Bob Dylan is a bard and a rolling stone, with the habit of never looking back on his own career while incessantly reaching towards other means of time travel. Being a folk musician, he is entitled to scourging, dressing up traditional melodies in new lyrical apparel.
In his prolific output, there lies boundless hidden gems in tape boxes waiting to be found, the most important example being a series of recordings made during the late 60’s known as the Basement Tapes. These recordings were intended to be demos for other bands to use, created during a time many fans thought Dylan was seriously injured after a motorcycle accident.
These Basement Tapes were totally known by the public until someone, to this day no one knows who, released the world’s first bootleg, known as the Great White Wonder, featuring a handful of those sessions. There began the regard and myth building, as people slowly found more and more recordings leaking over the years, a panned and horrible official release (collecting only a small percent of the songs, and even then adding overdubs and new songs not of the famed sessions).
But now, 47 years later, those songs have seen complete release.
What compromises these tapes are basic demos. Organized in what is supposed the chronological order, it appears to make a journey of at first funny and interesting selections, with the first two discs featuring top 40 country covers and traditional ballads and waltzes, sandwiched with far simpler Dylan songs than the beatnik and complex lyrics he was writing in Highway 61 Revisited or Blonde on Blonde.
These sessions hark an exploration of the old, with even the original Dylan compositions offering an antiqued, timeless feel: see “Minstrel Boy”, a short satisfying bit, beckoning to the begone theater shows. Some of the originals Dylan had contributions from the Band members themselves, who would go on to record the tracks for their debut, as “Tears of Rage” and “I Shall Be Released” came to be known. These two tracks in particular were recorded a few times each in these sessions, and are quite spectacular songs. Although Dylan himself never recorded them for an official, here they are presented fully with their creator leading the rendition.
In its entirety, this is a dense collection to shift through for the average listener; thus the trimmed release, Basement Tapes: Raw offers a great springboard into the material. For those who are die-hard Dylan fans or interested in the whole process, the complete tapes offer an enjoyable and thorough listen. Discs three to five offer the best selection, with the sixth disc accumulating distorted tracks, and the first two discs each selections of more humorous and light-hearted fare.
Although there has been a mystique surrounding the recordings, known in music history as the first bootleg and a treasure trove of material, there have been better entries in the bootleg series. There are gems to be found, yet as the entire set stands it is better trimmed of the fat. 7/10
Anthony Campbell // Staff Writer