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The title of Bob Dylan’s The Bootleg Series Vol. 14: More Blood, More Tracks, out this month, invites a number of obvious jokes, and some are even true. More tracks is an understatement — 87 more, to be exact, strewn across a six-disc, six-hour box set of recordings made during the sessions for Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks (1975). Behold outtakes, demos, studio detritus, marginally differentiated versions of the same song. You needn’t worry about more blood, though, for most of these tunes are half-hearted, bare-bones sketches of songs he would subsequently perform with more gusto. They sound anemic.

Dylan has been releasing installments in The Bootleg Series for more than two decades, with gradually diminishing returns. In the ’90s, when Columbia first started releasing bootleg Dylan tapes on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 (Rare & Unreleased) (1993), some of them had been circulating among hardcore fans for years; they included genuine surprises, original songs he’d never released, weird covers of traditional folk and blues songs, useful live recordings. Sometimes the unearthed documents held clear historical value, like the famous Manchester show captured on The Bootleg Series Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966, The “Royal Albert Hall” Concert (1998). Twenty years and 10 box sets later, there’s no stopping now — the archives must be cleared.

The original Blood on the Tracks is an album that combines the tapes from two separate sessions: the initial New York sessions, when Dylan attempted to record Blood on the Tracks as a stark, bereft set of acoustic laments, and then the subsequent Minneapolis recordings, when Dylan, unsatisfied with the initial versions, redid the album with a full band of studio musicians. Since Dylan attracts fans who believe in concepts like The Lost Album and such, a certain amount of fanbase lore around the acoustic New York sessions developed over the years, and the mystery has now been revealed. Every single take from those sessions appears on More Blood, More Tracks — all the endless, quiet, miserable alternate takes a fan could ask for. By contrast, only five recordings from Minneapolis appear on the box set, the five that appeared on the official album.

That More Blood, More Tracks is a dull, doleful listen should be evident from the backstory. The box set reveals that Dylan was right to be unsatisfied with the New York sessions. They’re static and empty, and as they wear on you can hear his frustration having to sing these songs on solo acoustic, bashing his head against the wall. Compare the raging final Minneapolis version of “Idiot Wind,” an eight-minute song whose every second captivates, to the sullen takes here, which last forever; rather than staying mournful the whole way through, the song needs the energy of a full band so it can make its grand turn from righteous anger to defeated empathy.

What you want from a box set of outtakes is juice — songs that didn’t make it to the album, or a superb band meshing in the studio, or energetic live performances, or anything new at all. In the ’60s, Dylan recorded albums quickly and achieved a natural, casual feel, often releasing first takes. Previous installments in The Bootleg Series have occasionally yielded choice outtakes — the third or seventh or whichever take was as compelling as the one on the album. But Blood on the Tracks is the last album you would expect goodies from, because it’s where Dylan finally embraced ’70s standards of studio polish; it’s his subtlest, most delicate, most carefully crafted set of songs.

The idea is to listen to him continually revise the songs, testing out different lyrics and phrases and arrangements, while gradually approaching their Platonic ideals, the perfected forms fans already know by heart — deciding to remove the drums from “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” and the slide guitar from “Meet Me in the Morning”; changing the desperate “Maybe he’ll pick her out again” to the sadder, more time-warped “Maybe she’ll pick him out again” in “Simple Twist of Fate”; turning “When something’s not right it must be wrong” into the more forceful “When something’s not right it’s wrong” in “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go”; revamping whole verses in “Idiot Wind,” and so on. Why else place the five official Minneapolis recordings at the very end of the last disc, as if to signal full creative completion after six hours’ worth of tweaking and chiseling? Since the final versions are the strongest in each case, hearing Dylan’s process in real time tells us nothing new.

Although I hesitate as a music fan to complain about overproduction — on principle, one wants more rather than less music in the world, no matter what it is — the Dylan industry’s apparent need to expel his table scraps bespeaks a dubious flavor of auteur worship — the kind of adulation that has always attached itself to Dylan and won’t stop until every second of the man’s life has been examined and documented. It reinforces the Rolling Stone/boomer-era critical narrative about the ’60s as a golden age for music, when rock’s greatest geniuses emerged, the pinnacle of Western civilization, never to be topped again.

Releasing the gloomy acoustic tapes also implies a spurious view of the original album as a raw expressionist howl of pain — Dylan, in the midst of divorce, baring his tortured soul in a plaintive breakup song cycle — which may indeed be true but ignores the complexity of how his canny ability to simulate a howl of pain dovetails with his skill at constructing cultural moments and assuming personae.

Anyway, how much Dylan music do we need? In an oversaturated musical economy, where every year more music comes out than a single person could ever listen to, obsessive completism is inevitable; as long as capitalism produces consumer objects, people will feel the need to catalog them, and as long as rock songwriters inspire hyperbolic reverence, trivial moments will get excessively scrutinized due to mere association. There’s no escaping the urge. Fixating so totally on a single figure strikes me as a particularly perverse way to go about it, though. I’m not sure where or whether to draw the line, but if the first few Bootleg Series volumes served a useful function, officially releasing music that fans had been passing around for years, the project has long since tipped over into decadence. More Blood, More Tracks suggests the archives have simply run out of interesting material.

It is a testament to the beauty and durability of Dylan’s music that Blood on the Tracks even remains listenable after immersion in the box set — after hearing these songs repeated a dozen times, slightly adjusted and rehashed, beaten into the ground. I find this comforting. Although he’s been subjected to more hagiography than anyone, all the rockism in the world will never spoil Dylan. The wily old fox is always one step ahead, for there’s no actor anywhere better than the jack of hearts.

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Lucas Fagen

Lucas Fagen's favorite artform is popular music, and that means popular music—bland corporate trash and faceless functional product in addition to critically respectable touchstones and obscure...

23 replies on “How Much Dylan Do We Need?”

  1. Ya know, I review and listen to a lot of music….
    And maybe I won’t be listening to this over and over again….but the ‘joy’ I have in listening to these songs in this format and this creative process is truly beautiful.
    This is my most played Dylan record, my fave, so yes, I am biased.
    But the bottom line is, if you don’t want to listen, move on to the Box Set Of “Turning Japanese” by The Vapors or whatever your heart desires.
    Is there too much of Dylan or too much of an artist you love, whomever it may be, probably not, for that listener.
    Peace

  2. Excellent review, only heard the CD and soooooooo agree ….
    I’m guessing he’s in a ‘war’ with Columbia – they’ve pppd him off releasing ‘bootlegs’ so he records nothing but Sinatra ….lol

    Two favorites of all time from Bootlegs – Foot of Pride and Angelina – wow
    (also, best version imo of Idiot Wind from “Hard Rain” = live )

      1. @Jim Sites re “only listened to the first Bob bootleg release? ”

        I actually own ( yet shoe boxed somewhere now ) a few and have ‘heard’ most ( like during a card game – can’t say I really “listened” ).

        Haven’t been to all his concerts either ….

        Should have mentioned I really like that song he wrote about the Rolling Stones – how about you ?

        1. Kick back find the first three, or so LP’s. Listen a few times.
          Trust me you’ll be hooked. You might just want to hear everything he’s recorded.

          1. @Once Free re ” the first three, or so LP’s.”
            I started with “Freewheelin” thru “Blonde on Blonde” ….picked up again with “Blood …

            have you really really listened to all the ’66 recordings ?

            I experienced his ’66 concert in Norfolk at the beginning of the year – first set acoustic solo and then with the Band and the unbelievable howls from some of the audience ….

          2. Wait a minute. You heard him with the “Band”? That would have been great. I’ve always liked the Band. Never got to see them.

            There’s some great stuff between blond, and blood.
            Critics didn’t like them all but I did.

            I’ve listened to, and have most albums, but over time some needs replaced.
            I don’t have all his LP’s, but close.
            His music, and words can take ya one a journey.
            I never get tired of listening to him.

  3. Boo hoo. Too much Bob. I hate having a historical record of the recording process behind one of his best albums. To quote Bob “you’re an idiot…”

    1. The process of recording can get old. Takes of the same song over an over, but this has morphed into a creative work of genius. One great album.

      All the changes from a planned solo record.
      To a couple different bands, and studios at the eleventh hour.
      To late to change the album cover. Minnesota group on the record didn’t get on the credit.

      Lyric changes. Progression changes. Phrasing. It just keeps going until it’s what he wants.
      At times he seems like a fart in a wind storm, but on a mission is a better way of putting it.

      Last minute brain storm. Watching a genius at work. This all took place real fast. Changed it all.
      Sometimes albums takes months. This was what, a little over a week?

      I had read that Dylan said. He didn’t understand why people would enjoy this album others pain, and anguish.
      Good point. but these songs like so many others, become personal to the listener.
      Most folks can relate to one, or all of these songs.

      I guess we need Dylan to put into words, and song, our own feelings. When were to close, or numb.

      That seems the case with him. After laying down the first solo recordings. He stepped back.
      Saw it from a different. point of view.
      Heard the songs in a new light.

    1. Maybe it all goes to feed, and help third world countries. L Maybe he just got greedy, or someone did.
      Who knows.

      ” Ten thousand dollars at the drop of a hat”
      Now it’s more like ten million.

    1. And maybe, with the fluctuations of music tastes, recording industy pressures, contractual obligations, and longevity of career- he HAS to release material old or new. BD moved the needle of American music away from sugary pop, and toward the singer/writer idiosynchonistic, so why not listen to the wheels of the artist at work? Thanks for the review. I’ll be buying it for the holidays, and letting it play in th background until the blood dries on the tracks.

  4. The package beckons to its own, and excludes from initiation the ones who are not in fact or destined to be its initiates.

  5. Couldn’t disagree more and it seems tendentious that the statements of the author is represented as facts…

  6. dude basically dylan recorded this album in nyc, then had a change of heart, went to minneapolis and recorded it. the initial nyc sessions are infamous. this is 1000% not the bootleg series album to call out too much dylan on, it is a long awaited gift.

    1. a gift available to you for at the cost of around $25. why not make it free for his fans?

      i think the point the reviewer is trying to make is that – at 14 volumes now – it’s becoming a cash grab eked out to maximize dollars.

  7. This installment is about the creative process rather than finding you a new song you’ll like. People base careers on understanding great works of art. If your attitude is, “Yeah, I saw a Van Gogh painting and I liked the colors and don’t care about the process,’ move along. But don’t diminish those who do.

  8. Here in Paris, there’s currently an exhibition at the Rodin Museum of his (Rodin’s) drawings and cut-outs presented in a pristine gallery setting. They were essentially studies for possible future works. I’m guessing Rodin created them without any intention of them ever being so reverently scrutinized. But there you go.

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