Sunday, 10 November 2019

Bob Dylan - Travelin' Thru: The Bootleg Series Vol 15

I am a lonesome hobo....


Session material from 1967-1969

Another year, another release in the consistently excellent Bootleg Series of Bob Dylan's alternate takes and session outtakes. This time it covers material from 1967-1969, which includes the John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline albums. Most of the tracks are included in some form or another, apart from Tonight I'l Be Staying Here With You from Nashville Skyline and The Ballad Of Frankie Lee And Judas Priest, Dear Landlord, Wicked Messenger, Down Along The Cove and I'll Be Your Baby Tonight from JWH.

The Dylan session cuts are lovely, full of gentle, bassy warmth as exemplified on Tell Me That It Isn't True and a beautiful take of Lay Lady Lay. The latter is performed without the rhythmic percussion, leaving just the bass and is totally disarming. Country Pie is excellent too, somehow better than the version that was eventually used. The same can be said of To Be Alone With You. From JWH, I Pity The Poor Immigrant and I Am A Lonesome Hobo are similarly appealing in their understated, warm delivery. All Along The Watchtower (Take 3) is great, with a big rumbling bass line and killer wailing harmonica. It is not to different to the eventual version, to be honest. I just love it anyway. Drifter's Escape (Take 1) is given a more upbeat, military-style drumbeat to the more regular, metronomic one that was eventually used. It is a slightly quicker rendition. I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine (Take 2) is slightly faster and probably not quite the equal of the final album version. John Wesley Harding (Take 1) is also a bit more pacy but the actual album take was so good that it takes some beating.

The JWH outtakes are probably not particularly interesting or different, however, in the way that the Blood On The Tracks ones from the previous Bootleg Series release were, but I have to say I enjoyed the Nashville Skyline session versions a lot.

Much of the second half of the box set is taken up with material from the sessions Dylan recorded with Johnny Cash. These are really good, unearthing some impressive and highly listenable songs like I Still Miss Someone and the bluesy country romp of Matchbox. Once more, the sound quality is superb and the bass smoulders in a most attractive, comforting manner. Big River is healthily vibrant with great vocals from both artists and infectious backing. Unfortunately, the pair's rehearsal of Girl From The North Country has an awful vocal from Dylan, particularly when compared to Cash's. It is almost as if Cash is teaching Dylan how to sing, the difference between the two is so clear. Thankfully things improve a bit on Take 1 of the song.

The country-ish Guess Things Happen That Way is a much better duet, full of melody and enthusiasm. The same can be said of the delightful western fun of Wanted Man. Cash's iconic Ring Of Fire is sung solo by Dylan and I really like it. It is given a bluesy makeover that I much prefer to its original country sound. Great harmonica in it too. The two of them do a good job on Cash's classic, I Walk The Line and that is also true of the lengthy Careless Love. Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup/Elvis Presley's That's All Right is a pile of fun and really enjoyable to listen to and this vibe continues on Mystery Train.

East Virginia Blues (with Earl Scruggs) was recorded in mono for some reason but it has a winsome country blues, guitar-pickin' appeal. The live material from the Johnny Cash Show is good too. Overall, this is shorter box than some of the other Bootleg Series offerings, largely due to the fact that a) there weren't that many outtakes from the John Wesley Harding sessions in particular and b) much of the session material from the period 1967-69 has subsequently been lost.

The Cash sessions were possibly recorded with a view to releasing a duet album but for whatever reason it never happened, only Girl From The North Country saw the light of day, which was a shame because there was some excellent stuff here.


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