Monday, November 5, 2018

First Thoughts On More Blood More Tracks, the Latest Dylan Bootleg

We take so much for granted in life. As one who has worked in marketing I am continually impressed by the orchestration involved in a new launch from the team. Quite a ways before the launch the publicity machine begins. Then the website, BobDylan.com, is re-arranged to feature the new album, CD, series or product line (e.g. Heaven's Door).

The PR machine goes to work and an article by Jeff Slate, who wrote the liner notes, appears in The New Yorker days before. Links to many of the tracks from the Deluxe edition appear on NPR's website, deliciously selected to amplify desire.

All the ducks are in a row so fans can pre-order, and a launch date is set. Finally there is the "execution" phase, which is coordinated with Amazon and shipping entities so that Bootleg Series #14: More Blood, More Tracks arrives at my door precisely on the day they said it would more than a month ago.

It's all first class, a model of execution, year in and year out. Any company with an established fan base could probably get an education from watching the machinery here. Can the company you work for, if you work for a company that has new products, accomplish this?

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After several listens I feel obligated to make a few observations based on first impressions.

1. If Dylan had not re-recorded half the album at Sound 80 in Minneapolis, Blood on the Tracks would never have been a Double Platinum album. I may be wrong, but my impression is that the stripped out version of these songs leaves them lacking in some way. Dylan may have captured what he was looking for in New York, but after he got it he must have felt it was missing something, though he couldn't put his finger on it.

2. My immediate thought here after a few listens was that the original New York sessions had produced something akin to John Wesley Harding, itself critically acclaimed with a lot of very good songs, conscientiously avoiding overproduction.

3. Being intimately acquainted with the backstory of the December sessions here in Minnesota, I can't help but feel that like so many things in Dylan's career serendipity proved to be a key factor, and that by trusting his "better angels" or that "Dylan instinct" we ended up with something so magical that one of the songs itself is about the twists of fate that sometimes serve as a form of saving grace.

EdNote: Napoleon Bonaparte was one of the great strategists and commanders in the history of warfare. Of the top 20 battles of all time more than half were conceived and executed by Napoleon. When it came to planning, he was very thorough in his planning, yet simultaneously he "recognized Chance as a variable and believed every plan should allow a period of time to remedy or exploit the unpredictable." Dylan's career seems to have been repeatedly  a beneficiary of the element of Chance. 

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Jeff Slate's liner notes are a good read. I liked the inclusion of this Dylan quote on page 6:

"The thing about rock and roll is that, for me anyways, it wasn't enough. There were great catch-phrases and driving pulse rhythms, but the songs weren't serious or didn't reflect life in a realistic way. I knew that when I got into folk music, it was more of a serious type of thing. The songs are filled with more despair, more sadness, more triumph, more faith in the supernatural, much deeper feelings."

That quote, from when Dylan turned 50*, is pure Dylan.

I admire Tony Attwood's effort to write on Untold Dylan about every song (that he could find) that Dylan has recorded. Though I've covered quite a few Dylan songs on this blog over the years, there are some I've desired to tackle but felt inadequate to the task. "Ballad of a Thin Man" is one of these that I still desire to offer my own spin on someday; "Tangled Up In Blue" has been aanother I've shied away from. And so it was fun to see Jeff Slate's Culture Desk piece in The New Yorker this past week.

In the liner notes Slate, which is such a cool name that it ought to be a magazine, notes that Dylan drew inspiration from the painting classes he'd been taking, as well as the stories of Anton Chekov. I

I found this sentence to be pretty cool, having seen some of Dylan's handwritten lyrics that are in the possession of Bill Pagel, keeper of BobLinks.com and collector of artifacts: I listened while perusing Dylan’s fabled “red notebook,” in which he’d written the lyrics to the ten songs on “Blood on the Tracks” in his tiny, precise scrawl. I love that description at the end of the sentence. So precise.**

Slate also noted: A decade later, in 1984, on the album “Real Live,” Dylan felt he’d finally found the song he’d been looking for. “On ‘Real Live’ it is more like it should have been,” Dylan told Rolling Stone in 1985.

Yes, that was a great concert, and yet another great version of "Tangled Up In Blue." (Carlos Santana joins Dylan and band for the encore in that one.)

Slate continues: Dylan has performed “Tangled Up in Blue” 1,546 times during his Never Ending Tour, which began in 1988 and is still going. Like any good Dylan obsessive, I’ve seen many of those performances. It’s a guilty pleasure of Dylanologists to trainspot the tweaks—both large and small—that Dylan makes to the lyrics from year to year, or sometimes from night to night.

That observation also rings true, as long time Dylan fans well know.

4 of the 6 players from the Mnpls sessions on set of Paul Metsa's Wall of Power
L to R: Billy Peterson, Gregg Inhofer, Kevin Odegard, Paul Metsa, Peter Ostoushko

Related Links
More Blood, More Tracks -- The Bootleg Series Thunders On
Bob Dylan's First Day with Tangled Up In Blue, in The New Yorker
* Los Angeles Times, Pop Music: Bob Dylan Turns 50
* * Bill Pagel's "Einstein Disguised As Robin Hood" Exhibition
BOTT players on the set of Paul Metsa's Wall of Power two weeks ago.

2 comments:

Rickety Rackety said...

Over the years, I've come across many an opinion stating that Dylan should have kept the original New York recordings for 'Blood On The Tracks', which I've always thought was total tosh. It's true those songs with just Bob and the bass player are quite lovely and contain a power of their own but he knew it wasn't enough. Indeed, it would seem that his brother, David, also felt they didn't cut the mustard. The tracks he laid down in Minnesota and finally released on the record are spot on. Compare any of the NY takes of either 'Idiot Wind' or 'Tangled Up In Blue' with the full band tracks and it's like they've had a rocket put under them. Everything about them, including lyric tweaks, is on another level. Bob was right to trust his instincts, which is part of his genius.

Ed Newman said...

Thanks, RR, for the endorsement. I like the phrase "quite lovely" that you use. Yes, indeed, but the finished album knocks one's socks off.
e.