Liner Notes, Part I
Part II of the liner notes were published on Bobdylan.com
Mississippi (Outtake, Time Out Of Mind)
One of the remarkable things about Bob Dylan songs is how many different moods and feelings they can evoke, simply by how they are sung, a change in arrangement, a chord, a word, or even their placement on an album. When this song at last appeared on “Love And Theft”, it stood out as the prototypical Bob Dylan song on an album that delved deeply into several American music styles. The ascending bass line could be found in such predecessors as “Like A Rolling Stone,” and the loping rhythm, reminiscent of the feel of The Band, gave it a majesty that was instantly classic.
This version conveys a different kind of majesty and is no less powerful Probably the first version recorded, with Bob Dylan on acoustic, Daniel Lanois, on very subtle electric and Tony Garnier on the bass, it not only takes you to the delta, but to the edge of the river. The blues guitar figure recalls Dylan’s work on the New York sessions for Blood On The Tracks, particularly “Buckets of Rain.” Dylan’s vocal is almost as if he’s letting the words sing themselves, and the song is flowing through him singing hard on some lines, backing off gently on others, magically managing to pull off both at the same time.
Most Of The Time (Alternate version, Oh Mercy)
On Oh Mercy, this song was brooding bordering on menacing. This solo, guitar and harp rendition is undoubtedly a first take and a bit less melancholy in feel. The sadness found in a different, perhaps more inherent way. Where the Oh Mercy version seems mired in ironic denial, this one has some hope even if it’s pensive.
This is also reflected by the lyric changes in the third verse:
I’ve got enough faith and I’ve got enough strength/I keep it all away way beyond arm’s length
were eventually replaced by:
I don’t build up illusion ’till it makes me sick/I ain’t afraid of confusion no matter how thick.
The former makes the next line, I can smile in the face of mankind more convincing. On Oh Mercy, it sounded like the words were saying one thing, and Dylan’s voice and phrasing were saying the opposite. At the same time, the irony was what made the song.
On first hearing, this take brought back the Biographversion of “Forever Young” in that it stays major where you expect it to go minor, though the bridge to the song remains intact.
Dylan’s clear and strong acoustic playing is simply terrific and his subtle use of bass lines combined with the harp goes back to another era entirely. It is not the guitar style he would use a few years later on the two acoustic albums. There is something about Bob Dylan playing alone with just guitar and harp that is immediately compelling. Hearing this, I was reminded about the stories from the Rolling Thunder Revue about how whenever Dylan would do his solo spot, the other performers would stop whatever they were doing and watch.
Dignity (Piano demo, Oh Mercy)
“Dignity” was recorded several times for Oh Mercy. None of the versions were used for the album though one take eventually surfaced on Greatest Hits Volume Three. On that version all the tracks except for Dylan’s vocal and piano were wiped and replaced by new tracks. This recording is slower and more dignified than any of the other known takes which are a bit more rocked up, reveals the original beauty of the song as well as the promise behind the lyrics. Notable for the line, Soul of a nation is under the knife/Death is standin’ in the doorway of life, this version, though incomplete, shows that an artist’s first instinct is usually correct.
Someday Baby (Alternate version, Time Out Of Mind)
On Modern Times, this song had a driving Chicago based groove. With its marching drums, atmospheric guitars and melodic interlude between the verses, as well as a few lyric changes, this take is far less bluesy, in fact barely at all. Based on the refrain of a classic blues song, recorded by dozens of singers under various titles, this song caused quite a bit of controversy on its release. Writing new verses to an old song (blues or not) is something Bob Dylan (along with many other musicians) has done since the beginning of his career. Once upon a time it was known as the folk process. In folk music, blues, country music, and rock and roll, the list of interchangeable verses, borrowed lines, hooks, and riffs is endless. If this somewhat spookier version had appeared on Modern Times, and it would have changed the tenor of the album, it would have been seen as an acknowledgement, a passing nod.
Red River (Unreleased, Time Out Of Mind)
From the second an interview with keyboard player Jim Dickinson, surfaced mentioning this song (he called it, “The Girl From The Red River Shore”) in which he said it was “…the best song there was from the sessions,” Dylan fans have t been intrigued, by both his statement and the song’s title, which immediately referenced a traditional song Dylan had performed, “The Girl From The Green Briar Shore.”
To say that this song lives up to imagined promise after more than a decade of anticipation is severely understating the case. This song is without question possibly the greatest Bob Dylan recording of the past quarter-century. The timbre of his voice says it all, the sadness inherent, the vocal as real and natural as any he’s done. The opening verse is exquisite:
Some of us turn off the lights and we live
In the moonlight shootin’ by
Some of us scare ourselves to death in the dark
To be where the angels fly
The song begins with just guitars and bass, the lead guitar recalling Ry Cooder at his most soulful. On the third verse, organ and drums slip in followed by Augie Meyer’s Tex-Mex accordion on the fourth verse, and a dobro on the sixth. The way the instruments fade in adds impact and depth not only to the verse, but the line they come in on, never interfering, only enhancing the always out-front vocal. The effect of the arrangement is like driving up a long, slow western mountain, where you don’t even realize you’re climbing at first.
The lyrics hit on several levels all at once and seem to move in and out of a dreamlike state. There are several quotable lines and surely such lines as the closing, Sometimes I think nobody ever saw me here at all/Except the girl from the red river shore will be discussed as long as people are discussing Dylan songs.
Tell Ole Bill (Alternate version)
“Tell Ole Bill” was written for the 2005 film, North Country. Dylan did at least a dozen takes of this in the studio. This minor key rendition is dramatically different than the soundtrack version which was based on a Carter Family song, “I Never Loved But One.” There is also an old folksong, “Tell Old Bill,” but the only similarity is in the title.
Playwright and actor, Sam Shepherd once wrote that “Dylan moves into mysticism with an E-minor chord,” and that sentiment applies here. Lines that seemed little more than nice on the previous version, ring with startling intensity. Punctuated by the rollicking bass notes of Dylan’s piano, the give the song a whole new meaning While some of the lines reflect 19th century poetry, such lines as, I lay awake at night with troubled dreams/
The enemy is at the gate, move the song into another context entirely.
Born In Time (Alternate version, Oh Mercy)
“Born In Time,” is quite simply one of the most beautiful love songs of any Dylan era, though one couldn’t necessarily tell that from the version on Under The Red Sky. While some of lyric changes on other versions may have improved the song, this take cannot be surpassed for emotional impact. Why this song was left off Oh Mercywill remain one of the great bewildering Dylan mysteries. The instrumental backing stays subtly in the back, with Daniel Lanois’ dobro taking the lead in shimmering solos.
Can’t Wait (Demo, Time Out Of Mind,)
On Time Out Of Mind, this song began with guitars, that reflected early Chicago blues. This starts with Dylan on piano and you can hear the musicians finding their way into the song as it proceeds, as additional instruments join in. The lyrics were not yet in any definite format, and some may be startled to hear a line that ended up being one of the key lines in “Sugar Baby,” four years later: Well my back is to the sun because the light is too intense/I can see what everybody in the world is up against.
Everything Is Broken (Alternate version, Oh Mercy)
This is a more straight ahead and basic version without some of the extra instrumentation that appeared on Oh Mercy. Lyrical changes abound especially on the bridges, where Dylan’s voice and phrasing suddenly and almost humorously sound strangely enough like Blonde On Blonde.
Dreamin’ Of You (Unreleased, Time Out Of Mind)
This is one of the wildest tracks on the set. Set to a freeform groove that somehow manages the astounding task of being reminiscent of both “Highlands” and “Yea Heavy And A Bottle Of Bread,” with the first line using the second verse of “Standing In The Doorway.” Lines from that song and others appear in the strangest places, with Dylan half-talking, half-singing. As a song it stands on its own, and in a crazy way, manages to sum up the feel of the entire album.
Huck’s Tune (from Lucky You soundtrack)
This song was recorded in 2006, but because of delays in releasing the film didn’t appear until the spring of 2007. Again Dylan draws on traditional music for inspiration. The finger-picking introduction that also appears between the verses, is from the Scottish ballad, “Tramps And Hawkers.” A book could be written on the origins of this melody, as it appears in several Scottish and Irish songs, among them Lakes Of Pontchartrain, which Dylan has performed several times on stage. If you go back to “The Ballad Of Donald White” and “I Pity The Poor Immigrant,” you’ll find variants there also.
As with many of the other Bob Dylan sougs composed specifically for soundtracks, it transcends its original intentions. The character in the songs is locked deep in despair and more than willing to admit it. With lines that constantly interchange from descriptive to poetic to mater of fact, this song deserves the attention it will hopefully receive by its inclusion on this disc.
Marching To The City (Unreleased, Time Out Of Mind)
This slow blues tinged with gospel, especially in Dylan’s piano playing, is notable for many reasons. Shortly into the song, familiar lines from other songs appear, most obviously “’Til I Fell In Love With You,” and “Not Dark Yet,” but it’s impossible to be sure if they started here, or if Dylan was trying lines he liked in various songs to find where they worked best.
More to the point, this is one of the strongest blues vocals of Dylan’s career. He is totally at home, confident and in command. Once the band locks into the groove, they stay there as Dylan’s vocal gets increasingly intense. This isn’t an approximation of the blues. It is the blues.
High Water (for Charlie Patton) (Live, Niagra, 2003)
Suddenly we are transported to the stage, and “High Water (for Charlie Patton)” which on “Love And Theft” was rocked up bluegrass with more than a few hints of old time country, is now a ferocious rocker. No trace of its previous incarnation is to be found. Dylan’s piano pounces on the chords, while the crazed interplay of the guitars of Larry Campbell and Freddy Koella take the song to another plane entirely. The whole song is one relentless attack. Dylan shouts out the vocals like a man about to be drowned, and Koella, in perhaps his finest performance with Dylan, takes his guitar into the stratosphere, staying funky the entire time, then brings it back to earth for an un-paralled closer.
Mississippi (Outtake, Time Out Of Mind)
This is a full-band, yet low-key rendition that kind of ambles casually along, with the power reserved for the second part of each verse. What’s interesting is the feel and the beat are very close to Dylan’s live performances over the past few years. Not as strong as the version on disc one, or the version on “Love And Theft”, it’s kind of an on the way marker for the future.
The Lonesome River with Ralph Stanley (Originally released on Clinch Mountain Country, Rebel Records, released May 19, 1998, recorded November 30, 1997. Bob Dylan: vocal, acoustic guitar, with Ralph Stanley & The Clinch Mountain Boys: Ralph Stanley: vocal & banjo; Jack Cooke upright bass; Ralph Stanley II: rhythm guitar; James Shelton: guitar; Steve Sparkman: banjo; James Price: fiddle; John Rigsby: mandolin.)
In the second half of the ’90s, especially after Larry Campbell joined the band, Bob Dylan went through what has to be termed a major Stanley Brothers phase. It started slowly at first, but after this tune was recorded, an increasing number of Stanley Brothers songs were added to the shows, and stayed part of the shows for a few years.
The Stanley Brothers, Ralph and Carter, along with their band the Clinch Mountain Boys, are at the top of the Bluegrass pantheon, right next to Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs. Carter Stanley died in 1966, but Ralph kept playing, receiving his greatest fame at age 75, for his part in the soundtrack of the film, O Brother, Where Art Thou. One of the great singers, his voice cuts right to the spine. On this recording, Bob sings all the verses, with Ralph coming in on the choruses.
Series of Dreams (Outtake, Oh Mercy)
When this song was released on the very first Bootleg Series, most Dylan fans stopped in their tracks. This version is similar, but stripped of the frills and overdubs done a few years later in New York. There’s little doubt that its inclusion would have made Oh Mercy a far stronger record.
God Knows (Outtake, Oh Mercy)
An early version of the song that would appear in much different form on Under The Red Sky. The lyrics are almost completely different from the later version, leaving the last verse out entirely. Interesting to have because of the lyrical changes and the arrangement, it stands as an exception to the rule that the early versions are usually better.
I Can’t Escape From You (2005)
This song written for a film, but never used, was recorded about six months before Modern Times. Dylan is playing organ, Donnie Herron is on piano. Dylan’s is in possibly the lowest register he’s put on a record. It shares with “Tell Ole Bill,” and “Huck’s Tune” a writing style that seems to transverse centuries, and with the latter song a description of a Christmas that is not what it should be.
Dignity (Outtake, Oh Mercy)
This take casts the song in a rockabilly light, and instrumentally sounds like something from Elvis Presley’s Sun Sessions, though rockabilly songs usually do not run for anywhere near five minutes. Dylan’s vocal is looser than on the other takes, and again there are quite a few lyric changes.
Ring Them Bells (Supper Club, New York, NY, November 17, 1993)
In November of 1993, Bob Dylan did four shows at the intimate Supper Club in New York. It was Dylan’s first New York City club appearance since 1962, and the shows were free. All the shows were exactly one hour long, were acoustic, except for Bucky Baxter’s pedal steel. Both nights were recorded and filmed, but never used, though two videos surfaced on the Highway 61 Interactive CD rom. Somehow Dylan managed to capture his entire career in that one hour.
I was lucky enough to see the second show of the first night, and it remains my favorite show of the “Never Ending Tour.” The audience, crammed around tables large enough to hold drinks and an ashtray was ecstatic throughout. The band was tight and Dylan’s singing was beyond powerful. “Ring Them Bells” was performed at every show, one of several high points at number eight in the set, and each version has something special to recommend it.
Cocaine (Live version, 1997 [????] )
“Cocaine” is an old blues song originally done by Reverend Gary Davis. Dylan sang the song early in his career and revived it in the mid-nineties. Dylan quite possibly learned it from Dave Van Ronk, whose version on his album Folksinger was definitive. Every guitar player in Washington Square in the ’60s had to know how to play Van Ronk’s finger-picking part.
Dylan started singing it again at some point in the ’90s and it became a staple of his shows. He even opened his 1999 summer concert at Madison Square Garden with it. This version features lead guitarist and Larry Campbell and steel guitarist Bucky Baxter on backup vocals.
Ain’t Talkin’ (Alternate version, Modern Times)
This is an earlier take of the chilling closer to Modern Times. This version doesn’t have the intro (or the outro), Donnie Herron is on steel instead of viola, and Stu Kimball’s finger-picking part is nowhere to be found. Leaning ever so slightly more towards rock, this take has several changes in the lyrics, most notably the omission of the last verse, ending with a repeat of the first verse, giving the song an entirely different meaning.
The Girl On The Green Briar Shore (Live, Gothenburg, Sweden [?????] 1992)
This song about another elusive girl, who could be a ghost, obviously part of the inspiration for “Red River Shore” was performed twice in Europe by Dylan alone on acoustic in the summer of 1992. Recorded by the Carter Family and Ralph Stanley, Dylan more than likely learned it from the singing of Tom Paley of the New Lost City Ramblers.
Lonesome Day Blues, (Live, February 1, 2002, Sunrise, Florida.)
A searing live version of one of the highlights of “Love And Theft”, Dylan’s vocals are a raspy delight. The way he barks out various lines, starting with the opening line, emphasizing key words throughout couldn’t be more perfect. The band never lets up, staying very close to the album arrangement. A book could be written about the innumerable references is this song, which include, Blind Willie Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, Woody Guthrie, Huckleberry Finn, Aeneid, by Virgil, and W.C. Fields in The Fatal Glass of Beer.
Duncan And Brady (Unreleased, 1992)
In June of 1992, Dylan went to Chicago and recorded several songs with guitarist and singer, David Bromberg producing. Bromberg had worked with Dylan in 1970 on Self Portrait and New Morning. Most though not all of the songs were traditional folk songs and blues. This song, usually attributed to Leadbelly became part of Dylan’s live shows several years later. Highlighted by Bromberg’s slide guitar, this version simply kicks. The drummer is Richard Crooks who on played on “Meet Me In The Morning” on Blood On The Tracks.
Miss The Mississippi And You (Unreleased, 1992)
Also from the sessions with Bromberg, one of Jimmie Rodger’s classic tunes. Rodgers was one of the greatest singers, songwriters and innovators of the 20th Century. One of Dylan’s best vocals from 1992, live or on record, this rendition with Bromberg on dobro and Dick Fegy on mandolin, stays true to Rodgers’ original. In 1997, Dylan produced a tribute album to Rodgers with several other artists taking part. The liner notes to that album are one of the best pieces of prose Dylan has written so far.
Across The Green Mountain (Gods and Generals soundtrack, recorded July 2002)
Written for the epic TV film about the Civil War, this stands apart from everything else Dylan was doing musically at this time. Dylan wrote about his fascination with the Civil War in Chronicles, Volume One. Lyrically, it is from the period it evokes, and it’s dirge-like, mournful quality will stand as one of his major works of the decade. Everything about this recording is carefully constructed, from Larry Campbell’s violin to Dylan’s somber vocal which has no extraneous flourishes.
Tryin’ To Get To Heaven (Live, Portsmouth, England, September 25, 2000 [???] )
When Bob Dylan debuted this version in fall of 2000, it was like nothing he’d done before, and immediately was recognized as a must-see performance. Hearing it the first time, felt as if this was the way he heard it in his mind, but couldn’t get there at the time he wrote it. The guitar work of Larry Campbell and Charlie Sexton is celestial, and Dylan sings with a reserve rarely displayed. Of all the hundreds of live Dylan recordings, the live versions of this arrangement are at the top.
Series of Dreams (Outtake, Oh Mercy)
Another take originally recorded in New Orleans, but like the one on Bootleg Series, Volumes 1-3, has additional overdubs, recorded in New York. The additional instrumentation here is a bit more subtle, and there are a few lyric changes as well.
Mississippi (Alternate outtake, Time Out Of Mind)
Musically, this take is somewhere between the one on disc one and one on disc two. The feel is kind of lazy, with Augie Meyers on organ, and Bob taking a lead. But what’s really noticeable are numerous lyric changes starting with the very first line.
Ring Them Bells (Outtake, Oh Mercy)
Bob Dylan, solo on piano in a rendition very similar to the album take. While there were many reasons for Dylan to work with Daniel Lanois at the times he did, the intriguing thing is how well these songs stand up in solo versions. This is some of Dylan’s finest piano work, and the song really doesn’t need anything else.
Born In Time (Outtake, Oh Mercy)
Slightly more upbeat, than the take on disc one, and a little less ethereal, though it might be trying to be more so, the piano is out of the mix entirely, replaced by a lush wall of acoustic guitars, while various other instruments weave in and out, sometimes for a second and disappear. Dylan’s vocal is not quite as musing as the one on disc one.
Red River Shore (Alternate outtake, Time Out Of Mind)
A full band version from the start with Augie Meyer’s accordion leading things off, and the Tex-Mex feel is more prominent, aided by a mandolin that appears at key moments, and occasional Spanish guitar licks, that arrive and vanish like the girl in the song. Dylan’s vocal is no less impassioned.
Things Have Changed (Live, 2001)
Written for the film, Wonder Boys, this Oscar-winning song earned Dylan his first regular airplay for a new song in quite some time. It’s always a good idea not to compare a song, especially one written specifically for a project, to anything in an artist’s life, but the alienation expressed in the lyrics resonated way beyond the film to the time in which it was released. This live version finds the song in a more rolling arrangement, with his excellent band at full power. Dylan sings the line, Just for a second there, I thought I saw something move, as if he actually did just see something move.
Doin’ Alright (Alternate outtake, Time Out Of Mind)
“Doin’ Alright” would’ve fit right into the Basement Tapes. In essence this is “Marching To The City,” in a more jaunty groove, moving at a fast clip towards metamorphosing into “’Till I Fell In Love With You,” with quite a few improvised detours on the way. Once again, various lines, some familiar, some not are interjected, while others are quickly abandoned.
Down Along The Cove (Live, June 11, 2004, Bonnaroo, Music Festival, Manchester, Tennessee)
For anyone who hasn’t been to a Dylan concert in the last decade, and only knows this song from John Wesley Harding, what was a mild country boogie, is now a full blown rocker, with new chord changes and a lot action along that cove, with several new verses. More to the point, this song sizzles, the guitars never rest. This soundboard recording captures not only the musicians (you can actually hear what Tony Garnier is doing on bass) but the excitement of the audience as well. Experiencing this song live is a word not usually associated with Bob Dylan, and that word is fun.
Most Of The Time (Outtake, alternate version, Oh Mercy)
Very close to the track on Oh Mercy, this take has some additional instruments brought up in the mix, and the bass is even more out front. The guitars still wail in the background, creating a murky, swampy haze. While Daniel Lanois’ production will always be controversial in some quarters, one of the things he truly knew how to do was capture Dylan’s voice during this period and he did so to maximum effect.
Cold Irons Bound (Live, June 11, 2004, Bonnaroo, Music Festival, Manchester, Tennessee)
On Time Out Of Mind, the ghost of Howlin’ Wolf hovered all around this song. In concert, it turned into something else entirely and for quite a while was the mid-point show stopper. This song is meant to be played loud! The band is roaring and Dylan right there roaring with them
Can’t Wait (Alternate version, Time Out Of Mind)
Slow, somber, with all the tension implicit in the song’s title brought to life, with organ dominating the other instruments, this is one of Bob Dylan’s scariest vocals committed to disc. The lyrical changes reflect an anger that is not in any of the other versions, and Dylan’s smoldering delivery makes it even more so.
Liner Notes, Part II
It was the late summer of 1989, and one day a package with a cassette inside appeared in the mail. The cassette was an advance copy of the new, as yet, unreleased Bob Dylan album, Oh Mercy. All I knew was the album was recorded in New Orleans with producer Daniel Lanois, whose work I mainly knew from the first Robbie Robertson album.
It was the second year of what would become known as the Never Ending Tour, a tour where anything could and did happen, and a tour that would eventually redefine Bob Dylan’s entire career as a musician. The previous tours of the past few years had been with either the Grateful Dead and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. Both tours had their moments, but I left all those shows feeling something was missing, that Dylan needed his own band. The show with the Dead in Philly was to say the least controversial, and a lot of people were whining they’d never see him again. Back then, there were still disc-jockeys and radio stations that cared about music and their comments ranged from sort of sympathetic to what was that!?
For me, he played two songs I never thought I’d see, “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest,” and even more amazingly, “John Brown,” an anti-war song that appeared on an album I had, called Broadside Volume 1, which was a sampler of the topical songwriters of Greenwich Village in the early ’60s. On that album Dylan appeared under the pseudonym Blind Boy Grunt, which turn out to the first of many. “John Brown” was based on the traditional country song, “Reuben’s Train,” that had a definitive guitar lick to it, and Jerry Garcia, no stranger to traditional music used that lick in the arrangement. The show had two other surprises, “Chimes of Freedom” and “Queen Jane Approximately,” and even though the latter song kind of collapsed in the middle, I didn’t care. It happened to be my birthday, I was seeing Bob Dylan and saw songs I never thought I’d see. It was a hint of things to come.
When Dylan went on tour the following summer, it was with a stripped down band, and they were to say the least rocking. In those days there was no Internet to give you instant set lists each night. If you wanted to know what was going on a tour, you had to go to the library and find a newspaper from another town that hopefully reviewed the show. So when I saw my first Never Ending Tour show at the Garden State Arts Center, in Holmdel, New Jersey, and Dylan opened with Subterranean Homesick Blues, another song I never expected to see, my mind was somewhat blown and blown even further when during the short acoustic set, he pulled out Woody Guthrie’s, “Trail of the Buffalo.” That fall Dylan opened up his tour with two nights at the Tower Theater just outside Philly. I was beyond belief when in the middle of the show he launched into “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream,” and again two songs later, when he inserted a new verse about Vietnam into “With God On Our Side,” a verse that would appear a few months later on a Neville Brothers album, Yellow Moon, that was produced by Daniel Lanois.
The next morning, I was invited to watch a recording session with Dylan’s bass player at the time, Kenny Aaronson. When I arrived at the studio, my friend who was producing the session cautioned me, saying Bob was kind of mad at the band last night, so be cool. Finally at the end of the session when everyone was relaxed, I got up the nerve ask Aaronson, “Did you know Bob was gonna do 115th Dream last night?” “He kind of fooled around with it at sound check was the response.”
The following summer, the traditional songs were replaced by covers of other artists such as Gordon Lightfoot, Van Morrison and country singer Don Gibson. Knowing a new album was on the way, I was hoping for new songs, but it wasn’t to be.
And so I opened that envelope and put Oh Mercy on my tape deck. From the first note I knew it was a serious Bob Dylan album. Dylan’s two previous studio albums were comprised of covers and originals, recorded at various sessions and were far from having a cohesive feel. A lot of people felt his best work of the past few years was with The Traveling Wilburys. Oh Mercy wasn’t New Orleans R&B, it was Bob Dylan music. The sound was dense with layers of guitars, the production steamy. The songs were deep, dark and mysterious, some funny and some with anger brewing beneath the surface. In other words, everything you want in a Bob Dylan album. Immediately apparent, and perhaps best of all was that Lanois knew how to capture Bob Dylan’s voice at that time. Throughout his career, Bob Dylan has had a spooky intensity, that when it happens, can cuts right through you. It’s a magical thing. It cannot be defined or even named. It doesn’t always happen, but when it does, you know it and it’s on this album in abundance. After listening to the album, I called a friend heavily into Bob and said, “You have to hear this album.” Skeptical from the last two albums, he didn’t believe me. That night I went to see some friends play at a local bar and he was there. I walked in the bar, walked up to him and said, “Come out to my car right now.” I put on “Ring Them Bells,” “Most Of The Time,” and “Man In The Long Black Coat,” and watched his skepticism change to a smile.
When Dylan returned to the Tower Theater that fall, a few Oh Mercy songs were in the set, but typically they sounded nothing like the record, rougher, rawer, louder. “Most Of The Time” melded right into “All Along The Watchtower.” There were surprises in store, but they weren’t necessarily musical. At the end of the second night, Dylan did something I never thought I’d ever see. A crew member brought him a different microphone for his harp, and the band launched into “Leopard Skin Pill-Box Hat.” During a harp solo, Dylan edged closer and closer to the lip of the stage, then jumped into the crowd still playing and ran out a side door ending the show.
When the tour resumed in 1990, with a three-set club show in New Haven Connecticut at Toad’s Place, he debuted a new original song for the first time since 1981. That song was “Wiggle Wiggle.” It was the last time a new original song would be debuted in concert. That show, a warm-up for the coming tour also included numerous covers songs that ranged from “Pretty Peggy-O,” in a far different rendition than the one on his first album to various country songs to blues to Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing In The Dark.” No one knew it at the time, but that show was a forecast of the decade to come.
Late that summer, another album Under The Red Sky, appeared. I was writing for a local weekly and much to the displeasure of my editor covered every Dylan show in and around Philly. Late that summer, I was contacted at the paper where I worked by Bob Dylan’s publicity agent Elliot Mintz. Unfortunately, I was in the hospital, with a lot of broken bones, having been a robbery victim the night before. The day I was released from the hospital, a tape arrived in the mail from Mintz. It was Under The Red Sky. Produced by Don Was, it had a different sound and different feel than Oh Mercy. Was had a different production style than Lanois. Lanois, with a couple of exceptions provided Dylan with the same crew of musicians. Among other things, this enables a groove to happen, and once the musicians find that groove, then the sessions start to flow. While maintaining the same rhythm section, Was had different guitar players and keyboard players on each session.
Many of the tunes sounded like apocalyptic nursery rhymes and in a sense they were. It should be pointed out that many nursery rhymes were originally broadsides, sung or shouted in the streets and about topical issues, often mocking royalty. At roughly the same time, Dylan was also recording the second Traveling Wilburys album and touring. Following those two albums, Dylan concentrated on touring and it would seven long years before there was a new album of original Bob Dylan songs and two years, before there was another Bob Dylan album.
In 1992, with little advance notice or fanfare, a new album, Good As I Been To You appeared. It was Dylan alone doing old ballads, and blues, a pop song, and closing with the children’s song, “Froggie Went A Courtin’.” The production was minimal, the playing and singing, often rough. A little less than a year later, a similar album World Gone Wrong, was released. It seemed like a little more thought and care went into World Gone Wrong, from the song selection to the album cover, and of course the performance. For the first time since Desire, the album contained liner notes by Bob Dylan. Writing in a different, more linear, though still free-flowing style than he used previously, he wrote about the source of each song and at the same time managed to connect the songs with the current time. Curiously enough, for the first time, he directly addressed his fans, saying the Never Ending Tour ended with the departure of guitarist G.E. Smith in 1991, and then quite humorously naming all the subsequent tours. Nonetheless, fans continued and still continue to call it the Never Ending Tour. At that point in time, it almost seemed being a Dylan fan made you a part of some secret group. I had my friends who may have once listened to Dylan but stopped along the way, and I had my friends I shared Dylan with, which meant going to shows and trading bootlegs. When I went to England a few years later and attended a Dylan conference in Liverpool and took part in some other related Dylan activities, a friend of the friend I was staying with asked me with total seriousness, “Are you part of the Dylan underground?” It cracked me up.
In the mid-’90s, that all would change with the Internet. A friend had been telling me, you have to get on the Internet, there’s this Dylan discussion group, it’s insane! And so I did and discovered there was not only a discussion group, Rec.Music.Dylan, but a Dylan mailing list, Hwy 61, that would deliver Dylan news (mainly from the group) right to your inbox every few hours, and tons of websites that covered every aspect of Dylan, from roots and sources of songs, to religion, to lyric interpretations, to official rarities, to statistical sites about what songs were played where, when and how many times, and then finally an official site that featured both rare and new, live versions of songs. Later on there was the Dylan Pool, where you could bet on what songs would be played during a tour, and win prizes, which also featured among many other things a database where you could look up when a song was played. It seemed as if the Internet was made for Bob Dylan fans. You could meet people from all over the world and discuss Bob Dylan
In the early winter of ’97, word leaked out that Bob Dylan was recording a new album in Miami with Daniel Lanois returning as producer. There was very little info about it. Every once in a while mysterious persons would show up on the newsgroup, with little tidbits of info, maybe naming a musician or two, and promptly disappear. Then in the spring of that year, on the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend, leaving my job and turning on my car radio, I was hit with a news bulletin that Bob Dylan was in the hospital with a heart infection. I immediately recalled a day almost 31 years before when my brother came running across a field at camp to tell me Bob Dylan had been in a motorcycle crash. I sat staring for a minute, then drove home to find an answering machine full of messages and an full in-box of e-mails.
Bob Dylan returned to the road in August. Over the past couple of years he started bringing more never played or rarely played songs into the set, as well as an increasing amount of folk, blues and bluegrass songs. Among the never played songs was “Blind Willie McTell,” and I kept going to shows until I finally saw it at Wolf Trap.
Sometime early in September, another an advance copy of Time Out Of Mind appeared in the mail The album dominated by blues, with only four out of the 11 songs being ballads. The songs were brooding with a consistent theme of restlessness bordering on despair. Many people, not realizing when the album was recorded immediately confused Dylan’s hospitalization with the album. The blues had always been a staple of Dylan’s music starting with his first album, and Dylan always made his blues his own, minus the vocal affectations of many of his contemporaries. On Time Out Of Mind, there was a difference because unlike Dylan’s earlier blues recordings, there was a conscious effort to get not only the sound, but the feel of the great blues records of the ’50s.
Following the albums release, there were many articles and interviews, with Dylan and Lanois. But the one article that caught the fan’s attention was an interview with keyboard player Jim Dickinson, where he mentioned two songs not on the album, “Mississippi” and “Girl From The Red River Shore.” He then echoed a favorite cry of Dylan fans and collectors, “They left the best songs off the album.” Fans were immediately intrigued even though they only had song titles to go on. “Mississippi” was of course re-recorded for “Love And Theft”, leaving “Red River Shore” something of a holy grail for collectors. Both songs are among the many high points of this set. My reaction on hearing “Red River Shore” was the same as when I first heard “Blind Willie McTell,” this is the best Bob Dylan song in ages.
For his part, Bob Dylan told the New York Times, ”Many of my records are more or less blueprints for the songs. This time I didn’t want blueprints, I wanted the real thing. When the songs are done right they’re done right, and that’s it. They’re written in stone when they’re done right.”
Within a year, the onstage arrangements of many of those songs had changed considerably. Two of those changed arrangements are included here.
Dylan of course returned to the road and in addition to the songs from Time Out Of Mind, other songs were continually added to the set list, blues songs, country songs, bluegrass songs, songs he’d never played. A lot of people including myself would stay up until the set list appeared on the internet. Some music he dived into deeply, most notably The Stanley Brothers and the country duo, Johnny and Jack. You never knew when or where a new song would appear. It could be in Portugal, it could be in Wilmington. What was clear was that Dylan was not just performing, he was exploring and in doing so exposing his audience to all kinds of music they might not have known about. Once they heard it, or even heard about it, people wanted to know what it was, and where it was from. And usually there was someone on one of the various Dylan Internet forums who would know the answer. As a friend said to me recently, “I wouldn’t have known about the Stanley Brothers if it wasn’t for Bob Dylan.” Simply by performing a song, Dylan did what the purveyors of the sixties folk “revival” always wanted to accomplish, without the didacticism, and, because of the Internet, the result was world-wide. He was, as he said in the film No Direction Home, a “musical expeditionary.”
In the fall of 2,000, Dylan moved into an area, he’d only briefly touched before, jazz. In Dublin, he stunned the crowd at a club show with a dramatically rearranged “Tryin’ To Get To Heaven.” This was followed a few weeks later to an equally stunned crowd in Munster, when he pulled out “If Dogs Run Free,” and a month after that, by a Western Swing song, “Blue Bonnet Girl.” It was clear Bob Dylan was up to something. That something turned out to be his next album, ““Love And Theft”“, an album that was among many other things, an exploration of specific American roots-based music genres, an exploration that was continued five years later on Modern Times.
This, the eighth volume of The Bootleg Series isn’t only about outtakes, alternate takes, and songs never heard. It’s also about making the musical connections, connections that cover the wide canvas of American popular music. This is something that Bob Dylan has done not only during the 18 years this album covers, but for his entire career.