Review: Bob Dylan and The Band – The Bootleg Series Volume 11: The Complete Basement Tapes

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The latest volume of Bob Dylan’s Bootleg Series contains a comprehensive catalogue of the music legend’s recordings with The Band in 1967. As the singer disappeared from the limelight following his mammoth “Judas” tour, little was known of the material recorded during the period until the release of The Basement Tapes in 1975. With The Complete Basement Tapes, come 139 songs, from rough takes to the more complete recordings that go above and beyond the 24 that made up the 1975 album. This latest volume undoubtedly continues the desire to discover more of Dylan as he was, rather than the crooning singer he has become.

The greats of the art world have their sketches and unfinished works pored over; but the same is rarely said of musicians. Of most music, if it doesn’t make the album then it’s cast aside and forgotten. However, in the case of Dylan there seems to be an enduring fascination with his unfinished symphonies. It is perhaps the notoriously closed nature of the American singer-songwriter that makes his fans so intrigued with extrapolating as much as they can from his creative process. Recorded at his New York State residence, The Big Pink, the music charts the rise of The Band. Previously the singer’s backing artists known then as The Hawks, The Band would emerge from the sessions and stake their own place in rock history.

The collection itself features versions of classics like ‘Blowing in the Wind’, ‘You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere’, ‘I Shall Be Released’ and ‘One Too Many Mornings’. All of which sound fantastic with the added depth that The Band allow. Among the six CDs there are 30 songs that have never reached the ears of the great unwashed that will be sure to thrill the most hardcore of fans.  A highlight of these is ‘900 Miles from Home’ where Dylan is unusually self-critical lamenting, “If I get myself in line, I’ll be there in due time”. It is perhaps a reflection on the toll that his time touring miles away from his family took on him. Another cause for excitement might be the rendition of Johnny Cash’s ‘Folsom Prison Blues’, which anticipates the collaboration between the two singers for ‘A Girl from the North Country’ which would appear on Dylan’s Nashville Skyline album, released later in the same year. The content of the collection varies from 30 second takes to a seven minute ballad more typical of the musician’s oeuvre. For those seeking more familiar tunes; volumes four, five and six might be of greater interest, with their live performances of many of the classics. Indeed, the rare and unreleased content of the earlier volumes offer a better selection of the unpolished Dylan.

However,  the cultural value of the collection is enormous. It shines a light into the basement that reinvigorated a creative genius and laureate-like lyricist whose name will stand the test of time. If it weren’t for the Basement Tapes then there might never have been a Hard Rain, ‘Hurricane’ or a ‘Shelter from the Storm’.

3.5 stars

The Bootleg Series Volume 11: The Complete Basement Tapes was released on November 4th by Columbia Records/Legacy Recordings.

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