Tuesday , May 21 2024

Music Reviews: New Treasures from Bob Dylan’s Vaults, Plus More Notable Releases

At this point, you might understandably be starting to suspect that Bob Dylan’s vaults are as big as an Amazon warehouse. Our first look inside came in 1985, with the release of Biograph, a three-CD set that incorporated a smattering of previously unavailable material. But the floodgates really began to open six years later, with the launch of the Bootleg Series, which has since delivered more than a dozen multi-disc collections containing more than 50 CDs’ worth of rarities.

And that’s not all: Dylan has also offered up a variety of other archival releases that have not been labeled as part of the Bootleg Series. In 2018, for example, his record company issued Live 1962–1966: Rare Performances from the Copyright Collections; then there’s The Rolling Thunder Revue: The 1975 Live Recordings, which delivers more than 10 hours of music on 14 discs, and The 1966 Live Recordings, which contains a whopping 36 CDs and boasts a playing time of nearly 30 hours.

Granted, some of this material varies only slightly from previously released performances and is probably of interest just to fanatical fans. But lots of it is not only excellent but revelatory. Still, fans whose wallets are beginning to thin out may be wondering when the archival material will stop coming.

Who knows, but it hasn’t stopped yet, because another from-the-vaults collection is upon us. Called Bob Dylan 1970, this three-disc set contains 74 tracks, all of them previously unreleased and all of them recorded during 11 sessions in a six-month period beginning in March 1970. In addition to Dylan, who plays his usual guitar and harmonica plus a generous amount of excellent piano, the performances feature lead guitar and background vocals by future Traveling Wilbury George Harrison on nine tracks, plus such familiar names as David Bromberg (guitar, dobro, bass, mandolin), Al Kooper (organ, piano), Russ Kunkel (drums), and Charlie Daniels (bass, guitar). 

A great deal of material from these sessions, which led to Self Portrait and New Morning, has already been featured in the four-disc Bootleg Series, Vol. 10: Another Self Portrait (1969–1971). And if you’re looking for the key outtakes from this period, that set should be your first stop. Bob Dylan 1970—whose issuance was undoubtedly prompted by the need to protect European copyrights, which expire 50 years after a recording—digs deeper, offering fans more alternate versions, plus a wide array of previously unheard covers.

Roughly a third of the program consists of variations on 10 of New Morning’s dozen songs. There are eight recordings of “If Not for You,” seven of “Sign on the Window,” five of “Went to See the Gypsy,” and one each of “New Morning,” “Day of the Locusts,” “Father of Night,” “One More Weekend,” “Three Angels,” “Winterlude,” and “Time Passes Slowly.” There are also a few compositions that found their way onto the original Self Portrait, such as “Alberta” and “Woogie Boogie.” 

Here, too, are variations on songs from other assorted Dylan LPs, including “Song to Woody” (from his eponymous 1962 debut), “It Ain’t Me, Babe,“ (from 1964’s Another Side of Bob Dylan), “Gates of Eden” (from 1965’s Bringing It All Back Home), “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” (from 1965’s Highway 61 Revisited), “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” (from 1966’s Blonde on Blonde), and “I Threw It All Away” (from 1969’s Nashville Skyline). 

While virtually none of these recordings outshines the familiar versions, they’re consistently interesting, especially when Dylan varies lyrics or tries out different arrangements. Even more fascinating, though, are the set’s many covers. They include traditional material such as “Come All You Fair and Tender Ladies” and the Cajun evergreen “Alligator Man” as well as songs by a few of Dylan’s 1960s folk contemporaries, such as Buffy Sainte-Marie (“Universal Soldier”), Eric Andersen (“Thirsty Boots”), and Tom Paxton (“I Can’t Help but Wonder Where I’m Bound”). 

Also featured are rock and pop oldies like Carl Perkins’s “Matchbox,” Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love”, the Everly Brothers’ “All I Have to Do Is Dream,” and Sam Cooke’s “Cupid.” Plus, in the now-you’ve-heard-everything department, Dylan offers Jay and the Americans’ “Come a Little Bit Closer” and a medley of the Shirelles’ “I Met Him on a Sunday (Ronde-Ronde)” and the Crystals’ “Da Doo Ron Ron.”

Such song choices may initially seem surprising, given how little the material has in common with the bulk of Dylan’s own compositions. But they shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone who has heard, for example, his Theme Time Radio Hour, the covers in his original Self Portrait, or his exploration of Frank Sinatra’s songbook on 2016’s Fallen Angels. Dylan has never respected musical boundaries and has always appreciated good material regardless of its source.

Don’t come to this collection looking for polish. These are rough (albeit professionally recorded) performances, and a handful are mere snippets: the traditional “Fishing Blues,” for instance, runs all of 26 seconds while a reading of Dylan’s own “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” lasts only about a minute. (On some of the abbreviated performances, it sounds as if he stops playing; on others, it appears that the tape may have simply run out.)

Don’t let this keep you away, however, because the album’s casual, homespun nature actually represents one of its greater charms. This is your chance to be a fly on the wall and listen in as Dylan explores his options, tries out different voices, savors his music, and delivers a wide variety of songs—including some that he clearly sings and plays just for the fun of it, not with any intention of polishing the performance for release. 

Also Noteworthy

New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom RockersNew Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers, Vol. 2. Last year’s album from the New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers—a collection of blues-based circa 2007 recordings—offered lots of reasons to smile. Not the least of these was that the title included “Vol. 1,” which suggested that more would be forthcoming from this group, which featured Charlie Musselwhite, Alvin Youngblood Hart, the late Jim Dickinson, former Squirrel Nut Zippers leader Jimbo Mathus, and Dickinson’s sons, Cody and Luther.

Sure enough, here it is, and its nearly hour’s worth of live-in-the-studio performances are just as terrific as those on its predecessor. So are the 11 compositions, among them such standouts as Musselwhite’s “Blues for Yesterday” and “Black Water,” Doug Sahm’s “She’s About a Mover,” Junior Wells’s “Messin’ with the Kid,” Jimmy Reed’s “Can’t Stand to See You Go,” the Mississippi Sheiks’ “Blues Is a Mighty Bad Feeling,” and Charles Mingus’s memorably titled “Oh Lord, Don’t Let Them Drop the Atom Bomb on Me.” Highly recommended.

Vivian Leva and Riley CalcagnoVivian Leva and Riley Calcagno. Virginia native Vivian Leva, who showcased winningly unaffected vocals on her 2018 debut album, Time Is Everything, sounds just as impressive on this sophomore effort. The set features amiable guitar accompaniment by Riley Calcagno, who cowrote all the songs with her. 

Like the earlier album, this eponymous 11-track collection successfully straddles a line between traditional Appalachian country and contemporary folk. The maturity of the performances belies the fact that Leva and Calcagno are recording neophytes who just finished college. So do their frequently wistful compositions, which mostly address matters of the heart, as titles like “My Teardrops Say,” “Leaving on Our Minds,” and “Love and Chains” suggest. 

3 Pairs of BootsLong RiderThe California-based 3 Pairs of Boots consists of multi-instrumentalist Andrew Stern and vocalist Laura Arias, a husband-and-wife duo who married a year after meeting via a “singer wanted” ad. 

This second album of original material, which also features Nashville-based drummer Christian Paschall, offers an inviting blend of Americana, pop, folk, and rock. On ear-candy standouts like “Summer of Love,” “Roller Coaster,” and “Devil Road” (the latter with a vocal that incorporates a catchy Buddy Holly stutter), the couple deliver addictively hooked tunes that profit from potent vocals and lots of jingle-jangle guitar work. 

About Jeff Burger

Jeff Burger’s website, byjeffburger.com, contains half a century's worth of music reviews and commentary. His books include Dylan on Dylan: Interviews and Encounters, Lennon on Lennon: Conversations with John Lennon, Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters, and Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches, and Encounters.

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