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Saturday, April 1, 2017

DIY Playlist: The Complete 1966 Live Recordings


Welcome to the first post of 2017, everybody!

While I have completed my coverage of Bob Dylan's unreleased catalog, as it existed in 2016, I thought it might be nice to continue my DIY Playlist series. This seeks to compile the best of Bob Dylan's released work into compelling playlists, separating the wheat from the chaff. When I'm done, I'd like to think that a collection combining my Thousand Highways compilations and my DIY Playlists would represent an ideal cross-section of the artist's work.

With that in mind, let's get into 1966.

That year represented Bob Dylan's largest tour up to that point, geographically speaking. He traveled from the United States to Australia, by way of Hawaii, then on to Scandinavia and the rest of Europe. Happily, his entourage and record company taped a fair number of the concerts for posterity. Leaked versions of these tapes formed the backbone of the earliest rock bootlegs, and led to a 1996 release of the tour's most famous performance at Manchester, England as The Bootleg Series Volume 4: The "Royal Albert Hall Concert."

The 1966 World Tour also represented some of the singer's most ambitious work, artistically speaking. There are dozens of books that could tell you more, but in short, Bob Dylan had evolved rapidly from a singer known for his protest anthems to a poet known for his introspective acoustic songs and then on into a rock musician; this occurred over a span of only three years, leaving many fans either unable or unwilling to keep up. Consequently, while the increasingly experimental acoustic portions of his 1966 shows were met with a reasonably positive reception, the electric portions had coalesced into a truly aggressive, powerful sound and were received accordingly. This dynamic developed further throughout the tour, to the point that Dylan was actively harassing his rowdier audiences by the end of May. The art did not suffer, though, and both his acoustic and electric performances from the year remain some of the most compelling artistic expression that 20th Century popular music would produce.

Bearing that context in mind, I would like to offer my favorite tracks from the recently released complete 1966 Live Recordings. This massive set contains 36 discs of music, and a fair amount of it, while artistically ambitious, presents some sonic issues. The acoustics were not ideal, as rock music in large spaces remained in its infancy, and adding the layer of recording these shows provides a second source of problems. Consequently, only a handful of the concerts present pleasant listening experiences, and fewer still offer a true complete rendering of the night's proceedings - "Desolation Row" and "Visions of Johanna" are frequently incomplete, and "One Too Many Mornings" is often missing its opening moments. I have combed through the collection for the best-sounding, most complete, and most passionate song renditions, and I would like to offer them to you here:

Volume One

She Belongs To Me - Live - Belfast - May 6, 1966
Fourth Time Around - Live - Belfast - May 6, 1966
Visions Of Johanna - Live - Edinburgh - May 20, 1966
It's All Over Now, Baby Blue - Live - Newcastle - May 21, 1966
Desolation Row - Live - Belfast - May 6, 1966
Just Like A Woman - Live - Edinburgh - May 20, 1966
Mr. Tambourine Man - Live - Sheffield - May 16, 1966

Volume Two

Tell Me Momma - Live - Bristol - May 10, 1966
I Don't Believe You - Live - Belfast - May 6, 1966
Baby Let Me Follow You Down - Live - Cardiff - May 11, 1966
Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues - Live - Bristol - May 10, 1966
Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat - Live - Bristol - May 10, 1966
One Too Many Mornings - Live - Cardiff - May 11, 1966
Ballad Of A Thin Man - Live - Cardiff - May 11, 1966
Like A Rolling Stone - Live - Belfast - May 6, 1966

As you can see, a few concerts stand out: Belfast, Bristol, and Cardiff. A handful of others exist around the margins: Newcastle, Edinburgh and Sheffield. I had disqualified Manchester and the first night of London, simply because those have received their own unique releases and you can listen to them in their entirety.

With regard to Belfast, this is the earliest night on the tour that shows up on my compilation. It is one of Dylan's most receptive audiences of the tour, and I think that informs his more nuanced, less shouted performances. "She Belongs To Me" does not stand out at any of the concerts, but it is particularly lilting here. "Fourth Time Around," on the other hand, is excellent on most nights, but this one offers some peculiar timing and an emphasis on the song's consonants. "Desolation Row" is more relaxed than usual, with a pleasantly reserved delivery. This version of "I Don't Believe You" received an earlier release on Biograph, and it's easy to understand why - on most nights, the harmonica is too harsh or the vocals are unfocused, but it came together perfectly in Belfast. As for "Like A Rolling Stone," this may be the best version of the song I've heard, aside perhaps from the shattered performance by the singer fifteen years later in Avignon; unlike some nights, he doesn't just hurl this one at the audience, but instead teases it out and plays with the vocal rhythm in a unique way.

Bristol is probably my favorite single night of the tour for the electric set. Much of that is actually down to the recording, as it manages to be raw without being distorted and emphasizes both the guitar and drums better than other nights. The heavier, guitar-oriented songs receive their definitive readings here, including "Tell Me Momma," "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues," and "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat." In particular, the second of those is one of my favorite performances of the song in its fifty year history and easily the highlight of the eight electric tracks here. "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat" sounds almost like it could have been cut at Otis Redding's Whiskey-A-Go-Go live record, it's so electric.

Cardiff was one of the more surprising entries on my list, as the initial pass hadn't left me with any special affection toward the show; indeed, Leicester and Liverpool seemed better alternatives. When picking the final tracks, though, Cardiff presented a more attractive set of songs that blended well with other nights. The recording had a richer low-end, with the bass more emphasized and the vocals less distorted. Luckily, it also features one of the only versions of "One Too Many Mornings" in which the opening is not missing from the recording. Others have asserted that the Dublin performance of "One Too Many Mornings," with its prominent organ fills, is the best one from the tour, but I believe Cardiff narrowly outdoes it. As for "Ballad Of A Thin Man," something about the recording or acoustic conditions manages to make this song a bit harsh at every stop on the tour - Cardiff was the least objectionable, and so it appears here; my guess is that the unique performing conditions, with Dylan moving to a piano, prevented the established soundboard settings from adequately presenting the song.

Newcastle's tape is a bit harsh, but the rendition of "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" is significantly more intimate than other nights, with most of the forcefulness gone from Dylan's delivery. While Edinburgh's electric portion is largely distorted beyond pleasant listening, the acoustic portion is lovely - "Visions Of Johanna" benefits from some atmospheric foot-tapping defining its complex rhythm and "Just Like A Woman" is impossibly wistful and delicate, resolving in an uncharacteristically bitter final verse; it cuts to the raw heart of the song in a way few later performances could. Finally, Sheffield represents one of the stranger aspects of the set - for years, the bootlegged version of this concert was the best available capture of the tour's acoustic songs. Here, though, the tape ends up a bit distorted. "Mr. Tambourine Man," though, is among the greatest versions ever performed by the singer, and so it could not be excepted from my compilation; that harmonica solo at the end manages, somehow, to utterly transcend time itself.

As for a handful of things that didn't quite make the cut, the best are "Visions Of Johanna" from Leicester, where it includes very warm, pleasant vocals, "Desolation Row" from Bristol, where it is played faster than usual, "Just Like A Woman" from Birmingham, where it resembles one of the year's magical Hotel Tapes, "I Don't Believe You" from Dublin, where it features a unique slow arrangement, "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat" from Leicester, where the audience chatter at the beginning informs a very aggressive version of the song, "Ballad Of A Thin Man" from Copenhagen, where it is presented as a slick jazz track, and "Positively 4th Street" from Sydney, one of the only deviations from the year's standard setlist captured on a soundboard recording. In general, the Paris concert is rather intriguing as well, as much for the particularly aggressive audience and band response as anything else - sadly, its distortion renders it a less engaging experience than it might have been.

I hope you enjoy this collection - it took a long time to compile, but I think it was worth it in the end. 36 CDs is a lot of music, and having a guide to it is a nice way to experience the breadth of Bob Dylan's artistic achievement in 1966. When you combine this playlist with the two complete shows from Manchester and London, I think you end up with a great cross-section of the year's performances.

Let me know what you think in the comments below, and feel free to offer your alternative suggestions. I'm sure listeners would like to hear opinions on how different nights' performances stack up, especially given how static the setlist remained.

Until next time, keep yourself healthy and listen to some good tunes.

Cheers,
CS

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Upcoming Posts: DIY Playlists, 2017 Edition

Good news, folks: I have plans for a number of DIY playlists in 2017.

In particular, I know a few of you have been looking forward to me crafting a "Best of 1966" set, and I can tell you that it's currently in progress. I finally got myself a copy of that mammoth collection, and it's as good as I hoped! Unfortunately, this means that compiling it will take some time. I'm hoping for a release date of March 1, 2017, but you never know.

Additionally, I'm working on the following collections:

Studio Essentials, 1973 - 1978
Studio Essentials, 1989 - 2000
Studio Essentials, 2001 - 2012
Live Essentials, 1971 - 1981
Live Essentials, 1992 - 2002
Best of the Basement Tapes

Hopefully none of these take me too long! In any case, I thought it might be nice to have something pleasant to look forward to.

Cheers,
CS

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Another Night: Unreleased Recordings, 1961 - 2016 (Volume Two)



Another Night, 1961 - 2016
Curiosities & Miscellany
Volume Two

Two Trains Running - Live - Montreal - July 2, 1962
Not Fade Away - Live - New York - July 26, 1999
Jokerman - Outtake - Infidels Sessions - 1983
If You See Her, Say Hello - Alternative Version - World Tour Rehearsal - 1978
Blackjack Davey - Live - Mansfield - September 12, 1993
Tom Turkey - Outtake - Pat Garett & Billy The Kid Sessions - 1973
Shake - Tour Rehearsal - 1985
The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll - Live - Houston - November 12, 1981
Gates Of Eden - Live - Paris - July 6, 1978
1952 Vincent Black Lightning - Live - Clarkston - July 14, 2013
You Really Got A Hold On Me - Outtake - Buckets Of Rain Session - 1975
The Mighty Quinn - Live - Southampton - August 19, 2002
Simple Twist Of Fate - Live - Hattiesburg - May 1, 1976
Sidewalks, Fences & Walls - Outtake - Down In The Groove Sessions - 1987
Like A Rolling Stone - Live - Avignon - July 25, 1981
Forever Young - Live - Toronto - August 7, 1997


Welcome to the final installment of The Thousand Highways Collection. The previous volume of this series, Another Night Volume One, established the formula for this volume - a compilation of assorted curiosities and notable performances that did not make it onto more thematically coherent titles. Volume Two has some real humdingers, so open up those ears and listen in.

"Two Trains Running" is an old Muddy Waters track, and Dylan does it justice in this early solo performance from Montreal's Finjan Club. As with many of the singer's earliest uptempo songs, he powers along the tempo with a rhythmic tapping that's luckily been preserved by this crisp recording.

"Not Fade Away" is another cover, this time originating with Buddy Holly. Holly had been quite influential to the young Bob Dylan, as indicated by the Martin Scorcese's 2005 documentary, No Direction Home. Still, few of Holly's own compositions had been played by Dylan over the years. The Never-Ending Tour altered this, though, and a number of Holly's tracks entered the setlist between 1988 and 2016; none appeared more often, though, than the heavily rhythmic "Not Fade Away." This rendition from the much-loved Tramps show in 1999 is particularly well-executed.

"Jokerman" was the lead song on 1983's Infidels, and became quite a classic in its own right. This alternative version offers a very different vocal performance and a handful of lyrical variants. Instrumentally, it's quite similar to the final version.

"If You See Her, Say Hello" may sound familiar, as a roughly identical arrangement appeared on an earlier Thousand Highways compilation covering rehearsals from 1971 to 1989. This version, though, features a slightly more prominent harpsichord and violin, which improves the strangely baroque sound of the arrangement. It's a shame this didn't stay in the set past the first weeks of 1978's World Tour.

"Blackjack Davey" was one of the standout songs on Good As I Been To You in 1992, but only appeared live the following year. It's a very old song, and was also performed by Bob Dylan at the start of his career in 1961. Like "Barbara Allen" to "Scarlet Town," "Blackjack Davey" served as an inspiration for "Tin Angel" on Dylan's Tempest record from 2012. This arrangement is interesting, since live versions from 1993 are the only time when Dylan played the song with (limited) instrumental backing.

"Tom Turkey" is an outtake from 1973's Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid. Like other songs recorded for that soundtrack, it's effectively an excerpt from the "Billy" narrative with some unique instrumentation. Mostly instrumental, it includes only two verses of the "Billy" along with some intriguing harmonica fills.

"Shake" was an original Bob Dylan composition based roughly on Roy Head's "Treat Her Right." It was played briefly in 1985 and 1986 at the first Farm Aid show and on tour with Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. This is the clearest recording, though even here the lyrics seem unfinished. It's quite groovy, if nothing else.

"The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll" is one of only a handful of performances of this song from my favorite Bob Dylan touring year - 1981. Like most of the year, it features a compelling, rich vocal performance and a loose arrangement.

"Gates Of Eden" was played very rarely from 1965 to 1988, and one of the finest outings for the song was as a solo performance in 1978. This spot of the setlist was typically reserved for "It Ain't Me, Babe," but other classic 1960s tracks featured a few times, including "Fourth Time Around" and "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall." Unfortunately, only "Gates Of Eden" was preserved with a lovely recording. Luckily, the performance is excellent.

"1952 Vincent Black Lightning" barely saw the light of day. It was recorded by an intrepid amateur taper in 2013, and only began to circulate two years later in a handful of alternative mixes. There are some chatty audience members near the tape recorder, but they do little to reduce the passion of this unique one-time performance of Richard Thompson's motorcycle epic.

"You Really Got A Hold On Me" was played by Bob Dylan and Bette Midler in the midst of a recording session for Midler's Songs For The New Depression. Much of the session consists of shaky takes on a rewrite of "Buckets Of Rain," but the two spontaneously burst into an equally shaky (yet delightful) performance of this Smokey Robinson gem. Bob Dylan has spoken of his admiration for Robinson, but this is one of the only times he played a song written by that American icon.

"The Mighty Quinn" is one of the most celebrated songs from The Basement Tapes, but the writer only sang it live a few times over the past fifty years. Other versions can be found elsewhere on The Thousand Highways Collection, but this is the only time that the song featured Dylan's excellent backing band harmonizing as it did on bluegrass classics from 1998 to 2002.

"Simple Twist Of Fate" is a heartbreaking song, but rarely has it been performed with the pathos instilled on this night in Hattiesburg during the Rolling Thunder Revue. It sounds fairly similar to the style used to great effect earlier in the tour on "If You See Her, Say Hello," though this song is not nearly as re-written as its Blood On The Tracks companion.

"Sidewalks, Fences & Walls" did not circulate for decades, but this outtake from Down In The Groove finally appeared in the taper community during the 2000s. It's a straightforward soul song infused with depth by a passionate vocal performance. The sound is less than stellar, as it only circulates as a fairly compromised lossy recording, but we should be grateful that it appeared at all.

"Like A Rolling Stone" is my favorite rendition of a Bob Dylan classic. It's not quite as tight as earlier performances from the 1981 tour, but it makes up for that looseness with one of Dylan's most inventive, passionate, shredded vocal tracks you'll ever hear. You can point to moments like this as one of the reasons that the singer's voice deepened and lost some of the range it displayed in the 1970s, but at least we received incredible recordings like this one from the singer pushing his art outside of his comfort zone.

"Forever Young," a sentimental song written by the singer for his child, is as appropriate an ending as you could ask for on this long listening journey. Happily, it features one of Dylan's unique lead guitar performances and a touching harmonica solo.

I hope you've enjoyed listening to these as much as I've enjoyed researching, seeking out recordings, and finding the very best tracks to remaster and compile for this collection. It's been lovely, and until next our paths cross, keep yourself healthy and listen to some good tunes.

Cheers,
CS

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Another Night: Unreleased Recordings, 1961 - 2016 (Volume One)



 

Another Night: Curiosities & Miscellany, 1961 - 2016
Volume One

It Ain't Me, Babe - Live - Forth Worth - May 16, 1976
Maggie's Farm - Live - Konstanz - July 3, 1996
Come Together - Rehearsal - 1985
Nothing Here Worth Dying For #3 - Unreleased - 1985
Candy Man - Live - Minneapolis - December 22, 1961
High Water - Live - Indio - October 14, 2016
Slow Train - Live - Rotterdam - September 19, 1987
Tell Ol' Bill #9 - Outtake - North Country Session - 2005
Pretty Boy Floyd - Live - Oakland - December 6, 1988
Hero Blues - Live - Chicago - January 4, 1974
Love Sick - Live - London - November 25, 2003
I Will Sing - Live - Akron - May 18, 1980
North Country Blues - Live - New York - May 9, 1974
Stuck Inside Of Mobile - Live - Jean - October 19, 1996
The Night We Called It A Day - Unreleased - David Letterman Session - May 19, 2015
Hallelujah - Live - Montreal - July 8, 1988


We've almost come to the end of the line with this album. It represents the first in a two-volume set of curiosities and miscellaneous recordings from throughout Bob Dylan's career. For one reason or another, these either hit the cutting room floor during my compilation of earlier releases or were somehow out of the scope of those projects. As with One More Night, an earlier five-volume release in the Thousand Highways Collection, I would like to walk through these with you one by one.

It Ain't Me, Babe

This song was originally the lead song on my compilation of the second Rolling Thunder Revue, but got cut when I wanted a more energetic start to the album. As with the singer's other performances from 1976, "It Ain't Me, Babe" represents some the best vocals in the man's career. Most, if not all, of the 1976 concerts started with a couple of acoustic songs, I thought it was a pleasant opening to this release.

Maggie's Farm

This song was one of several played with Dave Matthews' violin player while Bob Dylan and his band were touring with that artist in 1996. You can find the other recordings on my 1996 collection, Roadhouse Hymns.

Come Together

This and the next song were both part of a surprising set of recordings unearthed in 2016. Neither had surfaced, or had even been rumored, prior to the appearance of those sessions. This cover of The Beatles classic song originates with a rehearsal session in preparation for Bob Dylan's 1986 tour with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Dylan ad-libs quite a number of amusing lines, borrowing only the song's arrangement and a skeletal set of original lyrics.

Nothing Here Worth Dying For #3

Quite a few new songs were discovered on a tape purportedly originating with sessions that occurred after Bob Dylan wrapped up Empire Burlesque. Most, including this one, are effectively sketches of works in progress. Sadly, none are known to have evolved into more fleshed-out final releases. "Nothing Here Worth Dying For" is the best of the bunch, and this take is more extensively arranged than the prior two. You can hear hints of "In The Garden" in the mid-song chord progression and "2x2" in some of the evidently improvised lyrics.

Candy Man

This song appears on the best-sounding of Bob Dylan's earliest recordings, the Minneapolis Hotel Tape of 1961. The arrangement here is reminiscent of the version recorded by Gary Davis, who Dylan had met earlier in 1961.

High Water

In 2016, Bob Dylan was contracted to appear at an event designed to gather the greatest performers of the 1960s. Unsurprisingly, while he altered his setlist to include a handful of classic compositions, the rest of his two sets were made up of more recent songs. In particular, the new arrangement of Love & Theft's "High Water" drew this listener's attention. It was stripped of its typical banjo riff and instead depends upon a sparse guitar and drum-driven arrangement reminiscent of "Cold Irons Bound" in 2009.

Slow Train

1987 was not the best year for Bob Dylan's live performances, but the artist was undoubtedly pushing himself to experiment with his back catalog throughout the year. "Slow Train," unfortunately, would never again be played live after this year's tour with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Happily, this excellent recording captured a moody, atmospheric performance highlighting the skills of Dylan's backing vocalists and rhythm section.

Tell Ol' Bill #9

The North Country soundtrack featured one of Bob Dylan's best songs of 2005, which was impressive in a year featuring the recording of Modern Times. We are lucky that the entire session circulates, and other alternative versions of the evolving song can be discovered on The Bootleg Series Volume 8: Tell Tale Signs and the earlier Thousand Highway compilation, Down The River: 1999 - 2012. This version hews closer to the North Country version than those two recordings, but features a swinging rockabilly vibe that was filtered out by the final take.

Pretty Boy Floyd

Bob Dylan's ties to Woody Guthrie were evident in his first album, but they were not emphasized throughout much of the man's middle years. It was fairly surprising, then, that he contributed a new recording to 1988's Folkways: A Vision Shared, A Tribute to Woody Guthrie & Leadbelly. He had earlier accompanied Ramblin' Jack Elliott on guitar at a live performance of this song in 1975, but the 1988 album was the first time listeners got to hear Dylan himself sing the song, which lionized the controversial early 20th Century outlaw, Pretty Boy Floyd. The only extant live vocal performance of the song dates from later in 1988, from an acoustic set played at a Bridge School Benefit Concert.

Hero Blues

This song, which had been performed but never released in the early 1960s, had entirely disappeared from Bob Dylan's live repertoire by 1965. Strangely, it was pulled out of retirement briefly to open a couple of shows in 1974 when Dylan got back on the road after eight years away. It did not stay in rotation, though, and this version is the only listenable recording of the song from that tour. One wonders about why it fell from favor, since this performance is characteristic of the tour's early liveliness.

Love Sick

In a 2014 interview, Bob Dylan asserted this as one of his only songs that could measure up to the timelessness and thematic content of Frank Sinatra's recordings. I don't think he was being generous enough to his other songs, but it's hard to argue with the timelessness of "Love Sick." From its earliest premier in 1997, the song has been one of the singer's most consistently performed songs, and this version from 2003 bears the unmistakably rough, electric aesthetic of that year. It narrowly missed inclusion on earlier compilations Piano Blues and Barroom Ballads and Wicked Messenger, so I'm happy to finally publish it here on Another Night.

I Will Sing

This song was only performed on a single night in Akron, Ohio, during a 1980 tour. It was one of the only covers played by Bob Dylan during that year, prior to the Autumn's "Musical Retrospective" tour. The recording is less than ideal, but I think it conveys the enthusiasm and passion that characterized the singer's 1980 concerts.

North Country Blues

Like "Hero Blues," this song had rapidly fallen out of Bob Dylan's repertoire after the end of his early solo performances. Similar to the aforementioned song, it appeared again in 1974 for a single show at the Friends of Chile Benefit Concert. Much of that recording suffers from poor recording and questionable performances, but this song ends up feeling all the more authentic for its seemingly off-the-cuff rendition.

Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again

There isn't anything inherently remarkable about this 1996 show or recording, but the arrangement of this song is, as far as I know, entirely unique. For some reason, Dylan and his band slow the song down to a crawl, seemingly influenced by 1970s funk performances. It's a shame it never had room to develop, because this rendition is a bit rough and under-rehearsed. Still, the groove is fairly entrancing.

The Night We Called It A Day

David Letterman ended his long-running late-night television program in 2015, and Bob Dylan was one of a handful of performers requested by the host for his final shows. Unsure of what to expect, listeners were grateful to receive one of the most beautiful readings of "The Night We Called It A Day," which had been released earlier in the year on Shadows In The Night. The vocal commitment was unsurprising to long-time fans of Bob Dylan, who would likely recall his blistering performance on the Letterman show in 1984.

Hallelujah

This Leonard Cohen song became extraordinarily well-known through the early 2000s thanks to numerous covers by a variety of performers. Jeff Buckley's 1994 recording from his album Grace remains the definitive one to my ears, but I'm sure everyone has a favorite (or is entirely sick of the modern-day standard). Before most of these, though, Bob Dylan played the song at two shows in 1988. His performance from Montreal, found here, is one of the superlative documents of that year, and I have no idea why it didn't make it onto my earlier Renaissance album, which pertained to the live tracks from 1988. It certainly isn't the band or singer performance, as they are utterly compelling, nor the recording, which is clear. In any case, this collection would be incomplete without including on of the 20th Century's best singers singing one of the 20th Century's best songs.

I hope you've enjoyed the selection here. It's a bit scattered, as you'd expect, but I think it hangs together reasonably well. Return next month to catch the second volume, and the conclusion of The Thousand Highways Collection! Until then, keep yourself healthy and listen to some good tunes.

- CS

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Wicked Messenger: Unreleased Live Recordings, 2003



Wicked Messenger
Field Recordings - 2003

Cold Irons Bound - Live - Zurich - November 3, 2003
If You See Her, Say Hello - Live - Helsinki - October 9, 2003
Dear Landlord - Live - London - November 25, 2003
Wicked Messenger - Live - Brussels - November 12, 2003
Shooting Star - Live - Zurich - November 3, 2003
High Water - Live - London - November 24, 2003
Born In Time - Live - Wallingford - August 17, 2003
Tangled Up In Blue - Live - London - November 25, 2003
Saving Grace - Live - Louisville - April 30, 2003
Things Have Changed - Live - New York - August 12, 2003
The Mighty Quinn - Live - London - November 23, 2003
Every Grain Of Sand - Live - London - November 15, 2003
Dignity - Live - Niagara - August 23, 2003


Welcome back!

Since compiling my original collection of recordings from Bob Dylan's 2003 Tour of Europe, I have found myself being drawn back to that year again and again. There is some kind of magic in the performances. I'm not sure if it is Freddie Koella's distinctive lead guitar, an inspiration to experiment driven by Dylan taking up the keyboards as his primary instrument in late 2002, or some other element. Whatever the cause, Bob Dylan and his band produced some the greatest music of the Never-Ending Tour throughout 2003.

While many songs here are from the deservedly praised Autumn Tour, a handful appear from earlier in the year. Among them, "Born In Time" is the final rendition of a song that Dylan had played frequently during the preceding decade. He sent it off in style, with characteristically sweeping guitar lines from Freddie Koella. "Saving Grace" had only recently returned to being performed in concert after a twenty year hiatus, and would disappear from regular appearances again by 2005. "Things Have Changed" is a roaring performance that teeters precariously on the edge, as do so many of Dylan's best performances from this year. "Dignity," sadly, is sourced from MP3, but that is the only circulating version of an alleged soundboard tape leak from the same source as Tell Tale Signs' marvelous "High Water." Other renditions of this arrangement, from the following year, appear elsewhere in The Thousand Highways Collection, but I enjoy it so much that I've tried to include it on compilations at every opportunity; please forgive me this indulgence!

As for the Autumn Tour, it almost seems a shame to highlight it again after covering it extensively on Piano Blues and Barroom Ballads, but the tour really is that great. Two songs from Zurich appear here, "Cold Irons Bound" and "Shooting Star," representing perhaps the single best night of the tour; what it lacked in adventurous setlists it makes up for in highly engaged vocals. Some of the rarer songs of the tour are included as well - "Dear Landlord," "Tangled Up In Blue," and "The Mighty Quinn," all from London, are typical of the experimental, rhythmically intense style that Dylan and his band produced throughout the year. The other songs, while less surprising, are no less magical. "If You See Her, Say Hello" may be the best this song sounded since 1978. "High Water" sounds very much like the version released on Tell Tale Signs, but the band has had a few extra months to perfect the arrangement further. Finally, "Every Grain Of Sand" is one of the best songs that Dylan ever wrote, and he performs it here with the delicate approach that it demands.

I'm just so proud of the final result on this collection of recordings from 2003. The bootleggers really went above and beyond in delivering perfect, crystal clear tapes. Similarly, Bob Dylan and his band were at one of their peaks, and I'm not sure he'd match this level of performance again until the following decade. I hope you enjoy the compilation as much as I do.

Until next time, keep yourself healthy and listen to some good tunes.

Thanks,
CS

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Friend Of The Devil: Unreleased Live Recordings, 1999




Friend Of The Devil
Live Recordings: 1999

Gotta Serve Somebody - Live - Pensacola - February 2, 1999
Senor - Live - Columbus - November 3, 1999
Tombstone Blues - Live - Atlantic City - November 19, 1999
You're A Big Girl Now - Live - Amherst - November 18, 1999
Money Honey - Live - Ithaca - November 15, 1999
Friend Of The Devil - Live - Amherst - November 18, 1999
Everything Is Broken - Live - Binghampton - February 19, 1999
You're Too Late - Live - Daytona Beach - January 29, 1999
Seeing The Real You At Last - Live - New York - July 26, 1999
Simple Twist Of Fate - Live - Chicago - October 31, 1999
Folsom Prison Blues - Live - New Haven - November 10, 1999
It Takes A Lot To Laugh - Live - Columbus - November 3, 1999
Stuck Inside Of Mobile - Live - Pensacola - February 2, 1999
Blowin' In The Wind - Live - Antioch - September 8, 1999


Welcome to the second (and final) episode in The Thousand Highways Collection's coverage of Bob Dylan's concert performances from 1999.

A couple years back, The Endless Highway covered both the acoustic and electric portions of this year; Friend of the Devil is intended to follow up on that well-received compilation. More than a few people had requested more attention be given to 1999, which was reasonable given the variety of Bob Dylan's setlists and high level of commitment to the material.

Unfortunately, while there were numerous instances of rare song choices, many of the best renditions represent more frequently played songs. I hope you will not begrudge this collection's focus on performance quality rather than rarity of title.

With that said, a few songs here are particularly noteworthy. "Money Honey" was recorded for an Elvis Presley tribute album in 1994, but was only ever played live once; a lovely recording of that performance is found here. "You're Too Late" has only been played a handful of times - most recently at an unreleased (but partially broadcast) private concert in 2014 - and the finest circulating performance so far is from Bob Dylan's Winter 1999 Tour. "Seeing The Real You At Last," while more common earlier in the 1990s, had largely departed the setlist by this year; you will hear one of Dylan's most committed, snarling vocal performances of the song on Friend of the Devil. Finally, though "Blowin' In The Wind" is not infrequently played, this beautiful rendition features American multi-instrumentalist Marty Stuart on the mandolin.

Besides those rare tracks, the reminder of the songs are not uncommon in Bob Dylan's touring repertoire. "Gotta Serve Somebody" is uncharacteristically pointed, its ad-libbed lyrics tighter than usual. "Senor" features a truly lovely violin, and later a duet between violin and harmonica reminiscent of how the song might have sounded if it had been recorded and played during the Rolling Thunder Revue. "You're A Big Girl Now" has one of the more intriguing soundscapes of the set, as the rhythm section creates a mellow, introspective vibe and Dylan's melancholy lead guitar (not generally one of my favorite features in his songs) drives the performance home.

"Friend Of The Devil" is another excellent piece for the backing band, as Tony Garnier's bass and Larry Campbell's mandolin provide the listener with seven minutes of bluegrass joy. "Everything Is Broken," a song that was too often tossed off with little attention paid to vocal precision, is here infused with all the sarcastic sneering that the song deserves; many of the highlights are new lyrics, including the incisive "every time you leave and go off somewhere / my heart is broken, babe, but what do you care." "Folsom Prison Blues" is not as word-perfect as some earlier performances, though that does not impede the strength of this iteration. "Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again" is a glorious, blazing celebration prior to closing the set with an introspective bluegrass-flecked performance of "Blowin' In The Wind," reminiscent of its airings in 1980.

It is worth briefly remarking on the absence of an acoustic set here, given how prominently that featured in concerts from 1999. Honestly, the acoustic set primarily contained songs that have been well-covered on my earlier compilations from 1998 to 2001. The arrangements were not distinct from the immediately adjacent years, so it seemed unnecessary to emphasize them here.

The recording quality was extremely high during 1999, as it had been over the preceding few years. We are lucky to have such extraordinary documentation of such a fertile period in Bob Dylan's performing career. I hope you enjoy the album, and that it serves as a worthy successor to The Endless Highway.

Until next time, keep yourself healthy and listen to some good tunes.

Thanks,
CS


Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Bourbon & Pride: Unreleased Live Recordings, 1990




Bourbon & Pride
Live Recordings - 1990

Dixie / Wiggle Wiggle - Live - New York - October 19, 1990
Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You - Live - Columbus - November 16, 1990
Political World - Live - Winnipeg - June 18, 1990
Joey - Live - Normal - November 14, 1990
Old Rock & Roller - Live - Hamburg - July 3, 1990
TV Talkin' Song - Live - Normal - November 14, 1990
Lonesome Whistle Blues - Live - New Haven - January 17, 1990
Buckets Of Rain - Live - Detroit - November 18, 1990
No More One More Time - Live - Winnipeg - June 17, 1990
Stuck Inside Of Mobile - Live - Normal - November 14, 1990
Every Grain Of Sand - Live - Milwaukee - November 10, 1990
Highway 61 Revisited - Live - Normal - November 14, 1990


Welcome to 1990, listeners!

An earlier entry in the Thousand Highways Collection compiled the best recordings from Bob Dylan's 1990 residencies in London and Paris, but as I listened to recordings from throughout the tour in preparation for the upcoming collections of curiosities and miscellany, I was struck by their sound. The popular narrative holds that the shows peaked in January and went downhill from there, including a brief stint of auditioning new guitarists onstage; even so, I found that there were many outstanding concerts from throughout the year. In particular, the show in Normal was a highlight.

Gathering the recordings, I found that a full length CD ended up feeling exhausting. The performances here are uniformly excellent, but listening to Dylan's "take no prisoners" 1990 style for an hour and twenty minutes managed to lessen the charms. As such, this is an uncharacteristically short collection, clocking in at just under an hour.

Within that hour, though, I suspect you may be shocked how great Bob Dylan and his band sound. They took the rough aesthetic of 1989 and honed it into an increasingly muscular style throughout the year. At the same time, they began performing increasingly surprising cover songs - "Old Rock And Roller," "Lonesome Whistle Blues" and "No More One More Time" feature prominently here, but other songs performed throughout the year included "Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay," "Nowhere Man," "My Head's In Mississippi," and "Old Macdonald." On the subject of that last song, too, Dylan and the band opened most of the Autumn shows with a brief instrumental cover; that portion of the set is represented here by "Dixie," which the singer would go on to perform vocally twelve years later for the Masked and Anonymous film.

I've spliced together "Dixie" and "Wiggle Wiggle" from the same show, since I think the latter track works well as an opener and remains very rarely performed. As you can imagine, it towers over its much-maligned studio rendition. "Political World" is a version of the song that I was clued into by a fellow member of the Expecting Rain website, Nellie, and is as good as the song ever sounded outside of Daniel Lanois' New Orleans "studio." The guitar riff built by G. E. Smith is quite groovy.

"Joey" features one of my favorite song comments by the singer, as he remarks afterwards that "that was about a guy named Joey." The following track, "Old Rock And Roller," features about as much pathos as Bob Dylan could put forth on-stage. As he introduces it, "if you ever wondered what happens to people like me, here's a song that'll tell you about it." The song, originally written by Charlie Daniels for a 1989 album, tells the story of a musician who has been trying and failing to replicate the success of his 1960s recordings. My compilation's title, Bourbon & Pride, comes from (what I hear in) a line from this song - "he's been living thirty years on bourbon and pride." There isn't any simple outcome in the story, but its conclusion reminds the listener of Bob Dylan's own conclusion in 1987 that he was determined to stand on-stage in spite of his artistic challenges.

"TV Talkin' Song" is intriguing, as it sounds closer to the circulating outtake of that song than the final version released on Under The Red Sky. "Lonesome Whistle Blues" represents the only appearance of a song from the noteworthy live rehearsal at the Toad's Place venue in New Haven. Unfortunately, only the middle verse is fully remembered, but I think the song comes across regardless. Another good version of this was played at 1989's tour rehearsals, but this performance is the superior one. As one may imagine from its inclusion here, I also believe it to be the best song featured at the aforementioned live rehearsal in New Haven - while the recording quality of my copy of that set is quite nice, the performance is pretty much what you would expect from a rehearsal.

"Buckets Of Rain" already appeared on an earlier miscellaneous compilation, but I thought it too good not to include here. It is, of course, the only live performance of the song, and Dylan rises to the occasion with some inspired harmonica and a delightful unwillingness to let the song go when the band finishes playing the first time. "No More One More Time," written and originally recorded by Cajun accordionist Jo-El Sonnier, provides one of the strongest vocal performances of the album. Dylan had clearly connected with this recent song, singing it a handful of times in 1990 and again fourteen years later in 2004; this one was the best of the bunch.

"Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again" tends to be played well by its composer, but this version is especially strong. It sounds like a bolt of lightning, and you shouldn't be embarrassed if you're inclined to hit the repeat button when it's over! The next track, "Every Grain Of Sand," is probably the best song on this compilation. After performing interesting but somehow incomplete versions over the course of the preceding decade, Dylan finally connects with the song here in a way he hadn't since its initial recording. The band, too, offers delicate, sympathetic backing without losing their essentially garage-rock style. Finally, the set closes up with a characteristically rocking "Highway 61 Revisited," featuring plenty of roaring slide guitar

If you don't connect with this material, don't fret - you're in good company. 1990 was not the singer's strongest year, but I'll be darned if I don't find myself nodding along and getting thoroughly jazzed by these thirteen songs. This is Bob Dylan on the edge, and that's often when he finds the most interesting way to sing his songs.

Until next time, keep yourself healthy and listen to some good tunes!

Cheers,
CS