Wednesday, October 1, 2014

In anticipation of the Bootlegs Volume 11: The Basement Tapes

After exploring most of the Dylan catalogue, I finally got around to the Basement Tapes, almost as an afterthought. I knew about its legendary status from my aunt Monnie, who had given me an LP copy of hers when I was just getting into Dylan back in high school. However, I was confused by the material because of the Band songs, which stand out in stark contrast to the unassuming basement recordings. It was so inappropriate to put them on the same album, much less intercalating every other song. It is especially difficult to listen to on an LP because you have to manually skip every other track. When I finally downloaded the album years later and created a playlist of just the Dylan songs it was a joyful moment. The laid back vocal delivery, the surreal nature of the lyrics and the band's tight, in the cut, accompaniment were everything I could have hoped for.

His vocals were what really hooked me. After trying, unsuccessfully, to get into his 80's stuff, I needed something where his voice lacked that annoying quality. His voice is very plain and natural on the basement tapes. It almost didn't sound like him at first listen. And yet maybe this is the REAL voice, without all the hillbilly stuff and without the act. This is him in his most relaxed and natural state. Just hanging out in the basement with his buddies, playing random tunes with no pressure (the record company people were not coming after him because of his motorcycle accident), and having fun with it. And, as legend has it, smoking lots of wacky tabacky. It stands out as unique among the Dylan oeuvre.

Later, I got my hands on the "complete" bootlegs of the sessions through a torrent. 104 tracks! I couldn't believe it. It was too much to absorb. So many songs with such varying sound quality. It sat on my ipod for seven years before I really dug into it. Last summer I purchased the book "Invisible Republic" (which has been updated as: "The Old, Weird America") by Greil Marcus. After reading the book, I listened to the bootlegs while reading the description of each song in the appendix of the book. It was an education and a music history lesson. It was research, it was work. The document, meaning the complete bootleg recordings, is a window on Dylan and an artifact of some strange world.

138 tracks on the official release. With excellent sound quality and mastering of course it will be much easier to digest. Also, I was unaware until now that Robbie Robertson had done some overdubs on the original release of the basement tapes, which will not be here, so we can hear the original stripped down recordings in good quality! This release will not be as revealing as the Self Portrait release from last summer, since that stuff had never actually been bootlegged and was previously unheard. However, for anyone who has not heard the complete basement tapes bootleg, this will be as much, if not more of a revelation.

Odds and Ends promo: