This volume of Dylan’s Bootleg Series is the soundtrack to Martin Scorsese’s documentary No Direction Home: Bob Dylan, which will be premiering on PBS as part of the American Masters series on September 26 & 27.
Disc 1 covers the years 1959-65, during Dylan’s Woody Guthrie period when he was the eloquent poet of the people, voicing their anger, fear, hope and concerns with acoustic folk songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind” “Masters of War” and “Chimes of Freedom.” The 16 tracks that comprise this disc include early recordings, such as “When I Got Troubles”, which is likely to be the first original song ever recorded by Dylan, as well as alternate takes and live performances of songs that range from his debut album, Bob Dylan, to Bringing It All Back Home.
Disc 2 continues with the Bringing It All Back Home sessions, opening with an alternate take of “She Belongs To Me”. It concludes with live tracks from the legendary British tour of ’66 when Dylan plugged in and became a rock star. The 12 tracks on this disc are mostly alternate takes from Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde. In fact with the inclusion of the two live performances, seven of the nine songs from Highway 61 Revisited appear on this disc.
Some close-minded fans were upset by the drastic change of Dylan going electric. On the live version of “Like A Rolling Stone” that closes this album, you can hear one audience member famously call Bob, “Judas.” I understand their hero had left them and the folk music scene behind, and if he had made bad rock ‘n’ roll records, they might have had a point, but the songs are so good that their arguments lose all validity. Listen to “Maggie’s Farm” or “Highway 61 Revisited” or “Stuck Inside Of Memphis With the Memphis Blues Again” and try and keep your body parts from keeping the beat.
Slight variations can be heard throughout the alternate takes; the songs are instantly recognizable yet a difference is still noticeable. On “Mr. Tambourine Man,” Dylan is accompanied on the choruses by Ramblin’ Jack Elliot. “She Belongs To Me” has no drums. The Chamber Brothers sing backup vocals on “Tombstone Blues”. The tempo of “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” is slower and contains two verses not heard in other versions. Rather than churn out the same take after take, the artist in Dylan tries new ways to find what works best.
The package also includes a 60-page booklet that features brilliant liner notes by Andrew Loog Oldham, former manager and producer of The Rolling Stones from 1963-67, who writes of his meeting with Dylan and the effect Dylan had on him and Europe during the early ‘60s; Eddie Gorodetsky illuminates each song by providing detailed information about its history and at times, its use in the documentary; and Al Kooper, who played keyboards and electric guitar during the Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde sessions, provides his remembrances of what the creative process was like in the studio working with Dylan and he introduces us to the other musicians who were involved.
No Direction Home is a great example of having something for everyone. It serves as a comprehensive introduction to early Dylan for new listeners because it includes many of his classic hits while at the same time hard-core fans get to hear variations of their favorites.
All the tracks have been previously unreleased except for “Song to Woody”, which appears on Bob Dylan and the live version of “Like a Rolling Stone”, which has previously appeared on The Bootleg Series, Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live, 1966: The ‘Royal Albert Hall Concert.’ Also, Dink’s Song has been available on Dylan’s site through the Performances page.