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Album Review

Bob Dylan: Springtime in New York 1980-1985: The Bootleg Series, Volume 16 (5CD)

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Bob Dylan: Springtime in New York 1980-1985: The Bootleg Series, Volume 16 (5CD)
Generally speaking, revelations abound within the various installments of The Bootleg Series, Bob Dylan's ongoing archive initiative, and Volume 16 is no exception. But in listening to Springtime in New York, 1980- 1985, the epiphanies come in slow bursts, flashing over the course of the five CDs to generate a cumulative momentum that reaches a flash-point with the content taken from the much-maligned Empire Burlesque (Columbia, 1985). And that outcome in itself is a truly Dylanesque curve ball: pre-release anticipation suggested this set would deliver closure to the controversial mysteries that have arisen over the years around Infidels (Columbia,1983), a premise corroborated to some extent by essayist Damien Love.

But there are, in fact, a comparable number of outtakes here from the sessions for Shot of Love (Columbia, 1981), the album preceding the aforementioned LP co-produced by the Nobel Laureate with Dire Straits' Mark Knopfler. Perhaps because so much of the latter material has circulated so widely and been subject to so much discussion since the time of the title's original release—see Terry Gans' exhaustive (exhausting?) tome Surviving in a Ruthless World: Bob Dylan's Voyage to Infidels (Red Planet, 2020)— the relatively cursory attention paid to the content here ends up somewhat anticlimactic.

To wit, one alternate version of "Jokerman" and a single outtake of "Blind Willie McTell" is not comprehensive in this context. Or when taking into account what's documented to have been recorded (in 'The Bob Dylan Center' in Tulsa OK., one of the main sources for the aforementioned book) plus what's been disseminated unofficially over near forty years. More strictly speaking, this sampling hardly compares to the extensive lengths to which curators took the recordings for Blood on the Tracks (Columbia, 1975): the Deluxe Edition of Volume 14 from 2018 consists of a half- dozen CDs, with a running time of over six hours.

More clearly depicted in The Bootleg Series Volume 16, however, is Bob's approach to working in the studio. More often than not he appears compelled to ignore the accepted guidelines and, rather than tailor his songs to fit the confines of an album, he seeks to find the essence of his compositions in the recordings. Consequently, relatively inferior numbers may find their way into the track sequencing, as happens with Infidels' "Union Sundown" and "License to Kill."

To be fair, this edition suffers in part because its timeline overlaps Volume 13; Trouble No More 1979-1981 that includes examination of the first of the three albums revisited here and in so doing documents how a triptych of superlative songs then preserved for posterity—"Every Grain of Sand," "Caribbean Wind" and "The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar"—might well have rendered Shot of Love significant rather than run of the mill, if they had all been part of the original track-list (only the first was so designated). Egregious as is the absence of those stellar pieces on Dylan's twenty-first studio album, their exclusion here in any form whatsoever, is comparably so.

In their otherwise discerning wisdom, however, producers Jeff Rosen and Steve Berkowitz decided not to allow virtually any repetition on Springtime in New York. The pair instead chose only three heretofore previously-released pieces to appear within the fifty-seven total cuts, thereby unintentionally reaffirming the futility (and frustration) inherent in a completist approach to this iconic artist's work; of The Bard's contemporaries, only Neil Young can compare in an elusive search for the definitive and in the collation of his Archives II (Reprise, 2021) the Canadian rock icon suggests even he's given up on that.

In that latest collection, the former Buffalo Springfielder often prefers to proffer surrogate versions of past LPs to alternately offer a different angle or confirm the wisdom of the original. In effect, the final CD of The Bootleg Series Volume 16 fulfills a similar goal because, shorn of the add-ons of Arthur Baker's disco-inflected mix so prevalent of its era, tracks such as both the slow and fast renditions of "When The Night Comes Falling From The Sky" are preferable to the one on the mid-eighties album. Each in its own way, plus eight others including "Straight A's in Love," proffer a vintage Dylan unlike the artist on the prior two LPs, (almost) as sentimental as he is irascible and invariably the well-practiced poet.

Likewise, on "Seeing The Real You At Last" and "Emotionally Yours," two of Tom Petty's Heartbreakers (guitarist Mike Campbell and bassist Howie Epstein) supplant recruits from Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band (guitarist Miami Steve Van Zandt and pianist Roy Bittan) on the aforementioned pair of takes, thereby reaffirming the bluesy roots in the material. The continuity is unmistakable between this earthy content and later works like Modern Times (Columbia, 2006) and Tempest (Columbia, 2012), to the point it belies the man's earlier statements of frustration about how to record in such a way he did justice to his songs.

It might well be fair to say that 1980-1985 chronicles Bob Dylan's self- teaching in studio technique. His education with a variety of individuals and their respective production approaches actually commenced just prior to the chronology of this compendium, when Jerry Wexler oversaw Slow Train Coming (Columbia, 1979) and Saved (Columbia, 1980). On the former, the titular leader of Dire Straits as well as its drummer Pick Withers were among a finite list of accompanists similar to the latter's, while a number of guests appear the next year alongside Dylan's touring personnel of the time: drummer Ringo Starr of The Beatles and guitarist Ronnie Wood of the The Rolling Stones are among the most prominent.

Meanwhile, a core band of accompanists two years later was populated by the Jamaican rhythm section of drummer Sly Dunbar and bassist Robbie Shakespeare , plus former Rolling Stones guitarist Mick Taylor, in addition to co-producer/guitarist Knopfler. The latter is one of a series of studio supervisors as well, numbered among which are engineer Chuck Plotkin (known for his work with Bruce Springsteen, among others), one-time producer of Little Richard, Robert "Bumps" Blackwell, and Dylan himself; the end result of all this varied work led the way to the one-time 'Voice of a Generation' taking full charge of his recordings (under the pseudonym 'Jack Frost) beginning with "Love And Theft" (Columbia, 2001).

In keeping with the aforementioned allegiance to his original compositions then, it's hardly surprising, this collection's track-listing clarifies carryover from one project to the next. "Clean Cut Kid" and "Tight Connection to My Heart (Has Anybody Seen My Love)" are only the most overt examples in terms of the self-composed, but the regular appearance of covers throughout, on compact disc four in the form of Jimmy Reed's "Baby What You Want Me to Do" and "Green Green Grass of Home" (made famous by Elvis Presley among many others) piques the curiosity; besides opportunities for the assembled musicians to play for the pure joy of it, those numbers serve as the source of worthwhile ideas eventually utilized on revision of originals.

The curators of Volume 16 walk a fine line between greater and lesser depth. Yet in doing so, they are essentially whetting the appetite for future installments by juxtaposing a haunting solo performance of "Dark Eyes" (written at the behest of Arthur Baker!) with the spoken/sung writing collaboration with playwright Sam Shepard, "New Danville Girl," eventually released in modified form on the execrable LP Knocked Out Loaded (Columbia, 1986). Logic would dictate the eventual appearance of at least some of the full-bore studio performances long-time Dylan collaborator Al Kooper termed 'subterranean' in a 1986 'Rolling Stone Magazine' article around that very time and the two live culls from 1984 appearing here —"Enough Is Enough" and "License to Kill"— might well be analogous precursors to such rough and tumble content.

Befitting the thirtieth anniversary of this vault initiative, the packaging for this 5CD version of Springtime in New York 1980-1985 boasts as much meticulous care as the researching and preparation of the music (mixed and mastered by Mark Wilder, Steve Addabbo, and Chris Shaw). What may rightly be termed a 'labor of love' appears in various forms, including a stylish graphic design by Geoff Gans, accentuated by both flat and glossy finishes on a slipcase holding two hardbound enclosures: one book sporting the aforementioned liner notes, a plentiful selection of photos and other ephemera of the period such as posters, ads etc., the other carrying the compact discs, logically enough, inserted alongside pages containing all due credits, right down to track-by-track personnel annotation.

No doubt there are those who might prefer a different and/or more extensive plumbing of the depths within the Bob Dylan vault. But there is hardly any question the rigorous method of archiving as applied to this sumptuous set proves effective for its own purpose, not to mention accurately reflecting its subject's often enigmatic and unpredictable manner.

Track Listing

CD 1: Señor (Tales of Yankee Power); To Ramona; Jesus Met the Woman at the Well; Mary of the Wild Moor; Need a Woman; A Couple More Years ; Mystery Train; This Night Won’t Last Forever; We Just Disagree; Let’s Keep It Between Us; Sweet Caroline; Fever ; Abraham, Martin and John. CD 2: Angelina; Price of Love; I Wish It Would Rain; Let It Be Me; Cold, Cold Heart; Don’t Ever Take Yourself Away ; Fur Slippers ; Borrowed Time; Is It Worth It?; Lenny Bruce; Yes Sir, No Sir. CD 3: Jokerman; Blind Willie McTell; Don’t Fall Apart on Me Tonight; Don’t Fall Apart on Me Tonight; Neighborhood Bully; Someone’s Got a Hold of My Heart; This Was My Love; Too Late [acoustic] ; Too Late [band] ; Foot of Pride. CD 4: Clean Cut Kid; Sweetheart Like You; Baby What You Want Me to Do; Tell Me; Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground; Julius and Ethel ; Green, Green Grass of Home; Union Sundown; Lord Protect My Child; I and I; Death is Not the End. CD 5: Enough is Enough; License to Kill; I’ll Remember You; Tight Connection to My Heart (Has Anybody Seen My Love); Seeing the Real You at Last; Emotionally Yours; Clean Cut Kid; Straight A’s in Love; When the Night Comes Falling from the Sky [slow]; When the Night Comes Falling from the Sky [fast]; New Danville Girl; Dark Eyes.

Personnel

Bob Dylan: voice / vocals; Mark Knopfler: guitar; Mick Taylor: guitar; Fred Tackett: guitar; Ronnie Wood: guitar, electric; Ira Ingber: guitar; Ryan Hedgecock: guitar; Mike Campbell: guitar; Steve Ripley: guitar; Danny Kortchmar: guitar; Steve Van Zandt: guitar; Willie Smith: keyboards; Carl Pickhardt: keyboards; David Mansfield: mandolin; Benmont Tench: keyboards; Alan Clark: keyboards; Vince Melamed: keyboards; Stephen Eric Hague: keyboards; Ian McLagan: keyboards; Roy Bittan: piano.

Additional Instrumentation

Bob Dylan: guitar, piano, harmonica; Fred Tackett: mandolin; John Paroulo; keyboards; Steve Douglas: saxophone; David Campbell: viola; Dennis Karmazyn: cello; Richard Seher; synthesizer; Tim Drummond: bass, guitar; Donald Dunn: bass; Howie Epstein: bass; Robbie Shakespeare: bass; Greg Sutton: bass; Carl Sealove: bass;Tony Marsico: bass; Anton Fig: drums; Chalo Quintana: drums; Colin Allen: drums; Sly Dunbar: drums; Jim Keltner: drums; Ringo Starr: drums; Don Heffington: drums; Bashiri Johnson: percussion; Sammy Figueroa: percussion; Clydie King, Carolyn Dennis, Gwen Evans, and Regina McCrary, Madelyn Quebec, Peggi Blue, Queen Esther Marrow, Clydie King: background vocals; Curtis Bedeau, Gerard Charles, Brian George, Lucien L. George, and Paul George (Full Force): background vocals.

Album information

Title: Springtime in New York 1980-1985: The Bootleg Series, Volume 16 (5CD) | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Legacy Recordings


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