Quite apart from its existence as a deeply retrospective look at what is generally accepted as the most groundbreaking phase of Bob Dylan's career, the greatest virtue of the 2CD package of The Bootleg Series Volume 12 is a most practical one: no time or space is given over to the previously released versions of these magnificent songs from 1965 and 1966, digitally remastered or otherwise.
The (un)usually astute producers of this ongoing archive project assume, and correctly so, that anyone interested in this material already has it perhaps many times over, so they rightly present three dozen tracks of alternate versions "If You Gotta Go, Go Now"), rehearsals ("Visions of Johanna" and false-start takes ("Highway 61 Revisited" ) scattered within which is a smattering of unreleased material some of which, like "Medicine Sunday," consist of early forms of subsequently famous numbers, in this case "Temporarily Like Achilles." To be profoundly impressed by these recordings, it is not necessary to remember how galvanizing was the sound of such songs at their first appearance: the extent to which Dylan's took his work into the realm of intellect surpassed not just any of his peers at the time, but, arguably, any of his (or their) descendants.
What's almost equally revelatory during the course of hearing these acoustic and electric renditions of tunes like "She Belongs to Me" and "Mr Tambourine Man," the sequencing of the tracks presents the evolution of Dylan's writing and performing style as it evolved from solo presentations to the dense arrangements with a band. During this progression as it's depicted on this setwhich may be more or less clear on the more expansive six and eighteen CD collections offeredBob's pleasure is unmistakable as he rediscovers and reinvents his art in a group setting.
These scrupulously detailed track listings finally proffer all the proper credit they to the various musicians who participated in these sessions, including New York reliables such as Bruce Langhorne, members of the Band in multiple combinations as well as Nashville cats whose reputation had not yet preceded them out of the south (but soon would thanks to Dylan). And that's not even to mention the late Michael Bloomfield, refugee from the Paul Butterfield band, who staked his claim to being America's first guitar hero by dint of his work with Dylan, not surprisingly because so much of this material is directly rooted in the blues.
The dour expression on Bob Dylan's in the period portrait on the front cover of this set belies the good-humored camaraderie radiating from these endeavors: it's a crucial element often overlooked in the work of this period, but a component that becomes unmistakable with the inclusion of reproductions of memorabilia and a selection of essays, from a variety of perspectives, that illuminates the impact of this music as it continues to resonate five decades on. Similarly gratifying in this regard is the extra clarity and presence to such tracks as "It Takes A Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry" where the subtlety of the rhythm section equals that of keyboards and guitar.
Prominent here as well is the leadership supplied by the man himself, presaging the years of 'The Never Ending Tour,' where he's kept a fairly stable lineup of musicians and consistently inspired them to bring a fresh, commanding approach to iconic staples such as "Like A Rolling Stone," here included in similarly varied takes. And the author's own performances of challenging material like "Desolation Row," here in a piano demo, stand as templates of purposeful application of change the likes of which he now presents so often in concert.
Dylan's current and consistently reinvention of otherwise well-known material like "I Want You" is just a supremely logical extension of this open-mindedness, changes in the lyrics reminder of the author's command of English as well as his prolific nature. As such, the parade of essays presented in this package, along with this diversity of photos and snapshots of memorabilia, is a direct reflection of the words, music and playing.
These thirty-six racks reaffirm what a daunting challenge Bob Dylan and his accompanists faced in capturing so-called definitive versions of songs like "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again." But, offering multiple corollaries of those recordings, The Bootleg Series Vol. 12: The Cutting Edge also establishes the measure of their collaborative genius.
Track Listing: CD 1: Love Minus Zero/No Limit; I’ll Keep It with Mine; Bob Dylan’s
115th Dream; She Belongs to Me; Subterranean Homesick Blues; Outlaw
Blues; On the Road Again; Farewell, Angelina; If You Gotta Go, Go
Now; You Don’t Have to Do That; California; Mr. Tambourine Man; It
Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry; Like a Rolling Stone;
Like a Rolling Stone; Sitting on a Barbed Wire Fence; Medicine
Sunday; Desolation Row; Desolation Row; CD 2: Tombstone Blues;
Positively 4th Street; Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window; Just
Like Tom Thumb’s Blues; Highway 61 Revisited; Queen Jane
Approximately; Visions of Johanna; She’s Your Lover Now; Lunatic
Princess; Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat; One of Us Must Know (Sooner or
Later); Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again;
Absolutely Sweet Marie; Just Like a Woman; Pledging My Time; I Want
You; Highway 61 Revisited.
Personnel: Bob Dylan: Vocals, guitar, acoustic guitar,harmonica, piano, slide
Mike Bloomfield guitar; Bruce Langhorne: guitar, tambourine; Al
Gorgoni guitar; Jerry Kennedy: guitar; John Hammond, Jr. guitar
Joe South; bass, guitar; Henry Strzelecki: bass, organ; John
Sebastian: bass, harmonica; Kenneth Rankin: guitar; Al Kooper
celeste, organ, electric piano, tambourine; Paul Griffin
Organ, piano, electric piano; Hargus "Pig" Robbins: bass, piano;
Robbie Robertson: guitar; Richard Manuel: piano, electric piano;
Charlie McCoy; guitar,bass, bass harmonica, harmonica, trumpet; Wayne
Moss: guitar, trombone; Angeline Butler background vocals ; Frank
Owens; piano, electric piano; John Boone: bass; Harvey Brooks bass;
Rick Danko: bass; Kenneth Buttrey drums, guitar; Sam Lay: drums;
Sandy Konikoff: drums; Bobby Gregg: drums; Levon Helm: drums.
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