The Bob Dylan Bootleg Series Page 4

Disc Two includes the most-bootlegged tracks, gleanings from the great electric albums of the mid-'60s: Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde. "Mama, You Been On My Mind," a prime Dylan backhanded love song, was often covered in the '60s; Joan Baez named an album after "Farewell, Angelina," one of Dylan's early surrealistic songs, and one whose timeless, apocalyptic verses should have been included on the acoustic side 2 of Bringing...: the song sounds as if chanted by the sole mourner left behind after the world has emptied of souls. It was here that those remarkable phrases began to appear: "What cannot be imitated, perfect must die." "Call me any name you like, I'll never deny it."

There's an acoustic "Subterranean Homesick Blues," not nearly as electrifying as the full-band version that made it to the album; a single verse of a waltz-time "Like a Rolling Stone"---believe me, Dylan made the right choice for the final take---and a tough, choppy, up-tempo blues-shuffle version of "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry" that many prefer to the slower version released on Highway 61, though I think the latter's more majestic by far. "If You Gotta Go, Go Now," made marginally famous by the Flying Burrito Brothers, is a distinct change of pace for the Dylan of this era: relaxed, knowing, almost goofy good humor. "Sitting On a Barbed Wire Fence" is a pounding, big-beat blues rant with music and lyrics that eventually wound up in "From a Buick 6" and "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues." It still astounds me how, once he decided to trade his acoustic for a Fender, Dylan went immediately to the heart of rock, bypassing all niceties. Great Mike Bloomfield guitar on most of these tracks.

There are only two outtakes from Blonde on Blonde itself: "I'll Keep It With Mine" is not the solo-piano version from Biograph, but a full-band arrangement with The Band. After a noodling, barely-together beginning, the song develops into one of the great slow, mellow, melancholy '60s Dylan backing grooves---the blues drenched in late-afternoon California sun---with Garth Hudson's organ singing out. From a scratch rehearsal, it grows into a classic performance of an achingly sad song. Rock doesn't get any more spontaneous than this, and when it is more profound, it's still Dylan.

But "She's Your Lover Now" is the great Blonde outtake, nearly perfect until Dylan flubs the lyrics and stops dead early in the final verse. The Band backs again for this song about a man talking to his ex-lover's new boyfriend; it's at least as good as anything that made it onto the final album lineup. The song has a social realism Dylan never quite matched elsewhere: "You, you just sit around and ask for ashtrays, can't you reach?" "Now you stand there expecting me to remember something you forgot to say." Reading the words in Lyrics gives you absolutely no idea what this song is about emotionally until you hear its long, looping structure and Dylan's astonishing singing. Why he didn't do another take and insert "She's Your Lover Now" at the beginning of Blonde's side four, just before "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands," is beyond me.

There follows a grab-bag of tunes from the dark days of 1967-74, including---finally---the definitive Dylan performance, long familiar to owners of Great White Wonder, of "I Shall Be Released" from the Basement Tape sessions with The Band (1967). Richard Manuel's ghostly falsetto harmony vocals send chills up my spine; notwithstanding his later Jesus-rock period, this remains Dylan's most spiritual song. Also from Big Pink's basement is "Santa Fe," the most lightweight tune on all three CDs, with indecipherable lyrics. There's a slow, rough first recording of "If Not For You," with George Harrison; and the country waltz of "Wallflower" from the New York sessions with Leon Russell that also resulted in "Watching the River Flow" and "When I Paint My Masterpiece." Dylan aimlessly recorded "Wallflower" on Doug Sahm's 1972 Doug Sahm & Band album, but this more Nashville-ized arrangement from the year before is far superior, Dylan throaty and intimate. "Nobody 'Cept You," again with The Band (1973), is a good song, not a great one, dropped at the last minute from Planet Waves when Dylan showed up one day at the studio with "Wedding Song"; another Dylan love song to a woman he hopes wants nothing from him. The Band sounds game but tentative.

Then there are the Blood on the Tracks outtakes, all from the original New York sessions taped before Dylan, dissatisfied, re-cut half the album in Minneapolis. No, nothing here quite as stupendous as "Up to Me," which surfaced on Biograph, but there's plenty of fascination nonetheless. "Tangled Up in Blue" and "If You See Her, Say Hello" are somewhat slower, more vulnerable versions than those that finally wound up on the LP, with key lyric changes and deliberately confusing pronounery. But "Idiot Wind" sounds like a different song by a different man. I've always hated this one; it summed up for me all that I like least in Dylan: his snarling, sneering, defensive, vengeful side, his misogyny, his eagerness to lash out blindly rather than consider his own contribution to whatever emotional mess he happens to be working out in song. The NY "Wind" presents a very different mood: quiet, reflective, compassionate, less savage than sorrowful, more weary than wild; the many changes in lyrics reflect this. The new Tracks track is "Call Letter Blues," musically identical to "Meet Me in the Morning" but lyrically so far superior it makes you wonder why "Meet Me" was ever released. This song is about the bleak, blank suffering of a family breakup---I can smell this cheap walk-up apartment two floors over a bar in the decaying center of some small midwestern town, the walls painted in Landlord Dysentery Green and barely warmed by leaky gas space-heaters---it's not romantic.

Desire outtakes include "Golden Loom," a lazy country two-step of impenetrable mystical symbols with Emmylou Harris on backing vocals---the sort of alchemical mishmash Dylan was tossing off in his sleep in the mid-'70s. "Catfish" is Dylan's deadpan-droll lazy blues homage to Yankees pitcher Catfish Hunter. It's a slow, too-hot-to-move, southern summer bottom-feeder glide, and a lot of fun. The high-energy "Seven Days," live from the 1976 Rolling Thunder tour, bridges the gap between Desire and Street Legal, sounding like "Señor" with a Desire arrangement. I think it's about freedom-fighters in South America or the Spanish Civil War---you tell me.