Bootleg Series, v. 7: No Direction Home – Bob Dylan
In a time when those who still care about Bob Dylan recently had their heads blown open by his autobiography, Chronicles, and are, by all accounts, about to have the wound regashed by Martin Scorsese’s No Direction Home documentary (featuring Dylan’s first extended interview since he started not-sucking again), the seventh installment in the Bootleg Series is — on some level — a bit of a breather. Comprised mostly of outtakes and live cuts that didn't make the grade on the two previous discs devoted to Dylan's '60s studio output, or the four dedicated to live sets, these companion discs to Scorsese's documentary are also bread-and-butter baby boomer product from Dylan's most marketable period.
Not that there's anything wrong with that, especially because there are a few new discoveries.
There is a heavy emphasis on the goods that might compete with Starbucks'
simultaneous exclusive release of the Gaslight Tapes (or, as a friend has dubbed them, the "Gas Latte Tapes"), a famous set recorded at a Greenwich Village cafe in 1962. As such, the first disc of No Direction Home leads off with the recently uncovered "When I Got Troubles,"
purportedly the first original song recorded by scrawny Bobby Zimmerman in 1959, and proceeds swiftly to a rare Dylan performance of a Woody Guthrie cover (which also happens to be the campfire staple "This Land Is Your Land"). There's even a take of "Man of Constant Sorrow," for those who've worn out their O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtracks.
While these moments, along with the plodding first take of "Mr. Tambourine Man" with Ramblin' Jack Elliot and a run-through of "Highway 61 Revisited"
without its trademark police siren, are historically interesting, they're not quite that compelling musically. Excellent live versions of "Blowin' In The Wind" (fascinatingly recorded during the short period before the song became a myth) and the legendary "Judas!" version of "Like A Rolling Stone"
(previously released on Bootleg IV) won’t hurt sales either.
Thankfully, there are still a half-dozen gems tucked among the 28 tracks, including the crackling soundboard remaster of "Maggie's Farm," Dylan's electric debut at Newport in 1965, a rare confluence of significance and sheer vitality (though the track fades before one can listen for the booing that may or may not've followed). The rest of the good shit is more modest, but — perhaps — even more enjoyable. The drumless reading of "She Belongs To Me" is sublime. And, while the alternate take of "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" recorded two days later isn't hugely different than what found its way to the second side of Bringing It All Back Home, it’s still an alternate take of "It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue," and will be completely fascinating (and satisfying) to anybody who thinks of that song as a masterful achievement (the same goes for the demo of "Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright," on disc one).
While the drone-jangle variation on "Desolation Row" on disc two isn't entirely the alternative reality organist/guitarist Al Kooper suggests in the liner notes, the fall 1965 take of "Visions of Johanna" backed by The Hawks is exactly that. It's a bit of a mess, with Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson's trademark piano/organ combination (abetted by Kooper's unnecessary
Hammond) laying a foundation while Robbie Robertson's guitar and Rick Danko's bass punch between-line fills. Still, it allows one a brief reimagining of Blonde on Blonde as the loose-limbed basement noise the musicians (minus Kooper) would conceive in the summer of 1967, as the Hawks transmogrified into The Band and Dylan recuperated from the explosive years documented by No Direction Home.
As an album, No Direction Home is the first Dylan vault release to tread previously covered ground. In that regard, it’s a bit of a yard sale, though any yard sale that’s got previously unheard takes of "Visions of Johanna" is a very well-appointed yard sale, indeed.