Volume 15 of Dylan’s Bootleg Series sees us return to the recording sessions and TV appearances of three Dylan records; John Wesley Harding, Nashville Skyline and Self-Portrait. The focus of the release is a set of recordings made with Johnny Cash during the Nashville Skyline Sessions
The time period covered here is ’67 to ’70, which chronicles a turbulent time in Dylan’s life. After turning his back on his folk roots and picking up an electric guitar, ’65 to ’66 saw Dylan famously become estranged with the industry and his fans. After a world tour, he retreated to Woodstock following a supposed “motorbike accident”. Here, he found his love for country music and so, like what happens across the rest of his career, a new – more nassaly this time – Dylan was born.
These sorts of releases – the ones where they release everything and its cat to update the copyright – aren’t for the faint-hearted, but neither is Dylan. It is a testament to an artist’s unrelenting force when you can scour every single recording session, every single bedroom tape and bootleg, and still find some absolute gems.
Even 15 volumes in, there are still some versions of songs on this where I – a lifelong Dylan fan – can sit and have that internal debate; “Is this better than the take he chose for the album? I think I like the more simple arrangements. Oh, this one, those overdubs, they were never on the original,” and it goes on.
That is an incredible feat, unmatched really by any artist. Yeah, there’s live albums of people, and Neil Young does a similar archives series, but how many artists have their most incomplete cuts released – some of which are just hummed out ideas – and you, the listener, still enjoy them. Not many, not many at all.
Listening to this set of mismatched and rough recordings, I can’t help but re-fall in love with a period of Dylan’s music. As I hear Johnny Cash chat to Dylan before and during a take, I can’t help but picture myself in the room. Smiles and giggles are flying between the two legends. One of them does something a little different, sings a new melody or mumbles through some lyrics, the other riffs along having fun. It’s like your part of it, not just a listener. You’re a roadie or the bass player, a fly on the wall as they call it, just taking in the awe of the moments that come and pass. In some songs, this might just be 30 seconds, before one of them slips up on a lyric or stops to have a drink, but god, it is worth it.
Though these outtakes aren’t polished, and many more casual fans will most likely have no emotional interest in them whatsoever, to me that’s in fact what makes them stand out. They are rough, so rough – some are better than others – but that’s magical. Compared to previous bootlegs this is perhaps one of the barest in terms of ‘complete’ takes and outtakes but, it still draws you in. As a die-hard fan, you can hear the friendship and the respect between the two. Many of the tracks are duets, after all, but you can hear a to and fro, a tension that adds up to something more than just the separate parts. Dylan and Cash exchange songs, exchange melodies and lines, everything with a total – and audible – respect for each other. It’s really quite something.
Haiku Review: Hear two legends sing, Listen to the too and fro, Fall in love again,
Listen to Bob Dylan on Spotify, and read about Volume 6 of our print magazine HERE.