10 Feb 2012

Bob Dylan - Essential Bootlegs

The Genuine Bootleg Series
Taking the first 3 volumes of Dylan's official Bootleg Series as it's inspiration, this long running series cherrypicks the best obscure Dylan material and presents it in a chronological context. An ideal place for the beginning or casual collector to start, the more serious Dylan collector will end up doubling up with a lot of this material as you pick up other titles, but there's no faulting the scope or track selection in this series.

Folksinger's Choice
A very animated Dylan's February 1962 appearance on Cynthia Gooding's Folksinger's Choice radio show. Alternating between performance and interview, the obviously enamored Gooding engages Dylan in some hilarious bouts of myth making which have to be heard to be believed. Emmett Till and Talkin' New York get airings as do a number of covers, most of which are found here in better quality than on other circulating bootlegs of the era. Even better, due to a loophole in the English / European copyright laws bypassing radio / TV material broadcast in the U.S, this is available to buy from Amazon.co.uk for almost nothing. Click on the cover to be taken there.

The Freewheelin' Outtakes
Dylan recorded enough material for the Freewheelin' album to fill another couple of LPs, but managed to get away with filling the final release with mostly his own material. The covers found on here show off Dylan's growing diversity well, from Robert Johnson's Milk Cow Calf Blues, to Hank Williams Lonesome Whistle Blues to rock n roll rave up That's Alright Mama. There's also a number of quality Dylan compositions too, with the Death of Emmett Till leading the pack, sounding like a dry run for much of the material on his next album.

The Gaslight Tapes
An excellent early document of Dylan's residency at the Gaslight Cafe in 1962, this features a mixture of early Dylan compositions ( Hard Rain, the excellent Freewheelin' Outtake Rocks & Gravel ) and traditional folk material ( Cuckoo, Cocaine, Ain't No More Cane ) , all very nicely recorded and with Dylan's confidence noticeably growing and his performance skills maturing nicely too. Sony released an official version of this via Starbucks, but left off a lot of the more interesting material. Until they get it right, you're better off sticking with one of the numerous bootleg versions.

Stolen Moments
Probably the best solo live Dylan performance you're ever likely to hear, this concert was originally recorded in 1963 for release as Dylan's first official live album, even getting to the point of having some promotional copies pressed before it was inexplicably abandoned. The abridged version intended for that release has been circulating for years, but the full concert has only recently seen the light of day on this fabulous release. Loaded with otherwise unheard gems ( Dusty Old Fairgrounds, Bob Dylan's New Orleans Rag, Hero Blues etc. ), and compelling, authoritative performances of some of his best known early material, this is class all the way and an impressive document of a confident young performer who knows exactly what he's got to offer the world. Unbeatable.

A Tree With Roots
Here's another four discs of material from Dylan and the Band's six month Big Pink Basement Tapes sessions. These have been bootlegged in many forms before, but this has the best sound quality so far and does a great job of assembling a huge amount of material into a manageable, logically sequenced whole. There's a lot of great material on here which didn't make it onto the official release. Without the Band's post production tinkering it's a little rougher around the edges, but that's a large part of it's charm. An official release beckons, but until then this will do the trick nicely.

The Dylan / Cash Sessions
A very loose and charming session with Dylan joining Cash and his band to run through a selection of old country and rock n roll standards as well as a few of their own cuts. Their duet version of Girl From The North Country found it's way onto Nashville Skyline of course, but the majority of this is much looser so as long as you don't go into this expecting finished takes, there's a lot of fun to be had here. Dylan and Cash's affection for each other is evident , and it's obvious that they're both a little nervous performing with one of their heroes. Fans of Dylan's smooth country croon from this era will find much to enjoy here, and Cash's presence is felt strongly enough for even none-Dylan fans to need a listen to this.

Hold The Fort, Lock Up The Warehouse
A more thorough look at the 1976 Rolling Thunder Tour than the officially released Hard Rain, this is a very well mixed soundboard recording. Among the rarities we have the entertainingly Desire-esque Vincent Van Gogh, Rita Mae, T-Bone Burnett's Silver Mantis and a gripping version of the rarely performed Going Going Gone. There's also an excellent duet set with Joan Baez with an intense version of Railroad Boy, and a lovely take on Woody Guthrie's Deportees. A great, high energy show.

The Rundown Rehearsal Tapes
An excellent collection of informal rehearsal recordings of Dylan running his band through material for the upcoming Street Legal tour. Bizarrely many of these versions are more committed and confident than the shows captured on Live at the Budokan, and there are some great reinterpretations, The Man In Me, and You're A Big Girl Now work particularly well in their new format. Sound quality varies from session to session, ranging from good to excellent.

Rock Solid
Dylan's shows in Toronto on April the 19th and 20th were filmed and professionally recorded - a rare instance of Dylan having professional recording gear in the right place to capture the best show of a tour. It was never released officially, but has circulated as a good quality bootleg for years. Featuring most of Slow Train Coming and Saved, these are much more lively than the studio versions of these songs and Dylan's enthusiasm for the material is obvious. Also includes the excellent Coverdown, Breakthrough which seems to have only been played at this show.

Rough Cuts
An excellent selection of outtakes and alternate mixes from the Infidels sessions, this includes a number of cuts which saw official release on the Bootleg series Vol. 1-3, but also a number of other interesting rarities, like Julius & Ethel, Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground and an excellent electric version of Blind Willie McTell which is just as good as the acoustic version on the Bootleg Series.

Stuck Inside of New York
1988 was a pretty great year for Dylan's live shows with a powerful new band and Dylan's voice at it's forceful best. There are a number of good quality Soundboard recordings you could check out from these shows, but this is the best in terms of performance and interesting track selection. Subterranean Homesick Blues, In The Garden and John Brown all get committed performances and there's also some great solo acoustic work on the traditionals Barbara Allen and Waggoner's Lad.

The Supper Club
The four Supper Club performances were originally filmed in 1993 for Dylan to edit into an unplugged special to compete with MTV's popular show. For some reason it never came together, but we're left with excellent quality Soundboard recordings of the four shows, which leave Dylan's performance on the official MTV Unplugged special for dead. A prime candidate for issue in the official Bootleg Series.

The Tell Ol' Bill Sessions
This is a fascinating look at Dylan's studio process, following the evolution of  the track Tell Ol' Bill in the studio. Over an hour of the same track may drive the uninitiated nuts, buts there's plenty of variety on display here, and it's priceless for anyone trying to work out what makes Dylan tick.

1 comment:

  1. I'd certainly put Contract for the Lord Vols. 1&2 in there. Those are from his November 1979 residency at the Warfield in San Francisco. Less "polished" than the 1980 Rock Solid performance.