrangement would prove to be something of a one-off, and the song would return to being played as a more stately ballad in later years.

04. One More Cup of Coffee - The Bootleg Series Volume 5: The Rolling Thunder Revue - 1975

The studio version of "One More Cup Of Coffee" that was released on Desire is one of that album's highlights, but the song would only grow in stature throughout the 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue tour. In particular, Scarlett Riviera has the opportunity to improvise extensively with her violin and Dylan renders his vocals more adventurously on-stage than he had when laying down tracks for Desire. The song would go on to be rearranged with bongo accompaniment in 1978 and occasionally as a dark rock ballad on the Never-Ending Tour, but the strangest rearrangement would be the song's appearance in 1976 as an acoustic guitar/violin duet.

05. Seven Days - The Bootleg Series Volume 1-3 - 1976

"Seven Days" was never recorded for an album, but was instead used as a performance piece at several shows in 1976 before being offered to Ron Wood for the 1979 album Gimme Some Neck. It was played by Wood at the Bob Dylan's 1992 30th Anniversary Concert and was revived again on the Never-Ending Tour in 1996. The lyrics never seem to have been completely nailed down, humorously enough.

06. When You Gonna Wake Up - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 1) - 1981

"When You Gonna Wake Up" is not a particularly appealing song in its studio guise on Slow Train Coming, but would become a centerpiece of the singer's concert setlists throughout 1979 to 1981 and then again in 1984. During that time, it would evolve from a heavy gospel track to a percussive arrangement in 1981 (included here) to a rock ballad in 1984. Its lyrics would also be revised, though only the 1984 version features a significant overhaul. The song made its final appearance in 1989 as an inexplicably piano-oriented one-off but the lyrics to that performance are unclear.

07. When He Returns - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 1) - 1979

Though many of Bob Dylan's gospel compositions feature backing vocals and a loud band, a handful are quieter. The core ballad of this period is Slow Train Coming's closing track, "When He Returns." The song was intended to be recorded by Dylan's backing vocalists without his participation before being attempted as a full-band arrangement and then finally captured as a vocal/piano duet. Fans are lucky that it was not abandoned, given that it underwent such a radical evolution in the studio, and it the song would go on to become a major showpiece for Dylan's vocals throughout 1979 and early 1980.

08. Highway 61 - Before the Flood - 1974

The song is a title track to one of Bob Dylan's most significant albums, but "Highway 61" would very rarely be performed on-stage prior to 1984. Indeed, the only tour on which it regularly appeared was 1974's tour with The Band. The arrangement plays to that tour's strengths, featuring a powerful rock sound and expressive, energetic vocals. Unlike its debut at 1969's Isle of Wight, this rendition features God's request for Abraham to "kill [him] a son" rather than "give [him] a son".

09. It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry - The Concert for Bangladesh - 1971

From one Highway 61 Revisited track to another! This one is toned-down, however, rather than being blown up as its predecessor had. Dylan is backed here by George Harrison and Leon Redbone at the Concert for Bangladesh. The song is a stripped-down take on the arrangement featured on the published Highway 61 Revisited rather than the energetic arrangement that the song would have on-stage at Newport in 1965 or in its early studio rehearsals.

10. Slow Train - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 1) - 1979

"Slow Train" is the title track from Bob Dylan's 1979 album, and would be played in concerts regularly from his first show in 1979 until 1989. It would undergo a number of major rearrangements during that time, if not rewrites like "When You Gonna Wake Up," but the version I've included here is very similar to the studio version. Improving on the basic studio take, it features appropriately apocalyptic vocals and blazing lead guitar by the characteristically-reserved Fred Tackett.

11. Shelter From The Storm - Hard Rain - 1976

Bob Dylan tried playing slide guitar on-stage for the first time in 1976. The results could have been disastrous, but Dylan's messy style befits the reckless approach to Blood on the Tracks' beloved "Shelter from the Storm." Like "Oh Sister," this song includes some biblical allusions that perhaps unintentionally point towards the gospel tracks recorded in 1979 and 1980. It is arguably closer to the singer's compositions from late 1980 and 1981, in which the secular has begun to blend with more overt religious references. Whatever the case may be, Bob Dylan's vocals when playing this song on his 1976 tour are among the very best in his long career.

12. In The Summertime - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 2) - 1981

This song is something of a brief, apparently throwaway track on 1981's Shot of Love, but I'm quite fond of its live performances. The harmonica from the album version is absent, but the vocal passion is palpable in every line. Dylan unfortunately flubbed a few lyrics in the version included on Trouble No More, but his vibrato performance is an uncharacteristic vocal flourish that would not often be replicated. More than almost any other song aside from "Caribbean Wind," "In The Summertime" represents the coalescence of sacred and secular that formed the identity of Dylan's 1981 output. Surprisingly, the song would briefly be revived on tour in 2002 with backing vocals by Larry Campbell and Charlie Sexton

13. A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall - The Bootleg Series Volume 5: The Rolling Thunder Revue - 1975

Contrary to its origins as an apocalyptic poem set to an acoustic guitar, Bob Dylan played this song as a Muddy Waters-influenced blues-rock track with the Rolling Thunder Revue in 1975. It would revert to a more standard arrangement in 1976, but its versatility had been established. By 1981 it had been rearranged again, though it would never be played in as idiosyncratic a style as it was in 1975.

14. Caribbean Wind - The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More (Disc 2) - 1980

"Caribbean Wind" is often seen as the singer's great lost masterpiece. It faced an odyssey in the recording studio, being rearranged multiple times before being abandoned entirely. In the midst of this transition, it was played a single time on-stage at the request of author Paul Williams in Fall 1980 after Dylan showed him the lyrics backstage. Fans were blessed with the most effective version (of the four circulating as of Summer 2018), though the singer appears to have been less happy with it - he mused afterwards that "I don't know if we did that any good. I don't know if we got off or not." In spite of Dylan's reservations about the performance quality, the song is absolutely transcendent in its single live appearance. As a bonus, please listen to the song's fascinating introduction in which the singer muses about Leadbelly and fan response to musicians' changing styles; this was not included on Trouble No More due to an error in the soundboard recording.

15. Idiot Wind - Hard Rain - 1976

The brutality of "Idiot Wind," originally recorded in both acoustic and electric arrangements for 1974's Blood on the Tracks, was most clearly conveyed by the versions played on tour in 1976. The acoustic version had foregrounded the song's sadness more than its anger, while the electric studio version lacked the raw power that could be produced by a large band on-stage. At the same time, the lyrics have been re-written to lean into the singer's rage at the song's target. The live track closed out 1976's Hard Rain, and I can think of no way better to close out the main portion of this DIY Playlist. It's a ten minute roller-coaster ride that's worth every moment.

16. It's All Over Now, Baby Blue - The Bootleg Series Volume 5: The Rolling Thunder Revue - 1975

Finally, this acoustic track functions as something of a palette-cleanser after the intensity of what came before. Dylan's shows throughout the '70s tended to be characterized by power and aggression, but a couple of songs were played most nights in an acoustic guise. These were often intensely expressive, featuring some of the singer's warmest vocals since his early folk days in New York City. In many cases, they come across as more naked and honest than even those early recordings. This performance of "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" manages to convey a very different sense of weary meaning than the wild, experimental renditions played in 1966 - it's incredible that a singer can totally reinvent the sound of a song while still only using his voice and a guitar.

That bold sense of reinvention is, of course, the key through-line in Bob Dylan's career from 1971 to 1981. There would be experimental period before and after, but these ten years feature the singer at his most adventurous, exploring various genres and arrangements without regard for what came before. I hope you enjoy listening to the resulting live performances as much as I do!

With regard to fades and volume, this one is something of a mess. Several of these albums feature songs that flow from one into the next, as if it was a complete concert - consequently, the transitions on the playlist will be jarring. Additionally, some songs are louder or quieter than others: "The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar" and the Bootleg Series Volume 5 & Hard Rain tracks are quite loud, while the Biograph recordings and the Bootleg Series Volume 13 tracks are quieter. You can alter these in a sound editor (I use Audacity), or simply keep one hand on the volume button. Until next time, keep yourself healthy and listen to some good tunes.


PS: Happy Independence Day to American readers! Happy Wednesday to everybody else :)

Friday, June 15, 2018

In The Summertime: Unreleased Live Recordings, 1981

Volume One

Gotta Serve Somebody - Live - London - June 29, 1981
I Believe In You - Live - London - June 29, 1981
Like A Rolling Stone - Live - Avignon - July 25, 1981
I Want You - Live - New Orleans - November 10, 1981
The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll - Live - Houston - November 12, 1981
Man Gave Names To All The Animals - Live - Houston - November 12, 1981
Maggie's Farm - Live - London - June 29, 1981
Girl Of The North Country - Live - Basel - July 23, 1981
I'll Be Your Baby Tonight - Live - Houston - November 12, 1981
All Along The Watchtower - Live - New Orleans - November 10, 1981
Barbara Allen - Live - Birmingham - July 4, 1981
Watered-Down Love - Live - New Orleans - November 10, 1981
Shot Of Love - Live - New Orleans - November 10, 1981
Simple Twist Of Fate - Live - New Orleans - November 10, 1981
A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall - Live - Houston - November 12, 1981
Forever Young - Live - New Orleans - November 10, 1981

Introduction to Maggie's Farm - Live - Houston - November 12, 1981
Introduction to Watered-Down Love - Live - Columbia - June 14, 1981
Introduction to Shot Of Love - Live - Avignon - July 25, 1981

Volume Two

The Times They Are A-Changin' - Live - Houston - November 12, 1981
Saved - Live - Avignon - July 25, 1981
Solid Rock - Live - Houston - November 12, 1981
Just Like A Woman - Live - New Orleans - November 10, 1981
Dead Man, Dead Man - Live - London - June 28, 1981
Heart Of Mine - Live - Houston - November 12, 1981
Ballad Of A Thin Man - Live - Birmingham - July 4, 1981
Jesus Is The One - Live - Avignon - July 25, 1981
Lenny Bruce - Live - Avignon - July 25, 1981
Let's Begin - Live - Avignon - July 25, 1981
Slow Train - Live - Avignon - July 25, 1981
Mr. Tambourine Man - Live - Drammen - July 9, 1981
When You Gonna Wake Up? - Live - London - June 29, 1981
In The Summertime - Live - Avignon - July 25, 1981
Love Minus Zero/No Limit - Live - London - June 29, 1981
Knockin' On Heaven's Door - Live - Basel - July 23, 1981

Introduction to Ballad Of A Thin Man - Live - Nashville - November 14, 1981
Introduction to Lenny Bruce - Live - London - June 26, 1981
Introduction to Knockin' On Heaven's Door - Live - Houston - November 12, 1981

Volume Three

Gotta Serve Somebody - Live - Houston - November 12, 1981
I Believe In You - Live - Drammen - July 10, 1981
Like A Rolling Stone - Live - London - June 28, 1981
What Can I Do For You? - Live - Birmingham - July 4, 1981
Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues - Live - Columbia - June 14, 1981
When He Returns - Live - Cincinnati - November 4, 1981
Heart Of Mine - Live - Drammen - July 9, 1981
Solid Rock - Live - London - June 28, 1981
Let It Be Me - Live - Toronto - October 29, 1981
Dead Man, Dead Man - Live - Birmingham - July 4, 1981
It's All In The Game - Live - Merrillville - October 19, 1981
Masters Of War - Live - New Orleans - November 10, 1981
Abraham, Martin & John - Live - Columbia - June 14, 1981
When You Gonna Wake Up? - Live - Houston - November 12, 1981
Don't Think Twice, It's Alright - Live - Drammen - July 9, 1981
City Of Gold - Live - Birmingham - July 5, 1981

1981 is my favorite year of Bob Dylan's touring career. Consequently, I've put quite a bit of time and attention into this uncharacteristically lengthy entry in the Thousand Highways Collection.

The third and final year in Bob Dylan's so-called 'gospel period' is a peculiar, unique experience. The early days of the tour were actually quite reminiscent of the preceding Musical Retrospective Tour of Fall 1980. Note the appearance on Volume Three of "Abraham, Martin & John," which was played only twice in 1981 after being featured regularly throughout the earlier tour. Other songs shared between Dylan's four appearances in the United States during June 1981 and his popular return to secular performances between November to December 1980 after a year of pure gospel were "Rise Again," "Covenant Woman" and "We Just Disagree." These tracks would disappear from the set after the singer set foot on European soil for a Summer tour, and the new year would quickly acquire its own identity.

Most conspicuously, a Caribbean influence pervaded Dylan's sound. Tracks which had formerly been compellng but staid, like "I Believe In You," somehow grew in power after receiving more idiosyncratic vocals and a more complex drum pattern courtesy of Jim Keltner. The new tracks, which would be published on Shot of Love in August 1981, were a consistent highlight of the concerts and contributed to the Caribbean flair. As he'd done during the Rolling Thunder Revue in 1975, Dylan managed to put across these new songs even more powerfully on the road.

The recent Trouble In Mind, by Clinton Heylin, presents a narrative of the tour running out of steam as it moved from Summer to Fall. I disagree wholeheartedly with this assessment, much as I respect Heylin's research into the unreleased recordings of this time period. The Summer shows are incredible - Avignon is among the best recordings of the singer's career - but Fall includes a more bizarre setlist and increasingly on-the-edge performances. Check out the seemingly Cheap Trick-influenced "I Want You" or the passionate "Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" for a look into Dylan's idiosyncratic reinventions of classic songs. A soundboard recording of New Orleans, mixed by studio legend Daniel Lanois, circulates in fan circles, but my favorite show from the Fall Tour is Houston. Introduced by Hugues Aufray, a French artist and fan, Dylan performed a particularly loose concert to the enthusiastic Texas audience. The show circulates in a lossless audience recording, but I have opted here for the comparatively lossy cassette master that sounds absolutely magnificent to my ears.

As his performances grew in unique arrangements - consider the total reinvention of "Mr. Tambourine Man" featured in Drammen on July 9 - Dylan also grew uncharacteristically talkative with his fans. At Columbia on June 14, he offered his amusing if condescending assessment of a writer penning a biography of him. At Avignon on July 25, on the other hand, he lauded fans who had followed the tour from Toulouse. At London on June 26 he offered insight into how quickly "Lenny Bruce" had been written (two minutes), and at Nasvhille on November 14 he reminisced about how dangerous the city was for a man with long hair when he'd recorded Highway 61 Revisited in 1965. In my favorite instance, he mused about the ascent of computers and their role in air traffic at Houston on November 12. All in all, it's a lovely year for the singer's on-stage commentary.

The first two volumes here are intended to represent something of a standard show. As Paul Williams notes in his inimitable Performing Artist series of books, Bob Dylan's 1981 tours were something of an anomaly. Rather than focus on a single element of the singer's career - either a self-conscious career retrospective like 1974 or 1978, or an emphasize on recent albums like 1966 or 1975 - this year would be uncharacteristically free of such constraints. Setlists were clearly used, as many song sequences remained the same throughout the year, but the overall selection of songs would be wider than anything that had come before. 1981 was a year where the singer seems to have felt untethered by expetations: he played songs from his upcoming (or recently released) record, but didn't dwell on it, while looking to the past through a new lens.

The third volume instead focuses on tracks which didn't make the initial selection. Some of these have been included on other Thousand Highways compilations and I wanted to centralize them here. Others, like an unsuccessful yet entirely unique full-band performance of "When He Returns," are new to my collection. "Gotta Serve Somebody" represents the surprising fact that the song went from the exciting rearrangement that appeared on the Summer Tour to a more straightforward, if charmingly rendered, arrangement from the following Fall Tour. "Solid Rock" moved in the opposite direction, as it was performed in a guise reminiscent of 1979-1980 during the Summer but was rearranged as a slow funk crawl in the Fall. Other tracks appear here which sadly lacked better-quality recordings - "It's All In The Game" and "Let It Be Me" chief among these - while "Heart Of Mine" is an intriguing look at what might have been: Dylan played organ on the up-tempo Summer 1981 performances of this Shot Of Love single, but it reverted to a more standard arrangement on the Fall Tour.

I hope you enjoy this selection of songs. I absolutely adore Bob Dylan's 1981 live performances, and I'll admit a touch jealousy for those who had the chance to attend them in person. Still, I'll remain content with this surprisingly extensive set of beautiful recordings. Until next time, keep yourself healthy and listen to some good tunes.


Saturday, June 2, 2018

Coming Soon: In The Summertime - Live 1981 (3 Disks)

Welcome to summer, friends! 

I haven't forgotten you all. The new collection should have posted yesterday, wrapping up our re-exploraiton of the gospel years in light of Sony's 2017 release of Trouble No More: Live 1979 - 1981. Unfortunately, I started a new job in the past month (after ten years at my last one!) and have been more than a little distracted. 

This is all the more challenging because 1981 is my favorite year of Bob Dylan's touring career and I really want to do it justice with an expanded set. Consequently, I have an exhaustive three-volume set coming to you soon. I'm still putting the finishing touches on it, but it should be ready by June 15. Check back in on that day and I'm sure you'll find an exciting new chapter of the Thousand Highways Collection. Until then, keep yourself healthy and listen to some good tunes.


Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Caribbean Wind: Unreleased Studio Recordings, 1980 - 1981

Caribbean Wind
Unreleased Studio Recordings
1980 - 1981

Mystery Train - Outtake, 1981
Heart Of Mine - Outtake, 1981
Caribbean Wind - Outtake, 1980
Wind Blowing On The Water - Outtake, 1981
Shot Of Love - Outtake, 1981
Watered-Down Love - Rough Mix, 1981
Hallelujah - Outtake, 1981
Let It Be Me - Outtake, 1981
Is It Worth It? - Outtake, 1981
Let's Keep It Between Us - Outtake, 1980
Magic - Outtake, 1981
Trouble - Outtake, 1981
Ah Ah Ah Ah (High Away) - Outtake, 1981
In The Summertime - Rough Mix, 1981
Borrowed Time - Outtake, 1981

[Link Removed - See Below]

Welcome to a lovely and oft-overlooked corner of Bob Dylan's recording career - the sessions that led to 1981's Shot of Love. Shot of Love is a remarkably good record, whatever else you've heard, and was Dylan's last to sound like a bunch of people playing in the same room until Love & Theft in 2001. There was no sleek shine to this production, and consequently it breathed with the passion found in much of the man's best work. Unfortunately, many of the finest recordings from these sessions were not released on that album. In particular, "Yonder Comes Sin" and "Caribbean Wind" are absolutely essential, and "Heart of Mine" was recorded in a much better rendition than the one that appears on the official release.

Outside of these classics, more minor gems were recorded. No collection of Dylan outtakes would be complete without these covers of "Mystery Train" and "Let It Be Me." The fragmentary songs, including "Hallelujah" (not the Leonard Cohen song) and "Borrowed Time" make one wonder what could have been; "Is It Worth It" and "Ah Ah Ah Ah (High Away)" point to the reggae-influenced road ahead to Infidels, and contribute to the overall Caribbean sound of this era.

The rough mixes of "Watered-Down Love" and "In The Summertime" are both interesting. "Watered-Down Love" retains an extra verse not present on the official release but conspicuous in live performances from 1981. It's likely that, like the longer version of "Dead Man, Dead Man" that appears on 2017's ​Trouble No More, this extra verse was cut for time constraints on the 1981 ​Shot of Love​ LP. "In The Summertime," on the other hand, stands out for the inclusion of a mournful harmonica that extends the song by a full minute beyond its officially released version.

Unfortunately, I recently discovered that the original 2018 edition of this compilation included an officially released (if obscure) live performance of “Dead Man, Dead Man” that is often misrepresented as a rough mix. Credit to Expecting Rain commenter FolkieEmo for cluing me in to this error. The offending track has been replaced with a recently circulating alternate take of Shot of Love​ composition “Trouble.” The outtake isn’t anything amazing, but it an interesting look at a song in transition from a series of standard blues lines to the comparatively more distinctive version on the album.

I hope you enjoy this newest compilation, and include it in your collections alongside the inimitable Shot of Love and extraordinary Trouble No More. It was a blast to put together. Until next time, keep yourself healthy and listen to some good tunes.


Note: Links have been removed for the moment, as a kindly commenter brought a significant error to my attention - the so-called rough mix of Dead Man, Dead Man included here is actually a live performance of the song from New Orleans. This was included on a rare official CD (Live 1961-2000) and as such cannot be hosted on my website. A new version of Caribbean Wind will be forthcoming.

Update - June 7, 2019: The link has been replaced! "Dead Man, Dead Man" is gone and replaced with an alternate take of "Trouble."
Update - September 17, 2021: The link has been removed due to content being officially released in The Bootleg Series Volume 16.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Rise Again: Unreleased Live Recordings, Fall 1980

Rise Again
Live: Fall 1980

Blowin' In The Wind - Live - San Francisco - November 13, 1980
A Couple More Years - Live - Portland - December 3, 1980
What Can I Do For You? - Live - Portland - December 3, 1980
Precious Angel - Live - San Francisco - November 12, 1980
Slow Train - Live - Seattle - November 29, 1980
We Just Disagree - Live - Portland - December 4, 1980
Fever - Live - Seattle - November 30, 1980
To Ramona - Live - San Francisco - November 16, 1980
Senor - Live - San Francisco - November 11, 1980
Mary From The Wild Moor - Live - San Francisco - November 15, 1980
Let's Keep It Between Us - Live - Portland - December 3, 1980
Monologue: The Same Man - Live - San Francisco - November 12
Rise Again - Live - Seattle - November 29
The Groom's Still Waiting At The Altar - Live - San Francisco - November 16, 1980
Ain't Gonna Go To Hell For Anybody - Live - Seattle - November 29
In The Garden - Live - San Francisco - November 11, 1980
City Of Gold - Live - San Francisco - November 13, 1980

Intro & False Start to Slow Train - Live - San Francisco - November 11, 1980
Intro to Fever - Live - San Francisco - November 22

After touring with an all-gospel revue in 1979 and early 1980, Bob Dylan made the surprising decision to reintegrate some of his classic songs with his newer bible-influenced repertoire while touring the US West Coast. At the same time, he pulled in a number of cover songs ranging from traditional Scottish ballads ("Mary From The Wild Moor") to recent radio hits (Dave Mason's "We Just Disagree") and contemporary Christian songs (Dallas Holm's "Rise Again").

It is not clear what moved Dylan to alter his earlier goal of playing explicitly religious material to fans night after night, regardless of the reception. As he and his band rehearsed in Los Angeles' Rundown Studio during September 1980, the change was apparent. The earliest focus from the rehearsal sessions was on newly written content, including "Caribbean Wind," "Every Grain of Sand" and "Yonder Comes Sin." Then after tossing off a handful of attempts at songs played on previous tours, Dylan then led his crew into numerous country and pop covers. Several of these would work their way into the following shows, but most remain unheard. One rare gem unearthed from these sessions by 2017's excellent Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More is an acoustic rendition of "Rise Again"; it's fascinating to hear just how much the song had changed between the studio and the stage in November.

For an extended residency at San Francisco's Warfield Theater from November 9 to November 22, Bob Dylan would pull out all the stops on his setlist. It varied little from night to night, but the breadth of material performed was enormous. Most shows opened with the same two songs that had introduced his concerts since the preceding year - "Gotta Serve Somebody" and "I Believe In You" (neither present on Rise Again) - before he launched into an electrified gospel arrangement of "Like A Rolling Stone." The latter is omitted from this set since it would be dramatically enhanced the following year.

With these introductory songs played, along with a nightly one-song performance by Regina McCrary, the setlist then began to open up to an intriguing combination of old and new material. "To Ramona" and "Girl From The North Country" appeared often, the former in a toned-down version of its 1978 arrangement and the latter in an all-new elegant semi-acoustic guise; Jerry Garcia, only one of numerous guests throughout the tour, plays guitar on the November 16 performance of "To Ramona" included on Rise Again. Though some of his recent gospel songs had lost a bit of their luster during the summer touring hiatus, tracks like "Slow Train" and "In The Garden" seemed to have somehow gained even more strength.

One of the most impressive elements of the Fall 1980 shows, though, was the emphasis on new compositions which, in many cases, failed to make it onto any albums. We know now that these were being worked up during the September 1980 studio sessions, perhaps in anticipation of a forthcoming album, but at the time they must have been quite surprising to audiences. "Let's Keep It Between Us," "Caribbean Wind," "The Groom's Still Waiting At The Altar," "City Of Gold" and a newly re-written "Ain't Gonna Go To Hell For Anybody" are extraordinary compositions, and we are lucky to have so many of them performed and recorded in marvelous condition at these shows. Only "The Groom's Still Waiting At The Altar" would make it onto 1981's Heart of Mine single as a b-side, and even that song had been heavily re-written between its November 1980 live appearance and the recording studio. Some of the others were recorded in the studio to less success, like "Let's Keep It Between Us" and "Caribbean Wind," or seem not to have ever been attempted in a studio session, like "City Of Gold." Whatever the case, they are excellent concert performance pieces and I'm sure you'll enjoy them here.

While "Caribbean Wind" has been omitted from Rise Again due to an official release on The Bootleg Series Volume 13, I felt compelled to include its introduction. No direct mention is made of the song, and a problem with the soundboard recording kept it from being published on said official release. It's an illuminating meditation on Dylan's own philosophy regarding his mercurial performance philosophy, as he muses about Leadbelly recording prison songs, then children's songs, all while remaining the same man; Leadbelly's audiences, of course, had been polarized about which version of him they preferred. This discomfort with audience expectations would go on to be explored more bitterly during the following year's European tour, as Dylan would openly speculate from the stage that audiences should enjoy the new songs now since, if he came back, he'd eventually just be playing the old hits that everyone wanted to hear.

I've also included a lengthy introduction to Eddie Cooley and Otis Blackwell's "Fever," which had been a hit in the '50s when recorded by Little Willie John and then Peggy Lee. Though the timeline doesn't quite sync up, Bob Dylan recalls his first time coming face to face with R&B in a Detroit bingo parlor as a young man. Having formerly listened primarily to country music, this seems to have been a formative experience in pushing the young Minnesotan out of his element and into a relationship with other musical genres. This is one of my favorite on-stage speeches by the singer, so I'm happy to include it alongside the great songs on Rise Again.

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


Saturday, March 31, 2018

Slight Delay: Rise Again - Live, Fall 1980

Happy Easter/Passover/April Fool's Day, folks!

The blog post today will be going up a day late. It's more or less done, but I need to touch up the art and notes. You'll have it on April 2, 2018. Enjoy your weekend, friends :)

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Things That Remain: Unreleased Live Recordings, Early 1980

The Things That Remain
Live: Early 1980

Gotta Serve Somebody - Live - Los Angeles - February 27, 1980
Covenant Woman - Live - Seattle - January 15, 1980
When You Gonna Wake Up - Live - Knoxville - February 5, 1980
Monologue: Ronnie Hawkins As Bob Dylan - Live - Toronto - April 20, 1980
Ain't Gonna Go To Hell For Anybody - Live - Toronto - April 20, 1980
Cover Down, Pray Through - Live - Toronto - April 20, 1980
Saving Grace - Live - Seattle - January 15, 1980
Do Right To Me Baby (Do Unto Others) - Live - Knoxville - February 5, 1980
Monologue: The End Times - Live - Toronto - April 20, 1980
Solid Rock - Live - Portland - January 16, 1980 *
What Can I Do For You - Live - Portland - January 16, 1980
Saved - Live - Toronto - April 20, 1980
Pressing On - Live - Seattle - January 15, 1980
Are You Ready? - Live - Toronto - April 20, 1980
I Will Sing - Live - Akron - May 18, 1980

* Introduction from April 20, 1980

Link: Mediafire

After the shock of 1979's radical reinvention, Bob Dylan fans could be forgiven for imagining he'd return to a more typical setlist when playing concerts in 1980. Unfortunately for the folks who hoped he'd get back to secular material ASAP, he continued to play the same gospel songs, more or less, that he'd taken on the road the preceding Autumn.

There were some changes. Personnel in the band shifted, as he added Regina Peeples to his backing vocal roster, then brought in Gwen Evans and Mary Elizabeth Bridges. The setlist for January to February remained similar to the year before, but the April and May shows included "Are You Ready?" from Saved, along with a few songs never played in a studio - "Ain't Gonna Go To Hell For Anybody," "Cover Down, Pray Through," and "I Will Sing." The last was a song by Max Dyer, who had developed the song in a largely improvisational live setting and was surprised to hear (twenty years later) that Bob Dylan had covered it at an Ohio show in 1980; "I Will Sing" is also notable for having been the only song played at a concert between 1979 and May 1980 that was not included on The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More.

With regard to the nuances of the performances themselves, Dylan's on-stage style in 1980 differed little from 1979. In my personal experience of the recordings, particularly in the Winter months, the bass and drums stand out more prominently than the keyboards. Spooner Oldham and Terry Young remain important players, but Tim Drummond and Jim Keltner are more clearly felt than they had been at the 1979 concerts. Certain songs here highlight that more than others - "Do Right To Me Baby," "Solid Rock" and "Are You Ready" are fantastic vehicles for Bob Dylan's rhythm section.

I find myself in a rare disagreement with noted author Paul Williams, in that I'm not convinced Dylan's early 1980 shows are in any way inferior to his 1979 concerts. Williams claims that there's a falling off of energy, but if that's true, the singer more than makes up for it in the genuinely experimental spirit with which he wove his vocal lines. Check out "Covenant Woman," "What Can I Do For You," or especially "Saving Grace" to discover what happens when Dylan wants to play around with a song without altering its arrangement. I do wish he'd continued playing more of these songs, as he discarded quite a few after the early 1980 shows - "Covenant Woman," "Are You Ready," "Pressing On," and "Cover Down, Pray Through" would never again resurface after May 1980; "Do Right To Me Baby" would be played once on that year's Musical Retrospective Tour, "When He Returns" would appear once in a surprising and unsuccessful full-band arrangement in 1981, and "Saving Grace" wouldn't appear again until the new millennium. Happily, "Gotta Serve Somebody," "Solid Rock," "When You Gonna Wake Up" and "What Can I Do For You" still had some developing to do throughout 1980 and 1981.

The concerts themselves were extraordinary, as was Bob Dylan's appearance at the 1980 Grammy Awards. He played "Gotta Serve Somebody," and even managed to add some new lyrics and a smoky harmonica solo. His raps continued in 1980, though they were comparatively limited according to the extant tapes. We are lucky to have a record of his comments at a Toronto concert in April 1980, and these makes up the bulk of his prose commentary here. This, surprisingly, includes something of a reflection on his notoriously poor reception by a college crowd in Arizona during the preceding year's tour. Dylan weaves that experience together with his expectation of a forthcoming apocalypse, but manages to make the entire story compelling through his uniquely engaging stage voice. Additionally, he ruminates humorously upon Ronnie Hawkins role as Bob Dylan in the poorly received film Renaldo & Clara; it really makes you wish he spoke a bit more often, eh?

There's not much else to say - early 1980 presented something of an expansion and refinement of Bob Dylan's 1979 shows. Audiences were treated to new songs, though no radical reinventions of his gospel tracks. A cover managed to work its way into the set, briefly, but was then dropped again. It seems that this particular style of performance had run its course; by Fall 1980, the singer would be incorporating secular covers and older compositions with his post-1978 catalog in concert.

I hope you enjoy this set! Until next time, keep yourself healthy and listen to some good tunes.


Thursday, February 1, 2018

Pressing On: Unreleased Live Recordings, 1979

Pressing On
Live 1979

Gotta Serve Somebody - Live - Santa Monica - November 18, 1979
I Believe In You - Live - San Francisco - November 7, 1979
When You Gonna Wake Up - Live - Santa Monica - November 18, 1979 *
When He Returns - Live - San Francisco - November 16, 1979
Slow Train - Live - San Francisco - November 7, 1979 **
Covenant Woman - Live - Santa Monica - November 19, 1979
Sermon: End Times - Live - Albuquerque - December 5, 1979
Solid Rock - Live - San Francisco - November 16, 1979
Saving Grace - Live - San Francisco - November 16, 1979
Precious Angel - Live - Santa Monica - November 18, 1979
Sermon: Every Knee Shall Bow - Live - Tempe - November 26, 1979
Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking - Live - San Francisco - November 16, 1979
What Can I Do For You - Live - Santa Monica - November 18, 1979
Blessed Is The Name - Live - San Francisco - November 16, 1979
Pressing On - Live - San Francisco - November 4, 1979

* Introduction: Santa Monica - November 19, 1979
** Introduction: San Francisco - November 16, 1979

In November 2017, Sony finally published a significant portion of Bob Dylan's unreleased live and studio performances spanning 1979 to 1981 as The Bootleg Series Volume 13: Trouble No More. This period had gone almost entirely untouched by Dylan's record company outside of the contemporary studio albums (Slow Train Coming, Saved, and Shot of Love) and a handful of live tracks recorded at 1981's noteworthy New Orleans concert - "Heart of Mine" on 1985's Biograph and "Dead Man, Dead Man" on 1989's "Everything Is Broken" single. 

While the new Bootleg Series addition is a welcome addition to any collection (and perhaps my favorite Bootleg Series entry so far), there is always another side to the story. In the case of 1979, the other side is perhaps less important than usual; Dylan didn't significantly alter arrangements or setlists on his first Gospel Tour, so the average fan would likely be perfectly happy listening to the excellent versions chosen and presented in exquisite sound quality for the official compilation. The more enthusiastic fan of Bob Dylan's gospel period, though, might be interested in hearing alternate versions of songs.

More importantly, the official CD set entirely omitted the between-song commentary offered by the singer at these concerts. 1979 and 1980 were genuine rarities in Dylan's career, as the typically reserved performer opened his heart up to audiences. He spoke at times in clearly rehearsed phrases and at other times spontaneously. He had recently converted to Christianity and felt a sense of responsibility to preach the gospel using the two methods most readily available to him - his albums and his concerts. Given the outsized role of Dylan's preaching at shows and its absence from the official Bootleg Series entry, I emphasized it on Pressing On: Live 1979.

Two songs here have extended introductions, while two more lengthy sermons have been isolated as discrete tracks. Many, myself included, find the omission of between-song prose on Trouble No More to be a bit more conducive to repeat listens, so I wanted listeners to have the same option on this unofficial compilation. The first of the two sermons, which I've arbitrarily titled "End Times," is a lengthier explication of the apocalyptic biblical reading that informs songs like "Slow Train Coming" and "Are You Ready?" The second sermon represents the most confrontational moment in the singer's career since feuding with his audience on-stage in Britain on the 1966 tour; he is heckled relentlessly while telling a story about 'false deceivers' and has the lights turned on in the hall, telling his hecklers to go see a KISS concert and 'rock and roll down to the pit' if they don't care for his message.

With regard to the music, there will be few surprises here for those who own Trouble No More. The arrangements and performances are more or less the same, though the sound quality is appreciably worse on these recordings. That said, a handful of tracks benefit from the reduced instrument separation: "Gotta Serve Somebody" is more full here than on Disc One of Trouble No More, "Covenant Woman" is more compressed so the song's first verse isn't unreasonably quiet, the blown bass of "Slow Train" hammers home the sense of smoke and brimstone, and the organ on "Precious Angel" offers a warmth that can be lacking on crisper recordings of the song's 1979 arrangement.

All of this being said, the most significant musical inclusion on this compilation is "Pressing On." When played on November 4, 1979, the song featured an additional third verse that was rapidly dropped and (seemingly) never even made it to the studio when the song was recorded at Muscle Shoals in 1980. The rare verse doubles down on the second verse's references to an internal battle with Satan, so perhaps it was dropped for de-emphasizing the song's broader, more inspirational message. It's hard to say, but I'm glad that the song was recorded in a reasonably clear manner before the verse disappeared permanently.

The next installment in The Thousand Highways Collection will document Bob Dylan's tours of early 1980, including unreleased tracks from the much-beloved Toronto residency. Until next time, keep yourself healthy and listen to some good tunes.

- CS

Monday, January 1, 2018

Once Upon A Time: Unreleased Live Recordings, 2017

Once Upon A Time: Live 2017
Volume One

Things Have Changed - Live - Washington, DC - November 14, 2017
It Ain't Me BabeLive - Washington, DC - November 14, 2017
Highway 61 RevisitedLive - Syracuse - June 25, 2017
Why Try To Change Me NowLive - New York - November 24, 2017
Summer DaysLive - New York - November 24, 2017
Melancholy MoodLive - Washington, DC - November 14, 2017
Honest With MeLive - Uniondale - November 8, 2017
Tryin' To Get To HeavenLive - Uniondale - November 8, 2017
Once Upon A TimeLive - Washington, DC - November 14, 2017
Pay In BloodLive - Washington, DC - November 14, 2017
Tangled Up In BlueLive - Washington, DC - November 14, 2017
Soon After MidnightLive - New York - November 24, 2017
Early Roman KingsLive - Saskatoon - July 14, 2017
Desolation RowLive - Winnipeg - July 12, 2017
Thunder On The MountainLive - Washington, DC - November 14, 2017
Autumn LeavesLive - Upper Darby - November 12, 2017

Once Upon A Time: Live 2017
Volume Two

Things Have Changed - Live - Syracuse - June 25, 2017
Don't Think Twice, It's All Right - Live - Esch-sur-Alzette - April 22, 2017
Beyond Here Lies Nothing - Live - Esch-sur-Alzette - April 22, 2017
Standing In The Doorway - Live - Stockholm - April 1, 2017
Lonesome Day Blues - Live - Dover - June 17, 2017
Make You Feel My Love - Live - Saskatoon - July 14, 2017
Blind Willie McTell - Live - Dover - June 17, 2017
Full Moon & Empty Arms - Live - New York - November 22, 2017
It's All Over Now Baby Blue - Live - Dover - June 17, 2017
Tangled Up In Blue - Live - Bournemouth - May 4, 2017
Stormy Weather - Live - Calgary - July 16, 2017
Scarlet Town - Live - Buffalo - November 18, 2017
Early Roman Kings - Live - Upper Darby - November 12, 2017
Love Sick - Live - Bournemouth - May 4, 2017
Learning To Fly - Live - Broomfield - October 21, 2017

2017 was a good year for Bob Dylan's live performances. He managed to play intimate club shows and fun festival sets throughout the year in North America and Europe, developing his setlist significantly from the more static days of the last few years. There were some negative consequences, as the performances are perhaps not quite so tight as they were in 2014 or 2015, but the change overall was one that made a more exciting experience for fans in person and following along at home.

Happily, the tapers also came through in much more challenging conditions than have been faced in recent memory. Terrorism at concert venues has become a sadly common headline, and security has been tightened accordingly; smuggling in recording gear is harder than it used to be, of course. A number of dedicated individuals persevered, though, and we've been graced with extraordinary recordings from Spot, Soomlos, JF, Big Daddy Buffalo, EBR, beer and Imperfect Gravy, among others.*

I have compiled the most consistently strong tracks onto Volume One. This tracklist is less exciting than Volume Two, perhaps, but is the more compelling listening experience. Alex Leary's Washington, DC tape is my favorite combination of performance and recording quality, and is well-represented here. Listeners will notice that the bulk of content on this first volume comes from the Fall Tour of North America - this is because Bob Dylan played and sang in a more adventurous fashion on the final tour of the year, altering a number of arrangements quite significantly.

In particular, the arrangements for "Things Have Changed," "Summer Days," "Honest With Me," Tryin' To Get To Heaven," "Tangled Up In Blue," and "Thunder On The Mountain" have been dramatically altered. The changes to "Things Have Changed" and "Summer Days" occurred earlier in the year, but the others were largely altered by the Autumn concerts. "Honest With Me" and "Thunder On The Mountain" were the most significant of the alterations, as both unexpectedly became infused with a kind of surf rock aesthetic; "Summer Days" was only marginally less altered, becoming a violin-oriented up-tempo folk song more akin to "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" than its former swing sound.

One major change to Bob Dylan's own on-stage work in 2017 was his move to piano for virtually all non-cover performances. While he had been singing many songs center-stage without accompanying himself instrumentally for much of 2013 to 2016, he had moved back to playing piano on "Things Have Changed," "Pay In Blood," "Love Sick," and others. The cover songs were still performed almost exclusively without piano accompaniment.

With regard to Volume Two, the recordings vary much more in quality and ambiance. Crystal Cat turned in a few of the year's more interesting tapes, but their work on delivering clarity came at the consequence of a warmer room sound. Interesting rare performances like "Standing in The Doorway" and "It's All Over Now Baby Blue" are unfortunately a bit thin. The performances are still excellent, though, and I can't imagine its anything that couldn't be overlooked by dedicated fans.

Three of the songs on Volume Two also appear on Volume One, but this is no error or the result of a lack of song diversity. In fact, the three songs are curiosities that should not be missed. "Things Have Changed" is played with a much more intense, dark country flair here. "Tangled Up In Blue" is an intriguing arrangement that exists halfway between the way it had been played from 2013 to 2016 and the new, more easygoing treatment it would receive at 2017's Fall shows. "Early Roman Kings," finally, is representative of the way that the song was played throughout the Autumn Tour - softer in tone than the pounding electric blues of early 2017 but with brief, jazzy instrumental interludes between verses; it also features some new lyrics.

Some other interesting rearrangements are present on Volume Two as well. "Love Sick" is performed in a soft, moody style that recalls its sound on 1997's Time Out of Mind. "Scarlet Town," one of my favorite songs from 2012's Tempest, has been rearranged to a slightly more dramatic, mid-tempo ballad; it happily retains its minor-key menace. "It's All Over Now Baby Blue" is perhaps not a major alteration, but it does sound strangely like the composer combined its lyrics with the more rollicking music of "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues." "Blind Willie McTell" is quite similar to the way it was played at the 2012 Critics Choice Awards, though the piano's prominence lends it a sound even more reminiscent of New Orleans in the early Twentieth Century.

Finally, the second volume ends on a bittersweet note. Bob Dylan's old touring partner and friend, Tom Petty, died on October 2, 2017, and received an on-stage musical tribute at the end of Dylan's show in Broomfield, Colorado. This song had not ever been publicly played by Bob Dylan before, but his delivery and the band's performance is as tight as if they'd been playing it nightly. The only capture of this performance circulating as of December 31, 2017 was a lossy recording from a cell phone. Listeners ought not criticize the sound quality, though, as without the work of this taper we'd not have any document of the night at all; I'm making an exception to my typical lossless-sourced rule to present the moving performance, and I suspect listeners will agree with the decision.

With that, I hope you all enjoyed the year's Bob Dylan performances as much as I did. These are challenging times, and we are lucky to have a musician as talented as this to help us muddle through; similarly, we are eternally blessed that the tapers spend their time and hard-earned money getting these recordings out to the wider world. Until we meet again, keep yourself healthy and listen to some good tunes.

- CS

* Note: A comment from one of the tapers reminded me that some of the names were not pseudonyms and could create problems for accessing venues in the future. If you were one of the tapers whose name has been redacted for this purpose, let me know an appropriate pseudonym and I will add it back into the source list.