Wednesday, August 7, 2019

The Bootleg Series Vol. 12: The Cutting Edge

Release Date, November 6 2015
From 1965-66 Bob Dylan's recordings encompassed three albums that continue to be dissected, deconstructed, taken apart, scrutinized, and put together all over again. On Bringing It All Back Home Dylan divided the album into an electric and acoustic side. The follow up Highway 61 Revisited released a few months later introduced a bigger sound courtesy of Dylan's handpicked session musicians. For Blonde on Blonde, Dylan changed locale from New York to Nashville where he found the ideal group musicians to bring his surreal lyrics to life. Despite all the books and articles on these songs, a record of the evolution of these records remains minuscule. The official Bootleg release The Cutting Edge excavated the vaults to provide insight into the evolution of these essential recordings.

Disc 1

A pleasant acoustic version of "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" opens the first disc. More lyrical and than the love songs on the early Beatles' records, Dylan's striking imagery paints a compelling portrait. Although Dylan gave "I'll Keep it With Mine" to Nico, his performance here on the honky talk piano is staggering. An acoustic version of "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream" remains an underrated one from the era. "She Belongs To Me" sounds like Dylan putting the lyrics to music for the first time. "Subterranean Homesick Blues", "Outlaw Blues" and "On the Road Again" are also in the early stages. The somber "Farewell Angelina" is a transitional song from the romantic balladry of "Girl From The North Country" and the surreal "Gates of Eden." 

"If You Gotta Go, Go Now" is Dylan doing a playful rock song, a Beatles parody and a sophisticated jukebox number. "You Don't Have To Do That" is a mere fragment of a blues ballad. "California" has a smooth swagger that recalls "Black Crow Blues" from Another Side of Bob Dylan. An incomplete version of "Mr. Tambourine Man" backed by a The Band moves along well enough, but The Byrds would turn it into pop perfection. "It Takes a lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry" captures the ramshackle blues Dylan was going for on Highway 61 Revisited, although he would modify it into a slow ballad on the record.

Two rehearsals of "Like A Rolling Stone" speaks to how iconic the original recording remains. "Sitting on a Barbed Wire Fence" sounds like a discarded single, a blues number dissected into several other songs as Dylan was wont to do. "Medicine Sunday" features fragments from "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" and "Temporarily Like Achilles" Two spare versions of "Desolation Row" follow, neither better than the electric version on the No Direction Home release.

Disc 2

An effective version of "Tombstone Blues" opens the second disc, while not as conniving, it's lumbering and potent. "Positively 4th Street" is performed without the iconic organ in the background. "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window" never quite took off as a single, it's always been a curio from this period. Lyrically I would argue it's one of Dylan's more surreal songs that's full of defiance, a masterwork of content matching the form. "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" is slowed down into a subtle calypso beat. An alternate "Highway 61 Revisited" flirts with a Phil Spector wall of sound feel; then a late night lounge act performance of "Queen Jane Approximately." An early version of "Visions of Johanna" has the feel of a psychedelic epic to contrast with the "late night country music station" style of the Blonde on Blonde version. 

"She's Your Lover Now" never made it on to Blonde on Blonde, but its manic point of view set the template for the album. A loose version of "Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat" and "One of Must Know (sooner or later)" are not quite there yet, the thin wild mercury sound was still elusive. "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again" was a jaunty pop song in its original incarnation. "Absolutely Sweet Marie" matches the original, but the tempo is a little slower. "Just Like A Woman" sounds a little awkward with Dylan's detached vocal and lazy support from the band. "Pledging My Time" is a bluesy highlight from Blonde on Blonde, the early take here is more rooted in R&B. "I Want You" sounds like a twisted love song emanating from that calliope in the Ray Bradbury novel Something Wicked This Way Comes. Then a fragment of "Highway 61" with the police siren added in for good measure, Dylan and everyone in the studio are having a good time.

The Cutting Edge serves as en essential appendix to Dylan's music in the mid 1960s.