Dylan’s Latest Bootleg Series Installment Is a True Revelation

Collection spans Shot of Love, Infidels and Empire Burlesque albums that are widely considered to be the “low point” of his career

The Eighties are widely regarded as the low point of Bob Dylan’s entire career, a time when he struggled to find relevance in the MTV era and released a series of tacky, rudderless albums that were savaged by fans and critics. So reads the opening sentence of Rolling Stone’s recent review of Springtime In New York: The Bootleg Series Vol. 16 1980-1985, the latest installment in Bob Dylan’s ongoing bootleg series. This pretty much reflects what I also read in Ultimate Classic Rock, Glide Magazine, Flood Magazine and other media outlets. Rolling Stone was quick to back up their statement with a quote from the maestro who in his 2004 memoir Chronicles: Volume One said, “[I was pretty] whitewashed and wasted out…I’m in the bottomless pit of cultural oblivion. I can’t shake it.” As I was listening to Springtime this morning, I kept thinking, ‘gee, Dylan at his worst sounds mighty good!’

Before going any further, I must reveal that while I dig many Dylan songs, there are huge gaps in my knowledge of the man’s mighty catalog. From the three albums Springtime captures – Shot of Love (August 1981), Infidels (October 1983) and Empire Burlesque (June 1985) – I had only listened to some tunes from Infidels, and all I remembered off the top of my head were Jokerman and I and I – both decent songs, in my opinion. I’m more familiar with Dylan’s records from the ’60s until the mid ’70s. I’ve also listened to his most recent work Rough and Rowdy Ways and have come to dig it.

Bob Dylan / Springtime in New York: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 16 / 1980-1985  – SuperDeluxeEdition
5-CD Deluxe Edition

The Bootleg Series Vol. 16: Springtime in New York 1980–1985, released yesterday (September 17), is the 14th installment in the series Dylan started in March 1991 with The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991. Springtime includes previously unreleased tour rehearsals and outtakes from the three aforementioned albums, as well as various live versions. The compilation comes in three different formats, including a 2-CD standard edition, 5-disc deluxe edition, as well as 2-LP and 4-LP formats.

Let’s get to some music, based on the 5-CD edition. The rehearsal of Need a Woman is a track from disc one. Dylan first released the song on the aforementioned inaugural installment of his bootleg series as an outtake from Shot of Love. He is backed by fine musicians, including guitarists Steve Ripley and Danny Kortchmar; Carl Pickhardt (keyboards); Tim Drummond (bass); Jim Keltner (drums), as well as Carolyn Dennis, Madelyn Quebec and Clydie King who provide dynamite backing vocals and clapping.

Let’s move on to disc two and Price of Love, another outtake from Shot of Love. Not sure whether Dylan had previously released that song elsewhere. In addition to Ripley, Pickhardt, Drummond, Keltner, King and Quebec, he’s backed by Fred Tackett (guitar), Benmont Tench (keyboards), Steve Douglas (saxophone) and Regina McCrary (backing vocals). Love this outtake!

Blind Willie McTell, a track from disc three, is another Dylan tune he first released on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991 as an outtake from Infidels. This is a different version of Dylan’s tribute to Piedmont blues and ragtime singer and guitarist William Samuel McTier. Known as Blind Willie McTell, he influenced The Allman Brothers Band, Taj Mahal, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Jack White, Mr. Zimmerman and many other artists.

Next up: An alternate take of Sweetheart Like You from disc four, a song Dylan first released on the Infidels album. It also appeared separately as the record’s second single and became Dylan’s first official music video, which you can watch here if you’re so inclined. Here’s a clip of the alternate take featuring another neat backing band: Guitarists Mark Knopfler and Mick Taylor; Alan Clark (keyboards); Robbie Shakespeare (bass) and Sly Dunbar (drums), of reggae production duo Sly and Robbie; and Clydie King (backing vocals). Not too shabby for an artist who supposedly was at a low point in his career – well, I suppose it’s all relative, isn’t it?

Let’s wrap up this post with two tracks from disc five. Both are my early favorites from the collection, based on what I’ve heard thus far. First is a great live version of a tune called Enough Is Enough, captured at a gig at Slane Castle in Ireland. Based on what I could find on Setlist.fm during the timeframe this latest bootleg installment covers, it looks like Dylan played the song during this 1984 concert. After some additional digging, I found Dylan’s backing band included Mick Taylor (guitar), Ian McLagan (keyboards, formerly with Faces), Greg Sutton (bass) and Colin Allen (drums). Damn, this rocks!

And last but not least, here’s New Danville Girl, an outtake from Dylan’s Empire Burlesque album. According to Wikipedia, Dylan co-wrote the nearly 12-minute satirical with American actor, playwright, author, screenwriter and director Sam Shepard. Originally, the tune was intended to be an answer to Doin’ the Things That We Want To, a 1984 song by Lou Reed that had been inspired by a Shepard play. The tune would later be re-written and re-titled Brownsville Girl. Dylan included it on Knocked Out Loaded, the 1986 follow-on album to Empire Burlesque. I absolutely love this tune!

Listening to Springtime In New York: The Bootleg Series Vol. 16 1980-1985 has been quite a revelation. Apart from great renditions, I really like Dylan’s singing here – something I certainly can’t say for all other songs I’ve heard. And the musicians backing him on these recordings are spectacular, though I suppose if you’re Bob Dylan, you can secure pretty much anyone. Now I’m also curious to further explore the Shot of Love, Infidels and Empire Burlesque albums.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; Ultimate Classic Rock; Glide Magazine; Flood Magazine; Setlist.fm; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Carole King/It’s Too Late

On Sunday, I went to a small outdoor concert, my first live music event in more than one and a half years, featuring a Carole King tribute act. On my way back home, I listened to Tapestry: Live in Hyde Park, a live and video album from September 2017, capturing King’s performance at London’s Hyde Park on July 3, 2016. The above clip of It’s Too Late is from that gig.

Admittedly, this isn’t the first time I’ve posted about It’s Too Late and the Tapestry album, on which that tune first appeared. If you’re a more frequent visitor of the blog, you know how much I dig Carole King. If I could pick only one singer-songwriter, it would probably be her.

So why do yet another post? To start, I think it’s a great tune that certainly can be highlighted more than once. More importantly, I feel this is a particularly nice rendition of one of my favorite Carole King songs.

Obviously, Carole’s voice has changed, but I think it’s aged beautifully. I love the overall soulfulness of this version, to which the great backing vocalists undoubtedly contribute. I also like Carole’s piano work and the guitar solos by who I believe is Danny Kortchmar, one of the original studio musicians from the Tapestry recording sessions.

Last but not least, the clip acknowledges how much I love live music and how much I’ve missed it during this dreadful pandemic. Sunday was a small start to what hopefully will be more concerts over the summer months and beyond.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

Spring has officially arrived – Yay, finally, as it’s been a long and lonely winter! I’m also happy to report that with today’s installment, The Sunday Six has hit its first mini-milestone: This is the 10th post in the weekly recurring series that celebrates the beauty of music from different periods and genres, six random tunes at a time. I think I found a nice set of tracks I hope you will like.

Sonny Rollins Quartet/My Reverie

Let’s kick things off with some amazing saxophone action by American tenor sax player Sonny Rollins. I have to give a shoutout to fellow blogger Cincinnati Babyhead, who recently posted about Tenor Madness, a studio album Rollins released in 1956 as the Sonny Rollins Quartet. In addition to him, it also featured Red Garland (piano), Paul Chambers (double bass) and Philly Joe Jones (drums) – what a cool name, Philly Joe Jones – I love the flow! Oh, and there was this other fellow called John Coltrane, who joined the band on tenor sax for the album’s opener and title track. The track I’m featuring is called My Reverie. Apparently, the first jazz recording was by Larry Clinton and His Orchestra in 1938, featuring Bea Wain on vocals, with lyrics by Clinton. The music is based on Rêverie, a piano piece by French classical composer Claude Debussy, dating back to 1890. This really goes to show there’s such a thing as truly timeless and beautiful music!

The Horace Silver Quartet/Song for My Father

Let’s shake up things a bit on The Sunday Six with another another instrumental and another jazz track back to back. And, nope, Donald Fagen or Walter Becker are not Horace Silver’s father or otherwise related to the American jazz pianist, composer and arranger. But Becker and Fagen both loved listening to jazz. Undoubtedly, they also got inspired by the intro of Song for My Father. Somehow, it became the introductory riff of Steely Dan’s 1974 single Rikki Don’t Lose That Number, their most successful U.S. single, peaking at no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. Whether consciously or unconsciously, to me, this looks a bit like yet another case where a credit should have been given to the original composer. Perhaps Messrs. Becker and Fagen lost his number! Silver who began taking classical piano lessons as a child was active between 1946 and 2004. Initially, he started as a sideman before leading mainly smaller jazz groups. In the early ’50s, he became a co-founder of The Jazz Messengers, which at first he ran together with drummer Art Blakey. After leaving the band in 1956, Silver formed his own five-piece combo, which he led into the 1980s. He continued to release albums until 1998. In 2007, it became known that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He passed away in June 2014 at the age of 85. Song for My Father, composed by Silver, is the title track of an album he released with his band in late 1965. Great tune!

Jackson Browne/Shaky Town

I trust Jackson Browne needs no introduction. The American singer-songwriter who has been active since 1966 is one of my all-time favorite music artists. I dig both his vocals and his songwriting. I also have something in common with him: We were both born in the lovely town of Heidelberg, Germany. He went on to become a rock star. I ended up playing bass in two bands in my late teens and early ’20s with short-lived ambitions to become a professional musician. It’s probably a good thing it didn’t happen (though never say never! 🙂 ), and I’m a daddy though not rocking in the U.S.A. Instead, I get to enjoy listening to great music by fantastic artists and giving my two cents as a hobby blogger – not such a terrible thing, after all! The one Jackson Browne album I keep coming back to is Running on Empty, his fifth studio release that appeared in December 1977. When I had that aforementioned dream to become a professional musician, I actually envisaged sounding like Browne on Running on Empty, notably, not like The Beatles – true story. I was tempted to go with the title track. Instead, perhaps somewhat ironically, I decided to pick a tune that’s not by Browne: Shaky Town. The song was written by guitarist Danny Kortchmar, who has worked with the likes of Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, Neil Young, Carly Simon and not to forget Carole King. Kortchmar also provided harmony vocals. And check out that sweet lap steel guitar by the amazing David Lindley.

The Church/Under the Milky Way

The Church are an alternative rock band from down under, formed in Sydney in 1980. Their debut album Of Skins and Heart appeared in April 1981. Since then, the band that remains active to this day, has released 16 additional studio albums. Their most recent one, Man Woman Life Death Infinity, came out in October 2017. I covered it here at the time. But it was their fifth international breakthrough album Starfish from February 1988, which brought the Aussie band on my radar screen. I just love the sound, and it remains one of my favorite ’80s records. Here’s the fantastic lead single Under the Milky Way. It was co-written by the band’s bassist and vocalist Steve Kilbey and his then-girlfriend and guitarist Karin Jansson, founder of alternative Australian rock band Curious (Yellow). The atmospheric sound and Kilbey’s distinct vocals still give me good chills.

George Harrison/Blow Away

What’s better than enjoying some sweet slide guitar? You guessed it – more sweet slide guitar action! One of the artists I’ve always admired in this context for his unique tone is George Harrison. I don’t know of any guitarist who got that same sweet slide sound. Blow Away was first released in February 1979 as the lead single from Harrison’s eighth, eponymous studio album that came out a few days later. Written by him, it became one of eight top 20 mainstream hits Harrison had in the U.S., peaking at no. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100. It did even better in Canada, hitting no. 7, one of his nine top 10 hits there. The recording features former Sly and the Family Stone member and session drummer Andy Newmark. Nuff said – let’s get blown away!

Elton John/Your Sister Can’t Twist (But She Can Rock ‘n’ Roll)

Time to wrap things up. How about kicking ass with some good ole rock & roll Elton John style? Ask and you shall receive! I guess Your Sister Can’t Twist (But She Can Rock ‘n’ Roll) is more of a deep track. As usual, the lyrics were written by Bernie Taupin, while Sir Elton composed the music. According to Songfacts, the tune is a “throwback to music of the late ’50s and early ’60s when lots of songs were about dance crazes and teenage girls.” Songfacts also quotes John from a 1973 interview with now-defunct American rock magazine Circus, in which he reportedly characterized the tune as “a cross between surfing music and Freddie Cannon records” that was intended “to end the ‘Crocodile Rock’ thing.” Sounds like John had hoped it would help people forget about that latter tune. While it’s a great song that appeared on his masterpiece Goodbye Yellow Brick Road from October 1973, it’s fair to say Your Sister Can’t Twist (But She Can Rock ‘n’ Roll) was completely overshadowed by other tunes from the album, such as Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting, Bennie and the Jets, Candle in the Wind and of course the title track. John also didn’t release it as a single.

Source: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Ten Days of Tapestry

A legendary album turns 50 – part IX

We’re almost there. Tomorrow is the 10th anniversary of Carole King’s Tapestry, her iconic album from 1971, which I’ve been celebrating with this series over the past eight days. Up to now, I’ve explored all of side A, i.e., I Feel the Earth Move, So Far Away, It’s Too Late, Home Again, Beautiful and Way Over Yonder, and the first three tracks on side B: You’ve Got a Friend, Where You Lead and Will You Love Me Tomorrow. Next up: Smackwater Jack.

Smackwater Jack is Tapestry’s second tune Carole co-wrote with Gerry Goffin. Unlike Will You Love Me Tomorrow, Smackwater Jack wasn’t released until Tapestry. It’s a great mid-tempo bluesy rocker. Rolling Stone’s Jon Landau called it an “uptempo shuffle.” In particular, I dig the piano work including Ralph Schuckett’s electric piano, and Danny Kortchmar’s electric guitar. Also, as a retired bassist, I have to call out Charles Larkey’s great bassline.

In addition to its music, Smackwater Jack stands out lyrically. It sounds less personal and less emotional than the other tunes on Tapestry. This doesn’t make it any worse; in fact, I think it’s a great outlaw story told in a very cinematic fashion you could picture in a Western movie.

Check out this excerpt from the lyrics: …The account of the capture/Wasn’t in the papers/But you know, they hanged ol’ Smack right then/Instead of later/You know, the people were quite pleased/’Cause the outlaw had been seized/And on the whole, it was a very good year/For the undertaker…

Smackwater Jack also appeared separately as Tapestry’s second single, paired with So Far Away. Like the album’s first single It’s Too Late/I Feel the Earth Move, Billboard treated it as a double A. It peaked at no. 14 on the Hot 100.

Interestingly, Quincy Jones covered Smackwater Jack as the title track of his studio album that also appeared in 1971. I had not been aware of this. I can’t say I like it as much as Carole’s original version. Still, I think Jones deserves credit for making the tune his own by giving it a funky soul vibe – check it out!

Sources: YouTube; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

This latest installment of the recurring new music feature must acknowledge two albums that dropped today by two of the most influential music artists of our time: Bob Dylan and Neil Young. I already covered Young’s record in my previous post, so I’m skipping him here. There is also a new band of veteran session musicians who recently released their first single in the U.S., a great rock tune by an Australian band and a song from a German blues singer-songwriter and guitarist.

Bob Dylan/Goodbye Jimmy Reed

Goodbye Jimmy Reed is a tune from Rough and Rowdy Ways, the new and widely anticipated album by Bob Dylan. It’s his 39th studio record and the first with original material since Tempest from September 2012. In-between, the great music poet put out three cover albums with standards from the American Songbook. I was going to add all that’s missing is a Christmas collection when I just noticed Dylan already checked off that box in October 2009 with Christmas in the Heart. If you’re frequent visitor of the blog, you probably know my sentiments about Dylan range from outstanding to less than brilliant and everything in-between. Regardless, there’s no doubt Dylan is one of the most important singer-songwriters of our time. I also give him huge credit that age 79 instead of releasing yet another cover album, he dropped a collection with brand new songs. Goodbye Jimmy Reed is a tribute to the American electric blues guitarist who influenced Elvis Presley, Hank Williams Jr., The Rolling Stones and many other artists who I have no doubt include Dylan.

The Immediate Family/Cruel Twist

The Immediate Family is what you could call a super group featuring five veteran session musicians: Danny Kortchmar (guitar), Waddy Wachtel (guitar), Leland Sklar (bass), Russ Kunkel (drums) and Steve Postell (guitar). Between them, they have worked individually and together with artists like Jackson Browne, Carole King, Neil Young, Linda Ronstadt, Stevie Nicks, Keith Richards, James Taylor, Bob Dylan, Joe Walsh – and the list goes on and on. It’s yet another illustration that great musicians like to play with great musicians. But throwing together a group of top-notch musicians doesn’t automatically guarantee the outcome is as great as their skills. In this case I have to say I really like what I’m hearing! Cruel Twist is the group’s first U.S. single released on June 12. As reported by Rolling Stone, an EP is planned for October, followed by a full-length album next year.

Datura4/Give

According to their website, Datura4 are a Western Australian band combining full-tilt boogie, heavy psychedelia, blues and classic rock’n’roll for a sound heavy on riffage and mind-bending wig-outs – okey dokey. Founded in 2009, the band includes Dom Mariani (guitar), Bob Patient (keyboards), Stu Loasby (bass) and Warren “Wazza” Hall (drums). They released their debut album Demon Blues in 2015, followed by sophomore Hairy Mountain in 2016. Give is a great rocker from Datura4’s most recent album West Coast Highway Cosmic, which appeared on April 17. I dig the harmony guitar playing and the keyboard work. These guys are cooking – check it out!

Michael van Merwyk/We’re Human

Michael van Merwyk is a blues singer-songwriter and guitarist from Germany. According to this biography, he has become famous as one of only a few lap steel guitar players in the blues business. Michael performs and entertains fans at large festivals and also smaller clubs throughout Europe, either together in an acoustic duo with a blues harp player and singer Gerd Gorge as Delta Boys or his own band called Bluesoul. The (German) website of Bluesoul also notes van Merwyk started playing guitar at the age of 15 and has been an active musician for almost 35 years. I had never heard of him before. We’re Human is from what appears to be his most recent CD The Bear released on May 8. According to Discogs, the CD was recorded live in studio in December 2019 and January 2020.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; Last.fm; Bluesoul; YouTube