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

The Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band Release Damn Good New Album

Unusual country blues trio’s energetic 10th album was recorded using best 1950s technology

To anyone who knows me and my music taste, perhaps it was predictable that I would follow up my latest Best of What’s New installment with a dedicated post on The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band. The energetic music by this unusual country blues trio, which released their new album Dance Songs for Hard Times on Friday, April 9, is just too damn good to do otherwise.

In case you didn’t read my aforementioned post, the trio has been around since 2003 and consists of Josh “The Reverend” Peyton (guitar, lead vocals), his wife “Washboard” Breezy Peyton (washboard) and Max Senteney (drums). Notably, they don’t have a bassist. Peyton, a great guitarist, compensates with skillful fingerstyle playing that includes the prominent use of his thumb to play bass lines.

As noted on the band’s website, Dance Songs for Hard Times was written during the dreadful pandemic and reflects the ups and downs life can throw at you. To start with a story that has become all too familiar, COVID-19 completely derailed the band’s touring schedule. Pre-pandemic they played a whooping more than 250 dates per year. Added to this were a lingering illness affecting Peyton’s wife – possibly an undiagnosed case of COVID – and a cancer diagnosis for his father. On top of all, bad weather knocked off power for multiple days at the Peyton’s 150-year-old log cabin in Southern Indiana – jeez!

While his wife rested and recovered, Peyton wrote the album’s songs in near darkness. “It’s been a struggle the entire time,” he explained. “Nothing’s been easy. Other than the music. The music came easy.” Given all of that rather bleak context, you might expect to hear a downcast album. Not so! “I like songs that sound happy but are actually very sad,” Peyton noted. “I don’t know why it is, but I just do.”

It’s also notable that at the suggestion of Nashville producer Vance Powell, who has worked with the likes of Chris Stapleton and Jack White, production relied on analog eight-track recording. Peyton’s vocals and guitar-playing were captured live in the studio, and overdubs were kept to a minimum. Together with the use of Peyton’s 1954 Supro Dual Tone electric guitar and other “old” gear, this gives the album a great vintage sound. Let’s get to some music!

Here’s the opener Ways and Means, which nicely sets the mood for the entire album. Peyton’s guitar playing is really impressive, and his vocals neatly fit the songs. “‘Ways and Means’ was written for all those folks who have the moves, the style, the substance, the talent, but maybe not the seed money or the famous last name,” Peyton stated. “All those people who had to work extra hard because they didn’t get to start way ahead. Folks who have been playing catch-up since they were born and had to get really good just to make it to zero.” And all of that is packaged in upbeat music. The video is also fun to watch!

On Rattle Can, the band is pushing the pedal to the metal. Peyton sings in such rapid fire motion that it’s difficult at times to understand the words. An excerpt: I need the whole enchilada, I need the whole shebang, just a little taste won’t do/ I need the whole enchilada, I need the whole shebang, just a little taste won’t do /I need the whole enchilada, I need the who shebang, I need all the marbles too/I need the whole enchilada, I need the whole shebang, just a little taste won’t do/rattle, rattle, rattle, rattle, shake, shake/Shake it like a rattle can, baby, oh yeah…

Here’s Too Cool to Dance, the tune I highlighted in my previous Best of What’s New. I guess it was just too cool to skip! “I was thinking about all the times where I’ve been somewhere and felt too cool to dance,” Peyton noted about the song. “I didn’t want to be that way. Not being able to do anything last year, I had this feeling of, ‘Man, I’m not going to waste any moment like this in my life – ever.'” Another engaging video to watch. The energy is just infectious!

Time to slow down things a little with No Tellin’ When. The words make it pretty clear what the tune is about. No tellin’ when, no tellin’ when/No tellin’ when I’ll see my mom again/No tellin’ when, no tellin’ when/No tellin’ when I’ll see my mom again// No tellin’ when, no tellin’ when/No tellin’ when I’ll get to work again/No tellin’ when, no tellin’ when/No tellin’ when I’ll get to work again…

Let’s do one more: Nothing’s Easy but You and Me. I wonder what that song is all about! 🙂 Bills keep coming like a freight train running/Bills keep coming like a freight train running/Back it up mama it don’t cost nothing/Bills keep coming like a freight train running/Nothing’s cheap and nothing’s free/Nothing’s easy but you and me…

“Despite the hardships of this moment in history, it created this music that I hope will maybe help some people through it,” Peyton summed up the album. “Because it helps me through it to play it.” The band’s website also revealed some other positive news. After undergoing surgery, Peyton’s father was declared cancer free last year. The band has also been able to stay connected with their fans and make some money through a page on Patreon, a service to support musicians and other artists through recurring monetary contributions in exchange to gaining access to exclusive content created by the artist.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band website; YouTube