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PostPosted: Mon November 17th, 2014, 23:30 GMT 

Joined: Mon November 17th, 2014, 23:20 GMT
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Quiet Days in Woodstock - in the basement with Bob Dylan.

Finally it’s here, after 47 years - "The Basement Tapes Complete" - the eleventh installation of Bob Dylan's "The Bootleg Series" (published irregularly since 1991, apparently from an inexhaustible source of supplement to the already more than impressive official output from the last 52 years). Hardly any of the releases have been met with a stronger magical gleam of anticipation than this, with the possible exception of the live release from 1966. Many have previously written and commented on parts of these historic recordings also Tom Waits: '(Dylan's) journey as a songwriter is the stuff of myth, because he lives within the ether of the songs. Hail, hail The Basement Tapes. I heard most of these songs on bootlegs first. There is a joy and an abandon to this record; it's also a history lesson”. But it’s now they are “complete".

So why this huge and lasting interest in the relatively amateurish and sauntering recording from a basement in Woodstock, which actually never was intended for release? And - when the curtain is finally drawn, were they really worth waiting for? Have they endured the test of time?

After four tremendous years since his recording debut, seven albums, including at least six with cutting-edge content, several tours in the USA, Australia and Europe, ongoing book and movie schedules, with tons of fans and journalists at his heels, it's almost like that motorcycle accident in July 1966 comes as a welcome relief from the escalating rat race for the 25 year old artist. It is difficult to see what else that would make him calm down.

In the ensuing autumns convalescence, the year 1967 starts with a white page and new crayons, but apart from a Greatest Hits collection in March, it is quiet until the 3rd day of Christmas, when the low-key "John Wesley Harding" finds the stores. When it comes to Dylan, it has apparently been a quiet year in the countryside. Rumors have it, however, that he has made music in his spare time with his friends from the future "The Band". In October it’s made a demo tape with 14 songs that form the basis for registration of new songs, as well as demos presented to artists in both the US and Europe. Peter, Paul & Mary are the first to get to Billboard with "Too Much Of Nothing". In January 1968 Manfred Mann tops the British charts with "Mighty Quinn", a few months later, "This Wheel's On Fire" are released by Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger & The Trinity, and then comes "You Ain't Going Nowhere" by The Byrds. In 1968, "The Band" releases their debut album "Music From Big Pink" including "I Shall Be Released" and "Tears Of Rage". But this was just the start.

All these songs came from the famous basement of the pink house where Richard Manuel, Rick Danko and Garth Hudson lived, where they, along with Robbie Robertson, for long periods had almost daily visits of Bob Dylan and his guitar. It all started, however, in Dylan's own home, "Hi Lo Ha", in March, while they moved the jams to the "Big Pink" in June. While Dylan in October is heading for Nashville, recording "John Wesley Harding", Levon Helm finds his way back to the herd, and when the last recordings of the year starts, this happens in Danko and Helm's new residence. Three different places, but in the same spirit. Dylan is partly a teacher this year, partly he plays musical pingpong with his musical friends, four from Canada and one from Arkansas, who patiently weaves threads of their musical background of blues, rockabilly and rhythm’n blues into the Dylan patchwork of both renewal and tradition.

In the summer of 1968 one of the Rolling Stone's Top Stories is a begging for the basement recordings to be released. This will happen, but not in a way that Rolling Stone would have imagined. In July 1969 the bootleg industry gets to full start with the release of the "Great White Wonder", containing quite a few unofficial Dylan recordings, including several of the songs from the basement. Over the following years a growing number of recordings will be available in bootleg versions, but the first official version of "The Basement Tapes" are released in 1975, the double album contains 24 songs, only 16 are Dylan songs from 1967, the other is songs from The Band, primarily made later than 1967. Since this only a few songs from this year is made officially available, but avid music journalists, fans and collectors know that the world has only been favored a small fraction of what was actually recorded. This is also why what happened in the basement, more than forty years ago, has been regarded the holy grail of popular music, like a kind of secret “part two” of Harry Smith's cult classic "Anthology Of American Folk Music". Dylan said in 1997: "Every one of the records I've made has emanated from the entire panorama of what America is to me. America, to me, is a rising tide that lifts all ships, and I've never really sought inspiration from other types of music. "Never was this more true than in the basement thirty years earlier. Similarly the music from this year should become a very important part of the panorama for those who came in the wake of Dylan.
All of this is part of the motley backdrop for this fall's big event - the release of "The Basement Tapes Complete", all 138 tracks over 6 CDs, about 30 not known even among collectors.
The release shows that Dylan, in the "quiet" year of 1967 has now given us about 150 officially released songs, of which fifty are cover versions. If we include songs from "John Wesley Harding" and the songs that form the basis for this fall's "New Basement Tapes" (T-Bone Burnett and friends completion of two dozen lyrics received from Dylan last year, from a shoebox marked "1967"), we’ll find that Dylan himself has created, written and/or improvised more 100 songs this sabbatical year. Not exactly slow motion. In retrospect, we recognise that the publication in 1975 appears to be a more commercial and market customized set, compared to this year’s result of a "labor of love.

The enormous quantity we now are exposed to, will of course not automatically guarantee the quality - it is of course impressive productive, but we must dive into the substance to say anything more about whether the songs deserve the light of day, and/or if the collection itself has historical and/or artistic interest. Songwriting is not some kind of sports.

Where do we start? If the whole of this were a meal, the marinade would be a wide range of cover versions – in which Dylan finds lots of inspiration all the time. Dylan's own songs are lines connecting the dots between them. Cover versions, which Dylan makes his own, ranging from British ballads from the 1700s through the songs made famous by the Carter Family, Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, Hank Snow, Johnny Cash and others, but also, in 1967, newer songs made by Ian & Sylvia Tyson, Ric Von Schmidt and Curtis Mayfield. Dylan's version of "Young But Daily Growing" is movingly beautiful in all its tenderness, his second attempt at Cash's "Big River" is perhaps the most awesome version of the song ever, the lovely funky version of "Belshazzar" likewise. Sensitive versions of "I Forgot To Remember To Forget" and "Be Careful Of Stones That You Throw" is perfect proves of Dylan's immersion into the tradition. For the first of several times in his career he is doing "People Get Ready". In the same way he makes the first recording of, for him, an obvious personal favorite, "Spanish Is The Loving Tongue", a lyrical interpretation. (We're still waiting for the "Blood On The Tracks" version of the song, and hopes it will appear in a later Bootleg Series release.)

Robbie Robertson later told us that Dylan introduced new songs for musicians all the time, and they often didn’t know if it was new songs from his pen or songs from another time. This shows how the basement jams was a genuine and vital inspiration and study for the future "The Band" and the sound that they would later refine on their own albums. The basement was in the same way a focal point and a "big bang" for both alt.country and americana - unpolished gems kept rolling, while the band took part in the Dylan alchemy which led from the roots and towards his own new songs , largely improvised in the improvised studio, both what melodies and lyrics are concerned. Some songs he wrote in the basement, at a pace that astonished the musicians, with some songs he appeared with finished lyrics or the first lines of a song. It’s obvious in many of the tracks that the performance is more important than the lyrics. The mysterious masterpiece "I'm Not There" is the ultimate example of this, where Dylan vocal tells a far more vulnerable and deep story about longing, regret and pain than what the partially incoherent text on the paper is able to convey. Again and again it’s proved that Dylan is a singer first, then a poet. In many cases, especially in several of the cover versions, one can notice a hesitant and tentative start, until the song's spirit overpowers Dylan and gives him full force in stride, and there he again and again leans into the great joy of communicating a song, a story, a feeling, a mood. I think maybe this is what still makes him tour, year after year, and what makes him play ninety concerts in 2014. Since the year in Woodstock, he has completed more than three thousand concerts, and it does not look like he's going to stop.

Of the songs not previously released, "Sign On The Cross" is the greatest. Bob wears his Luke-The-Drifter costume and combines singing and recitation in a landscape where the inspiration from the bible on the table in “Hi Lo Ha” is very evident. Pastor Dylan is concerned about the message of the cross, possibly the irony stating that the man on the cross was the king of the jews. Twelve years before the "Slow Train Coming". One of many songs dwelt on issues related to salvation and redemption, "I Shall Be Released" is another. Dylan is released this year – in so many ways.
Even the most diligent collectors and connoisseurs get their new revelations with this release, both when it comes to Dylan originals and cover versions.. Although the sound is far from optimal on all tracks, still it is lots of goodies. It is no definitive version of "My Bucket's Got a Hole In It", but Dylan's guttural roaring á la Little Richard midway, is priceless. The examples are many - the brilliant version of "900 Miles From My Home," with Tiny Tim's unmistakable voice in the background, the cool rockabilly "Dress It Up, Better Have It All", the touching calypso "Mary Lou, I Love You Too" and the beautiful country ballad "That's the Breaks ", not to mention the mysterious" Wild Wolf", spoken about since the sixties, know finally emerging as one of the finest vocal performances in the collection.

The year 1967 is a year for the big occasions, Sara Dylan give birth to a daughter, Dylan fights with manager Al Grossman on income from the song catalogue, he negotiates a new contract with Columbia Records, Woody Guthrie dies - all events spice up the strong jambalaya cooked in the basement. In the laconic answer song to "Ode To Billie Joe", "Clothes Line Saga", he makes fun of vice president Hubert Humphrey. Even in the basement, Dylan keeps track of the times, even if he returns to musical roots and forms the beginning of a distinct counterculture towards psychedelia and ornate record productions.
Glory to Garth Hudson who has been the gardener for this rich harvest of recordings that were never intended for release. It was he, the musical genius, who managed the tape recorder and the microphones. Not easy always, obviously, sometimes he's a little late on the rec button, but he manages to capture many important moments in the last minute, as in the case of "Young But Daily Growing" where he starts the recording at the end of the first stanza, and then catches one of the highlights of this year's release. (It reminds us of the story of producer Chuck Plotkin, who, during the recordings of "Shot of Love" (1981), discovers that Dylan sits down by the piano and starts playing a song he's never heard before, WITHOUT microphone - Plotkin saves the day by grabbing a microphone, imitating a microphone stand and holds it in front of Dylan during the whole song, the version we later will listen to on the album, the obvious highlight "Every Grain of Sand" - one of Dylan's greatest songs of all time. Plotkin’s laconic comment is telling: "He's an artist, but not an recording artist.” Spontaneity is the rule for Dylan, not the exception. Occasionally he nodded toward Garth, sometimes not, many times Garth himself take decided himself. If everything is great? Not at all - the whole scale can be used if we go through this box track by track, but as a unique document of the process by which the gold is washed, the variation is an important part of the magic.

"The Basement Tapes Complete" is an overwhelming treasure trove ranging from nonsense and nonsense verse to the classic art of cutting edge songwriting, from juggling and comedy and laughter, to the darkest and deepest thoughts, through sadness and tears, from unfinished sketches that fall to the floor to perfectly made evergrees. But these recordings are not only interesting as evidence of a relatively closed phase in Dylan's artistic life, they are at least as much of historical interest as insight into midwifery of music and genres to dominate and develop in the years to come, and not least as a redeeming power for the enormous potential in what would become "The Band" (in capital letters). As flies on the wall, we witness the entire process. Almost. Everything was not taped.
Dylan himself has stated of the time in the basement: "You know, that's really the way to do a recording - in a peaceful, relaxed setting, in somebody's basement, with the windows open and a dog lying on the floor." It is a large privilege for all of to be able to listen through this open windows.

Complete? Regarding Dylan, you should always be suspicious when this word is used. Is there more where this comes from? Certainly.

- Johnny Borgan -


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PostPosted: Tue November 18th, 2014, 06:40 GMT 

Joined: Mon December 6th, 2004, 08:17 GMT
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Nice review, Johnny.

Good first post.


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PostPosted: Tue November 18th, 2014, 12:24 GMT 
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Really enjoyed reading that, Johnny -
I love a good plot with twists and turns and good music!
welcome to ER.


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PostPosted: Tue November 18th, 2014, 12:40 GMT 
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For your information, Johnny Borgan is a leading Norwegian Dylan expert who wrote comments to some of the albums for the Norwegian edition of Lyrics.

Great review!


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PostPosted: Tue November 18th, 2014, 18:36 GMT 
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P.Jekk wrote:
For your information, Johnny Borgan is a leading Norwegian Dylan expert who wrote comments to some of the albums for the Norwegian edition of Lyrics.

Great review!


well no wonder I couldn't find anything in the paragraphs tying the review to memories of the Johnny who writes about being friends of the family a long time ago, and who I thought was the Johnny writing it. (while reading it in a sleepy haze at 5 this morning) It is a good review, though.


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PostPosted: Tue November 18th, 2014, 19:45 GMT 
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Joined: Thu September 18th, 2008, 16:41 GMT
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Belle Laugh wrote:
of the Johnny who writes


He was a writer as well as a chemist? Oh my!


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