BOB DYLAN WITH JERRY GARCIA – San Francisco 1980 (Rox Vox – RV2CD2143)

San Francisco 1980 San Francisco 1980 comes from the Fox Warfield Theatre on November 12th, 1980, at the start of a twelve date residency which Dylan had at the venue, and the very first night in which he performed officially onstage with the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia. Released on a raft of bootlegged recordings over the years, this double-disc album brings together the concert in its entirety.

Set-wise, San Francisco 1980 is a combination of Dylan’s early Christian era works (‘Gotta Serve Somebody’, ‘I Believe in You’, ‘Man Gave Names to all the Animals’ et al.) alongside his more “typical” fan favourites. In all honesty, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. The key selling points of this album include Garcia’s contribution to the set (although he only plays on six of the nineteen numbers), and particularly his part on an unpredictable (and partially re-written) rendition of ‘Simple Twist Of Fate’. Besides these, the album’s offering of obscurities are not to be overlooked; ‘Mary Of The Wild Moor’, first discovered by Bob in the early 1960s at the New York home of Eve and Mac McKenzie but only debuted live on this 1980 tour; ‘Abraham, Martin And John’ also first debuted mere nights before; ‘Let’s Keep It Between Us’, fittingly the title for the late 80s American East Coast pressing of this Dylan/ Garcia performance, and ‘The Groom’s Still Waiting At The Alter’, also featuring Garcia.

Unfortunately there are two distractions which taint these discoveries slightly; firstly, the quality of the sound board recording which frequently picks up the voices and screams of the concert goers, and secondly, and perhaps more frustratingly, the haphazard nature of the on-stage mix, which sees overly amped instrumentation, at times, almost completely drown out the vocals of Dylan.

Of course, these are the pitfalls of such ‘snapshot of time’ recordings and while this may not be the record to convert any non-believers to the word of Bob or the gospel of Garcia, there are certainly traces of the good stuff within these tracks.

Christopher James Sheridan

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‘To Ramona’:

TRAPPER SCHOEPP – Primetime Illusion (XtraMile)

Primetime IllusionBased in Wisconsin, Schoepp’s third album, Primetime Illusion, produced by Wilco’s Pat Sansone, boasts a co-write with Dylan in celebration of his hometown. Well, sort of. Closing the album, the waltztime ‘On, Wisconsin’ has its origins in news that, back in 1961, Dylan had written but never recorded a song about a homesick traveller pining for his home state. A former roommate unearthed the handwritten lyric and put it up for auction. Schoepp didn’t stump up the $30,000 asking price but he did see a photo of the words and set them to music, sending his arrangement to Dylan’s management, eventually getting consent to publish as a co-write.

It also served as a catalyst to start writing his own material again after going through a series of downers that included the end of a lengthy relationship being forced out of his home, suffering the recurrence of a hernia in his back and, worst of all, the election of Trump. All of which fed into the songs on this break-up album, both on a traditional level and also with his country.

It opens with the tribal drum thump of ‘Shakedown’, 12-string guitar ringing track that suggests Tom Petty constitutes a healthy percentage of his music collection. If that has a buoyant optimistic feel, he quickly sets that to lyrical rights with the fingersnapping rhythm and cascading chords melody of the infectious 60s-inflected ‘It’s Over’ (12-string again making is presence felt) and the piano-accompanied mid-tempo ballad ‘Drive-Thru Divorce’ where those Petty influences hold hands with Billy Joel.

Indeed, this is very much a pop album, jammed with catchy melodies, punchy riffs and hooks, taking a tougher, bluesier groove on ‘Freight Train’, wailing harmonica on the bopping Nicole Atkins collaboration ‘What You Do To Her’ and nodding to Free’s ‘All Right Now’ on the opening of the strutting ‘If All My Nines Were X’s’.

The soulfully sung ‘Sleight Of Hand’ shows the softer side musically, keys, harmonica, bass and tambourine providing the backdrop while spaghetti western twang chews on a cigar for ‘TV Shows’. At just over five minutes, introduced by a chugging guitar riff, ‘My Comrade’ is the longest cut, another big production nod to the sort of classic American rock’n’roll celebrated by bands like The Replacements, The Feelies and Soul Asylum. Sure, the Dylan connection may be news and attract the curious, but, actually it’s the least interesting number here on an album that ably demonstrates Schoepp has no need to ride anyone’s coattails.

Mike Davies

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It has to be ‘On, Wisconsin’ – live in the studio:

TOM PETTY AND BOB DYLAN – New York 1986 (Rox Vox RV2CD2128)

New York 1986In the mid-80s and in the midst of his own musical wasteland, Bob Dylan went down a number of different angles in a bid to rejuvenate his career. While some of these efforts were more successful than others, one of the more favourable endeavours from this time was his work with the late Tom Petty. Prior to their work with The Travelling Wilburys super group, Dylan and Petty took to the road, with the extensive True Confessions tour, beginning in February 1986. This double disc, New York 1986, released on the ‘Rox Vox’ label presents an entire concert recording, from a rainy night in Saratoga Springs, New York, from July of that year.

Opening with Dylan’s onstage entrance, it is immediately clear that this is not a recording, originally intended for release, and indeed there are several, similar cuts throughout the duration of the 32 song double album. With the backing of Petty’s Heartbreakers, the lion’s share of the set comes from Dylan, who draws from his own extensive catalogue; fusing solid gold classics, with some of his lesser remembered 1980s works.

Decent live versions of ‘I’ll Remember You’ and ‘When The Night Comes Falling From The Sky’ from 1985’s ‘Empire Burlesque’ are worth a listen, as are Tom Petty’s contributions; particularly ‘Straight Into The Darkness’, ‘Even The Losers’, ‘Spike’ and ‘Waiting’ – even if on-stage sound issues detract from the audio quality of this particular version. From the Dylan camp, there are re-workings of 60s classics; including a punchy version of ‘Positively 4th Street’, an enjoyable guitar and harmonica led rendition of ‘Mr Tambourine Man’, a rock n roll styled ‘Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35’ as well as alternative, electric delivery of ‘House Of The Rising Sun’. Some songs don’t translate as well however, ‘Masters Of War’, for example, doesn’t need a minute long guitar solo. What makes the recording most interesting, however, is the handful of covers, performed and confined by Dylan to his 1980s tours. ‘Unchain My Heart’ which opens the album is a good example of this, as is ‘Lonesome Town’ by Ricky Nelson which kicks off disc two – although it does take so long to start you may find yourself double checking that you actually pressed ‘play’. Renditions of Ry Cooder’s ‘Across The Borderline’ and ‘We Had It All’ (by Donny Fritts and Troy Seals) are also worthwhile inclusions.

While I do like Tom Petty, I’m generally really not a fan of mid-80s Bob, but overlooking some of this recording’s audio inconsistencies, this is actually a very enjoyable album. It is a live document of a curious partnership which failed to produce an official studio album. The song selection is relatively unusual and true to Dylan form, for better or worse, the live versions of the live standards are unique to their own time and place.

Christopher James Sheridan

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‘Positively 4th Street’ live from 1986:

BOB DYLAN AND THE BAND – 1974 Tour Live (Rox Vox RV3CD2137)

1974 Tour Live1974 Tour Live is a pretty self-explanatory title, but if you’re still curious for anything else other than the obvious, it is a three disc set, covering two shows from January ’74 (Boston and New York) from Bob Dylan and The Band, recorded during their mid-70s comeback tour. The first thing that is worth noting about the set is that the sound is excellent, particularly on the Boston show. The second thing, is that at first glance, the track list looks remarkably similar to the officially-released document of this tour, recorded in Los Angeles, Before The Flood…the operative part of that being “at first glance”.

While there are Band-styled arrangements of Dylan standards which are common to both releases, (‘Like A Rolling Stone’, ‘Lay Lady Lay’, ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’, All Along the Watchtower’ etc.) there are a good number of equally worthy selections, which did not appear on the Flood record. An almost honkytonk styled ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues’ and Hammond organ soaked version of ‘I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)’ are among the openers of the Boston disc. The same rock’n’roll, tour de force makes its presence felt on the New York recordings, with a hard-hitting version of Dylan’s 1963 ‘protest-era’ number ‘The Ballad Of Hollis Brown’ and in an amped up rendition of ‘Forever Young’. The Band themselves contribute some unused gems; ‘This Wheel’s On Fire’ and the effortlessly cool ‘King Harvest (Has Surely Come)’. However, it is not just electric numbers to behold on this recording; acoustic guitar and harmonica-racked versions of ‘The Times They Are A-Changing’ (where Dylan alternates between jangling guitar patterns and solo vocal) and an energetic performance of ‘Gates Of Eden’, in which his voice sounds remarkably good.

Of course, the deciding factor regarding the appeal of this album is basically a case of what you want to get out of it. For Dylan completists, it will, I’m sure, have its own appeal. For those familiar with the aforementioned Before The Flood this may feel like an extension of that record, and in a lot of ways it should; but with the added incentive of omitted tracks and alternative performances of the Flood recording.

In the current climate of the Dylan vaults being continually raided to comprise impressive, but impossibly overpriced Columbia-issued box sets (next installment earmarked for November 2018) this smaller set fits right in with the trend, a huge difference being, however, that this one won’t break the bank.

Christopher James Sheridan

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‘Ballad Of Hollis Brown’:

BOB DYLAN – Live NYC 1963 (Rox Vox. RVCD2130)

Live NYC 1963In early 1963, Bob Dylan was at the threshold of a career that would skyrocket him to previously unimaginable heights, in part, aided by his Freewheelin’ LP, released in May ’63. Although an implied ‘live’ recording, Live NYC 1963, is actually, more accurately, part of a radio broadcast from WBAI’s Radio Unnameable hosted by Bob Fass, featuring a genuinely unexpected visit from Dylan, who’d arrived with the intention of self-plugging his forthcoming release. Not only was this visit unscripted, but it was also completely unbeknownst to Columbia Records who had already earmarked a release date for the album with which Dylan had come armed; “Don’t worry Bob,” Fass jokingly tells his unexpected guest “nobody listens.”

From the early acetate, Fass selects ‘Oxford Town’, ‘I Shall Be Free’, ‘Corrina, Corrina’ and ‘Down the Highway’ for airplay; a retrospectively strange selection, considering the album would also boast ‘Blowing in the Wind’, ‘Don’t Think Twice…’, ‘…Hard Rain’ and an unfortunate one, seeing as these early pressings featured (among other abandoned songs) ‘Let Me Die In My Footsteps’ and the controversial ‘Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues’, deleted from the official release two months later.

With this in mind, as a Dylan album, Live NYC 1963 is not exactly ground breaking, furthermore, Dylan appears on just over half of the show, yet that is not to say it is a recording without any sort of saving grace.

Firstly, with, or without Dylan, this recording is an undeniable artefact of countercultural history; it is one of the original episodes of Radio Unnameable, which began in early ‘63 and has continued to air over the last fifty-odd years. Secondly, we are offered a glimpse into (yet another side of) the young Dylan; and one not always apparent on record, as he banters away with his host and gets involved in a handful of comedy skits – adopting characters like ‘Rory Grossman’ and ‘Rumple Billy Burp’ for good measure. Thirdly, Dylan is accompanied on air by Suze Rotolo; his then-girlfriend (and the lady nestled into his arm on the front cover of the aforementioned Freewheelin’) and this recording, may actually be one of the only existing, audio fragments of the couple together.

Yes, in a musical sense, it is a shame that we do not uncover more buried treasure with this album, but what we do have is a very remarkable time capsule, and for the fact it has been liberated from the circles of bootleggers and tape-traders, and made more easily accessible, I think it is a release which should be commended.

Christopher James Sheridan

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‘Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues’ – live:

No Direction Home – deluxe edition

 

no direction home special-edition

Capitol Records is celebrating the 10th Anniversary of Martin Scorsese’s award-winning documentary No Direction Home: Bob Dylan, by releasing a Deluxe 10th Anniversary Edition of the film that will mark its first release on Blu-ray (standard DVD is also available). These 10th Anniversary Editions of the film all feature 2 1/2 hours of bonus and never-before-seen content, including extended scenes from the film and full-length interviews with Scorsese, Dave van Ronk and Liam Clancy.

Both formats are also available in a Special Edition Deluxe Box that will include both Blu-ray and DVD versions of the film and bonus content, as well as an exclusively produced Bob Dylan magazine that features reproductions of historical articles about the artist, plus three high-quality lithographic photo prints of Dylan, all in a deluxe portfolio.

Produced by Jeff Rosen (American Roots Music) and Nigel Sinclair (The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years),  along with Susan Lacy (American Masters) and Anthony Wall (BBC Arena), the 3 ½-hour film focuses on Dylan’s life and music from 1961 to 1966, detailing the artist’s journey from his hometown of Hibbing, Minnesota through his emergence in the folk music scene of New York’s Greenwich Village to his controversial decision to go “electric” and his rise to the pinnacle of international fame and cultural impact. No Direction Home: Bob Dylan features rare performance footage and interviews with artists and musicians whose lives intertwined with Dylan’s during this era, while Dylan himself talks openly and extensively about this critical period in his career in interviews shot exclusively for this film.

The film features rare treasures from Dylan’s extensive film, tape and photograph collection, including footage from Murray Lerner’s film Festival documenting Dylan’s performances at the 1963, 1964 and 1965 Newport Folk Festivals, previously unreleased outtakes from D.A. Pennebaker’s famed 1967 documentary Don’t Look Back, and interviews with Allen Ginsberg, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Maria Muldaur, and many others.

The film met with enthusiastic audience reception and universal critical acclaim when it first premiered on PBS, BBC and other prestigious international outlets in the autumn of 2005 and simultaneously released on DVD.  Roger Ebert wrote in the Chicago Sun Times, “[The film] creates a portrait that is deep, sympathetic, perceptive and yet finally leaves Dylan shrouded in mystery, which is where he properly lives.”  Frazier Moore of Associated Press called it, “a film I recommend not only to Dylan devotees and neophytes alike, but also to anyone trying to reconnect with where America was then, and grasp where it is today.”  The Hollywood Reporter’s Glenn Abel wrote that the film was, “as good as it gets in music documentaries” while Variety’s Phil Gallo predicted that “some of the footage will startle even the most dedicated Dylanologists.”

No Direction Home: Bob Dylan; A Martin Scorsese Picture is a production of Spitfire Pictures, Grey Water Park Production, Thirteen/WNET New York and Sikelia Productions, in co-production with Vulcan Productions, BBC and NHK.

All configurations of No Direction Home are available at the official No Direction Home Store NDH10.com, and are available for purchase on Amazon.com. Retailer Best Buy will also carry an exclusive Blu-ray that includes a limited edition Bob Dylan poster with all purchases. Digital versions of the film are available for download at iTunes and other digital HD retailers, and will be available for rental on November 8 and streaming on November 22.

No Direction Home – official trailer: