Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Bootleg #15: Travelin' Through with Johnny Cash Captures More Great Dylan Moments

There's certainly been a lot written and said about Bob Dylan's interlude in Nashville. In 2016 Nashville featured an exhibition titled Dylan, Cash and the Nashville Cats which was all the rage for a season. When PBS aired the most recent Ken Burns documentary on Country Music, we saw a lot of Johnny Cash and a fair number of Bob Dylan moments and references.

By that time many of us knew Bootleg 15 was coming, so it was just an appetizer. One thing was apparent though, and confirmed here in Travelin' Through--Bob and Johnny had that Mutual Admiration Society thing going. They were quite comfortable in one another's company, as if Johnny were just a favorite older sibling, and it showed.

Like many other folks, I pre-ordered my Bootleg 15 set and the day it arrived listened to all three discs in succession. Actually, I'd listened to John Wesley Harding the night before, and listened to it again last night before writing this.

I remember how someone called JWH Dylan's "comeback album, which seems strange because what was he coming back from, unless they meant coming back from the motorcycle accident. JWH couldn't have been a "comeback" from Blonde On Blonde. There were no weak links in his previous six albums of original material. How do you "come back" from being on top?

I don't think I  fully appreciated this period of Dylan's music till later. In fact, I think that's the best part of these Bootleg Series sets. Going back in time to re-discover some of what we may have failed to see and hear at the time. Perhaps because there had been yet another iteration of the troubadour, who has repeatedly been the snake who sheds his skin, we never knew what verdict to give to each new version of his work.

It's quite interesting how artists can go through these various phases and then move on. Travelin' Through does a fine job of filling in details from a unique period in Dylan's life. His voice sounds wholly other--a friend of mine calls this his favorite period in Dylan's vocal sound--and the stripped bare studio simplicity is noteworthy.

I don't want to repeat what everyone else has said about this set--like the fact that it has 50 tracks, 48 being music and two spoken word bits that give you the feel of Will The Circle Be Unbroken. Or that  25 of the tracks feature Bob and Johnny just being themselves. I only have the vinyl of John Wesley Harding so I like the clarity on the CD, even if it's just the outtakes.

The special feature of Travelin' Through is what we get on Discs 2 and 3 though. We've all known this material was out there somewhere. We're thrilled that it's out of the vault. Great to have it in the collection.

I've tried to think how to describe my feelings here and the only thing I can compare it to is spending time with a lovable grandfather. I'm referring to Johnny Cash on that comparison, though both artists fit the "together through life" feel of being family.

OK, it’s no secret there’s a lot of Dylan music played in this house. Less well known is how extensive our Johnny Cash collection is. There's not much in the Cash portfolio that Susie doesn’t own. So Travellin’ Through, Bootleg #15 is a sweet addition to our mutual collection. As I noted above, I listened to all three discs the first day it arrived. She’s kept playing the two Dylan-Cash CDs ever since. (I had disc one in my office, which she now wants in the living room player, too.)

The accompanying booklet has a lot of familiar photos and some new ones, along with backstory. It's definitely fun hearing Bob singing Johnny's stuff, and vice versa. Their harmonies may not be the stuff of an A-team men's quartet at times, but that's not what this is about. It's the joy of just singing some great songs together, as at a family reunion.

Another favorite "grandpa" also shows up on the final tracks. Five tracks from a session with Earl Scruggs is tacked on, like a rich dessert added to a five course meal of Low Country cuisine. Yum.

As we settle in for the long North Country winter, this latest Bootleg Series will help us get through.

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Related Links
When the Post Called Dylan King
WordPress blogs discussing Travelin' Through
The Recoup

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