Sunday, 22 December 2019

Bob Dylan - Compilations And Box Sets




Covered here are:-

Biograph
Dylan, Cash & The Nashville Cats: A New Music City
The Cutting Edge: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12
The Complete Albums Collection
The Bootleg Series Vol 1-3
and Bob Dylan In Mono Box Set

Scroll down to read the reviews.

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BIOGRAPH

  

This is a compilation of Bob Dylan material with no particular chronological order, with is a little frustrating and, also, no real concept behind the choices other than being a sort of "best of" together with many notable unreleased rarities. It is these that are of most interest to most Dylan fans, although it can also function pretty well as a "best of" too. With remasterings now available for much of the material, the sound on the set is not of as good a standard as these later remasters, and it has always sounded a bit muffled to me.

Anyway, on to those rarities. They are:-

I'll Keep It With Mine - a Bringing It All Back Home outtake
Percy's Song - a Times They Are A-Changin' outtake
Mixed-Up Confusion - single
The Groom's Still Waiting At The Altar - b side
Jet Pilot - a Blonde On Blonde outtake
Lay Down Your Weary Tune - a Times They Are A-Changin' outtake
I Don't Believe You - live
Visions of Johanna - live
Quinn The Eskimo - from The Basement Tapes
You're A Big Girl Now - a Blood On The Tracks outtake
Abandoned Love - a Desire outtake
It's All Over Now Baby Blue - live
Isis - live
Caribbean Wind - a Shot Of Love outtake
Up To Me - a Blood On The Tracks outtake
Baby I'm In The Mood For You - a Freewheelin' Bob Dylan outtake
I Wanna Be Your Lover - a Blonde On Blonde outtake
Heart Of Mine - live
Romance In Durango - live
Forever Young - demo version


The ones that are of particular interest to me are the two Blood On The Tracks outtakes and the Blonde On Blonde and Desire material. However, quite a few of these tracks have subsequently been made available, in remastered sound, via the Complete Works box set, rendering this set pretty redundant.

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DYLAN, CASH & THE NASHVILLE CATS: A NEW MUSIC CITY

1. Absolutely Sweet Marie - Bob Dylan
2. Harpoon Man -Charlie McCoy and the Escorts
3. It Ain’t Me Babe - Johnny Cash
4. Down In The Flood - Flatt  & Scruggs
5. The Way I Feel - Gordon Lightfoot
6. I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight - Bob Dylan
7. You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere - The Byrds
8. This Wheel’s On Fire - Ian & Sylvia
9. Gentle On My Mind - John Hartford                                         

10. Some Of Shelly’s Blues - The Monkees                        
11. Turn Around - The Beau Brummels
12. I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry - Tracy Nelson
14. If You Don’t Like Hank Williams - Kris Kristofferson
15. Bird On A Wire - Leonard Cohen
16. Hickory Wind - The Byrds
17. Blowing Down That Dusty Road - Country Joe McDonald
18. The Boxer - Simon & Garfunkel
19. Stone Fox Chase - Area Code 615
20. Girl From The North Country - Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash
21. Driftin’ Way Of Life - Jerry Jeff Walker
22. Behind That Locked Door -  George Harrison
23. Beaucoups Of Blues - Ringo Starr
24. Going To The Country - The Steve Miller Band
25. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down - Joan Baez
26. City Of New Orleans - Steve Goodman
27. Blue River - Eric Andersen
28. Heart Of Gold - Neil Young
29. If Not For You - Bob Dylan
30. Crazy Mama - J.J. Cale
31. Seven Bridges Road - Steve Young
32. Will The Circle Be Unbroken - The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
33. Silver Wings - Earl Scruggs & Linda Ronstadt
34. A Six Pack To Go - Leon Russell
35. Sally G - Wings
36. Matchbox - Derek & The Dominoes, Johnny Cash & Carl Perkins                                                                       

Around the end of the 1960s and in to the 1970s, “country rock” was a big thing, particularly in the USA, led, amongst others by Bob Dylan and his Nashville Skyline period. He was certainly not the only contributor, though, The Byrds were just as involved as were Crosby, Stills & Nash (unfortunately not included on here). It was definitely a sub-genre that played a big part in the music of 1968-1972 - those turbulent years of Vietnam and protest that seemed to be longing for something peacefully melancholic. They got it in country rock and this excellent collection of well-known and lesser-known material does the trick in summoning up some of the the spirit of that particular age.

  

Highlights are the lively country groove of Charlie McCoy & The Escorts’ Harpoon Man, the Johnny Cash-esque blues of The Beau Brummels’ Turn Around, a convincing cover of Dylan’s This Wheel’s On Fire buy Ian & Sylvia, the country ballad of John Hartford’s Gentle On My Mind and The Monkees sounding most un-Monkees-like on Some Of Shelly’s BluesThe Steve Miller Band's Going To The Country is an excellent, rocking number too. Look, it is all good stuff, you van dip into this collection anywhere, to be honest.

Then there is the now-iconic instrumental Stone Fox Chase from the instrumental session men “supergroup” Area Code 615 which is always great to hear.

The contributions from the better-known artists need no introduction either - there is familiar material from Bob DylanJohnny CashThe Byrds, Simon & Garfunkel, Kris Krisrtofferson, Leonard Cohen, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Joan Baez, Neil Young and Wings. What is nice about this compilation is that the well-known tracks are juxtaposed with the lesser-known ones.

Personally, I would have included tracks from AmericaCrosby, Stills & Nash (and with Young), The Flying Burrito Brothers and The Band but that is nit-picking. This is a really good compilation from a good period.

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THE CUTTING EDGE: THE BOOTLEG SERIES VOL. 12



This is an abridged double CD of highlights of the many demos and outtakes recorded for the three classic mid-sixties albums Bringing It All Back HomeHighway 61 Revisted and Blonde On Blonde. There is, of course the full box set version of God knows how many CDs and multiple takes of Like A Rolling Stone from the shortest ones lasting a minute or two to the full, virtually complete versions. Personally, I can do without all those semi-versions of the same song. I do, however, enjoy listening to complete alternate versions of the songs I know so well. This double CD is pretty ideal for that. I have enhanced the collection by downloading those tracks from the larger box set that do not appear on here. Around forty-five takes will do for me.

It does make for a fascinating look into Dylan's development of these songs and his painstaking perfectionism. All the alternate versions and outtakes are impressive and the sound quality equally so. Often demo versions are not the best, sound-wise. This is not the case here. In some cases, the sound is as good, if not better than the take eventually used on the albums. Listen that full, throbbing bass on Subterranean Homesick Blues (Take 1, Alternate Take). Superb. There is an appealing looseness to this take, as there is on a lot of the material. You get the impression that Dylan was thoroughly enjoying himself. There is no discernible feeling of tightness or tension. He does, however, say that a bassy take of Mr. Tambourine Man was "driving him mad" and that "I screwed up" at the end of Like A Rolling Stone. It is also most intriguing to hear a full-on rocking version of Visions Of Johanna. Check out the jaunty, semi-reggae of Just Like A Woman, too. The great thing about these versions is how different they are to the ones that were eventually released, often radically so, making them really interesting to listen to.

Listen to the raw, edgy bluesiness of Outlaw Blues (Take 2, Alternate Take), or Sitting On A Barbed Wire Fence  - this is stuff worthy of a listen, even if you are familiar and happy with the eventual albums. Highly recommended.

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THE COMPLETE ALBUMS COLLECTION

 

This review concentrates, not on the music, but on what is contained in this phenomenal “Complete Works” and what the status is regarding the remasterings (or not) of the albums contained within the box set.

So, here we go:-

Included in their excellent previously remastered formats are:-

The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963)
The Times They Are A-Changin’ (1963)
Another Side Of Bob Dylan (1964)
Bringing It All Back Home (1965)
Highway 61 Revisited (1965)
Blonde On Blonde (1966)
John Wesley Harding (1968)
Nashville Skyline (1969)
New Morning (1972)
Planet Waves (1973)
Blood On The Tracks (1974)
Desire (1976)
Slow Train Coming (1979)
Infidels (1983)
Oh Mercy (1989)
Love And Theft (2003)


All these sound excellent as they always did when they were remastered for the HDCD series.

                                               ****
Included in their original released mastering, in no need of re-mastering, are:-

Time Out Of Mind (1997)
Modern Times (2006)
Christmas Of The Heart (2009)
Together Though Life (2009)
Tempest (2012)


All these sound good, as you would expect, due to their date of recording.

                                               ****
Given new remasterings for this set (supposedly) are:-

Bob Dylan (1962)
Self Portrait (1970)
Dylan (1973)
Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid (1973)
Saved (1980)
Empire Burlesque (1985)
Knocked Out Loaded (1986)
Down In The Groove (1988)
Under The Red Sky (1990)
Good As I Been To You (1992)
World Gone Wrong (1993)


Personally, although a slight improvement can be heard on these remasters, I don’t feel that they sound that good, just a bit more clear, louder and puncher, with not a incredible improvement in the individual parts of the music. Albums like Saved, for example always sounded muffled, and it still does. Maybe it is just due to the original recording and nothing much more can be done about it, however many times it is remastered.

                                              ****

Live albums also remastered for this set are:-

Before The Flood (1974)
Hard Rain (1976)
Live At Budokan (1978)
Real Live (1984)
Unplugged (1995)
Dylan And The Dead (1989)


The same applies to Hard Rain as for Saved. It has always sounded awful. Real Live, for me, sounds improved, however, as does Budokan.

                                             ****
Street Legal* (1978)
Shot of Love* (1981)


These two are strange ones. Street Legal, in the remastering presented here, sounds awful to me. I much prefer the original HDCD remastering, which, for some unfathomable reason, seems to have been replaced in this set by a completely new, and, in my opinion, inferior remaster. Bizarrely, Shot Of Love is not credited as having been remastered at all, yet to me it sounds considerably improved, whereas Saved was supposedly remastered and still sounds poor.

                                            ****

As regards the music, I have reviewed all the individual albums under their own listings. It goes without saying that this body of work is arguable the greatest popular music has ever known.

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THE BOOTLEG SERIES VOL 1-3

  

Previously unreleased material from 1962-1989

Like with Bruce Springsteen’s Tracks box set of ‘rejects” (previously unreleased songs from session unused on eventual albums), you listen to this from Dylan and you think “just what was he playing at?” in not putting these tracks on the albums in question. There is some serious quality on here, ranging from 1962 to the mid-eighties, it will blow your mind. Many of these tracks would be anyone else’s “best track on the album”. Here, they are presented as Dylan’s rejects.

Most Dylan aficionados will already have this, of course, so it is a bit redundant for me to trawl through it, track by track, but I will give a few opinions on the material in the set, for what its worth.

An interesting inclusion in this set are three “alternative” (actually the original) versions of songs we know so well from the Blood On The Tracks sessions. Tangled Up In BlueIdiot Wind and If You See Her, Say Hello. I quite like all of them, but, because I am so used to the eventually used versions, it is difficult to assess these against the others. However, they are all good, and if they had been used on the eventual album, it certainly would not have suffered in any way. There is also Call Letter Blues from these sessions and Nobody ‘Cept You from the Planet Waves sessions. Both of these songs have credible cases for inclusion on the albums in question.


Farewell Angelina is a magnificent song from the 1965 Bringing It All Back Home sessions that was eventually recorded by Joan Baez. Again, it is impressive and one wonders why it was never used. Similarly, the even better She’s Your Lover Now from 1966’s Blonde On Blonde sessions is a corker. It breaks down just before the end, after six minutes and finishes abruptly. It doesn’t detract too much from it, though, it is a great track.

Other highlights are Golden LoomsCatfish and Seven Days from the late seventies, and the magnificent blues of Blind Willie McTell, inexplicably not included on any album. A personal favourite is Angelina from the 1981 Shot Of Love sessions and also the exhilarating, effervescent version of When The Night Comes Falling From The Sky which features Bruce Springsteen’s E. St Band on backing, and you can tell. It is awesome. Series Of Dreams and Foot Of Pride, from the Oh Mercy sessions, are excellent too. Why, they all are. Essential stuff.

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BOB DYLAN IN MONO BOX SET



This a truly wonderful release of essential mono recordings, let me put that out there right at the beginning. There is so much pleasure to be gained from listening to these recordings (some of which I am used to hearing in stereo for all my listening life). There are a few points about Dylan's mono recordings in general that I wish to make, however.

Firstly, I believe it is a bit of myth that the stereo recordings of the early albums were "guitar out of one channel and Dylan's voice out of the other", Taxman style, rudimentary stereo. I have all the albums in their remastered stereo versions and, with this box set in their remastered mono versions. To me, the first four all albums sound pretty much the same. There is no bass to benefit from the centralised mono punch or multi-instrumentation to sound good in stereo. These four albums sound acceptable in either format, as the stereo doesn't really kick in at all, to be honest, they just sound  mono to me, anyway. Maybe this is just me, and my ears just can't detect. Either way it doesn't really matter, either version does the job for me.

It is on the next four albums that some serious differences can be found, particularly on John Wesley Harding and Blonde On Blonde. The latter sounds ok in stereo, but there is a bit of a Taxman 60s stereo feel about the masterings, in my opinion. The mono, on the other hand, is a revelation. Listen to that massive bass on Obviously 5 Believers punching right out centre field on your speakers. On the stereo version, the bass is barely discernible, comparatively. Visions Of Johanna also has a magnificent bass reproduction in mono, as does Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again and Brand New Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat. The stereo is much weaker, more lightweight. Play these mono recordings mega-loud and you will love it, like being in the studio with The Band. The percussion intro to Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands is crystal clear and razor sharp, like a bell. The stereo version, on the other hand, has the same sound restricted to the right channel and doesn't sound anywhere near as convincing.

A couple that, in my opinion, sound better in stereo are Pledging My Time and You Most Likely Go Your Way And I'll Go Mine, which are just a little muffled in mono.

The wonderful descending bass line on John Wesley Harding's The Wicked Messenger is huge in mono. In stereo it is almost deliberately quiet, inexplicably and unforgivably.

Highway 61 Revisited has superb mono bass on Tombstone Blues and the title track. From A Buick 6 is great too. Desolation Row benefits from the centralisation of the acoustic guitar, but I am yet to be convinced about Like A Rolling Stone.

Bringing It All Back Home's manic Subterranean Homesick Blues is, as one might expect, magnificent in its mono attack and power.

Overall, these mono recordings are an excellent listening experience that you will not regret investing in. If you like big, powerful, booming bass making your floor shake you will love it.

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