Considered by most Dylantologists to be the definitive period in Bob Dylan’s nascent development, the mid ‘60s found him moving at stratospheric speed in an evolution that took him from starry-eyed folk troubadour and populist hero to an influential and revolutionary rocker. The three albums produced during that narrow span of time — Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde — become one of the most significant trilogies in modern musical history, forming the backbone of a career that would change the sound and tone of rock forever, and with it, our very cultural fiber.
Happily then, this latest installment of Dylan’s Legacy’s Bootleg Series shines a light on the creative process that brought these remarkable efforts to fruition. Available as a two disc, six disc or multiple disc set, the latter of which purportedly includes every note recorded in those spirited sessions, 1965-1966 The Cutting Edge offers a fascinating insight into Dylan’s creative process. Tempos are slowed, lyrics changed and songs altered spontaneously as he dabbles with the songs like a scientist quizzically pondering an axiom or equation, looking for a better way to perfect a theory. In Dylan’s mind, even perfection can be improved upon. The brilliance is his work is apparent from the first takes on, but hearing the variations enhances the appreciation even more, suggesting that no matter how the material might have turned out, iconic status was otherwise assured regardless. And that’s assuring in itself. Bob’s genius led his muse in a multitude of unforeseen directions, but inevitably every one of them mi8ght have yielded the same success.
That said, the changes from take to take are often subtle – songs sped up and slowed down and then settled somewhere in between, a word changed here and re-added there, a phrase delivered one way and then switched back, or in some cases abandoned entirely. It’s fascinating to hear Dylan and the studio musicians shifting through these arrangements with such apparent ease, taking familiar songs such “Desolation Row,” “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” “Mr. Tambourine Man,” and “Like a Rolling Stone” (in this case, given an entire disc of early takes) as they attempt to uncover what will become an iconic interpretation. Likewise, the studio chatter adds to the mix, as Dylan talks to, and sometimes spars with, producer Tom Wilson. The sessions were often stormy, but the conflict brought about remarkable results, and for all the challenges the participants faced, Dylan’s confidence was never in doubt.
The book of text and photos that accompanies the six disc set is excellent as well, always as essential element in these official bootleg offerings. Anyone with any interest in history ought to make this edition a necessity.
The true test of a Dylanista is to transcribe all the words to If I Was A King on Disc 18.
Post them here.