The Legacy-released Bob Dylan Bootleg Series has been a tremendous success. When a bootleg entitled the Great White Wonder of Bob Dylan’s music was released in July of 1969, it singlehandedly launched the rock bootleg industry that is still thriving today. The culmination of that release and the resulting underground cottage industry are manifested in what is perhaps the most anticipated reissue of the Legacy series: The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11. The Deluxe Edition is a beautiful boxed set that contains 138 tracks on six CDs of music and a hardbound book. Originally released officially as only a double-album in 1975, the music contained on these six CDs is of superior sound quality and includes nearly all of the recordings Bob Dylan and the Band recorded in 1967 at the mythic split-level house in West Saugerties, New York dubbed “Big Pink” as well as other recordings recorded at Dylan’s upstate home in the “Red Room.” The full history of these recordings has been told in entire books and as part of the many biographies of Dylan and the few books on The Band. The recordings took place after Dylan’s equally chronicled motorcycle accident and include songs he was demoing for his song publishers, covers the musicians jammed on for fun, songs Dylan went on to record himself on official studio releases and songs that later appeared on albums from The Band. Released in the midst of psychedelia, the music here is homespun American encompassing a broad range of roots styles that resonate today in dozens of groups and artists such as the commercially successful Mumford & Sons and celebrated veterans such as Wilco, to name just two. What is great about this boxed set is that now these recordings are available in the best sound quality for Dylan fans and a new generation of music listeners and have been preserved forever for the future.
Basement Tapes Revisited
Somewhat of a companion to the new Dylan and the Band Basement Tapes project is Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes (Electromagnetic Recordings/Harvest Records). This T-Bone Burnett produced project features a group comprised of Elvis Costello, Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes), Jim James (My Morning Jacket), Marcus Mumford (Mumford & Sons) and Rhiannon Giddens (Carolina Chocolate Drops), who took lyrics Bob Dylan wrote during the Basement Tapes sessions in 1967 and created music to both update the Basement Tapes 1967 feel and make something brand new.
Two other Dylan Legacy releases include the Deluxe Edition of The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration of the music of Bob Dylan on Blu-ray and on a two-CD set. The October 1992 concert featured an all-star cast of musical legends and friends, along with Dylan himself performing Dylan favorites, hits and obscurities in an event Neil Young dubbed Bobfest. Of particular note are the performances here of Richie Havens, The Band, George Harrison, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and Roger McGuinn. It’s interesting to point out that Dylan now has been at it for more than 50 years and, given his recent albums and tours, shows no signs of slowing down.
One of the most chronicled and controversial periods of Bob Dylan’s career was his conversion from folky troubadour to electric rocker. An artist who was a musical key to this transformation was Mike Bloomfield. His significance to Dylan, along with his time as a member of both The Paul Butterfield Blues Band and The Electric Flag, and his varied his solo recordings are the basis of a 3-CD/DVD box set from Legacy entitled From His Head to His Heart To His Hands. While a relatively unknown figure to casual music fans, Bloomfield’s place in music and the respect he garners as an innovative guitarist are immeasurable. While the music contained here is more than testament to his talent, the DVD Sweet Blues: A Film About Mike Bloomfield directed by Bob Sarles, evocatively places Bloomfield in the exalted musical context in which he belongs, but also leavens his artistic triumphs with reference to his troubled personality that ultimately derailed his brilliant career and caused his early death at the age of 37. His work with Dylan on his key electric solo albums, his stint with The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and his recordings with his closest musical partner, Al Kooper, alone make this box set a definitive proclamation of Bloomfield’s guitar talent and musical taste.
Dylan’s Back Pages
While there have been a plethora of books on Bob Dylan through the years, two recent books are more than worthy additions. Another Side of Bob Dylan (St. Martin’s Press) from Victor Maymudes, which was co-written and edited by his son Jacob Maymudes, tells the story of Victor’s personal and professional relationship with Dylan. Jacob took many hours of tape of his father dictating for a book on Dylan that he never completed in his lifetime. This revealing book offers keen insights into some of Dylan’s key periods and is also a poignant reflection of a son discovering his father and himself through the journey of writing.
Equally insightful is The Dylanologists (Simon & Schuster) by David Kinney. Although on the surface it seems like a Dylan side-trip the book is actually a very illuminating, well-researched and perfectly written account of the sub-culture of Dylan fans whose obsession with his life and career careens from the weird to the wonderful. Kinney tells Dylan’s history through fans who follow him from show to show and those who chronicle his life and art in everything from mimeographed fanzines and blogs to those who write widely read, published tomes on the legend. The book is a surprisingly sober and thoughtful account of the relationship this sub-culture has with Dylan and how it affects the commentary, scholarship and perception of perhaps the single most important individual in the history of rock.