Bob Dylan The Bootleg Series Vol. 14: More Blood More Tracks (ALBUM REVIEW)

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In recent years there’s arisen a clamor for Bob Dylan’s 1975 album Blood On The Tracks to be treated to the exhaustive archiving represented by the ongoing vault project called The Bootleg Series. More Blood More Tracks constitutes a thorough and resounding answer to that demand, so much so that, even in the finite configuration of a single disc, Vol. 14 reveals the depth of passion and height(s) of ingenuity in its source material.

Consisting of ten alternate (and largely solo) early takes from the original September 1974 New York sessions (additional recording subsequently took place in Bob’s home state of Minnesota later the same year), there’s a delicacy radiating from cuts like “You’re A Big Girl Now” that invites autobiographical interpretations despite the author’s dismissals to the contrary. The modifications to the words of “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts,” combined with the intimacy of Dylan’s performance, would also seem to render this narrative a personal allegory.

The effect is much the same with “Idiot Wind.” In this deceptively subdued reading, Bob turns the screed downright lethal through his utilization of both musical and lyrical detail. In contrast to the previously-released arrangements, readily accessible in part due to the post-production speed-up of the tapes by engineer Phil Ramone (one revelation among many here), “Simple Twist of Fate” becomes the definition of bittersweet by the end of its roughly four and a half minute duration.

Sequenced in identical running order to the ‘official’ album, this composite of eleven tracks also highlights how the placement of the lesser songs on the album, like the overtly bluesy “Meet Me In The Morning,”  offers some respite from the intense swing of emotions. The vulnerable solemnity in “If You See Her, Say Hello,” for instance, is far removed from the irrepressible “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go.”

The re-appearance of “Up to Me” on this distilled version of More Blood More Tracks reaffirms it as one of the Nobel Laureate’s most overtly personal compositions. Nevertheless, the tune’s  liberating tone and self-referential imagery– ‘…the harmonica around my neck—I blew it for ya free!…’–can’t quite disguise its all-too-obvious melodic similarity to “Buckets of Rain,” a factor that no doubt accounted for its absence from the final choices for the watershed LP. Nevertheless, Dylan’s prevailing confidence and good cheer in this declaration of independence is altogether rare in his discography.

Bob has performed many rewrites of the poetry at the heart of his magnificent “Tangled Up in Blue” and The Bootleg Series Vol. 14 illustrates how that meticulous approach manifest itself early in the creative process. It’s also a measure of how deeply inspiring the artist found this material that he chose to revisit it so carefully, an assiduous approach belied by the general ease of his delivery. Dylan hasn’t often sounded so unaffected as on this take of “Shelter From the Storm”, so the pristine sonics (a given in the production of these packages) nurture that mix of defiance, vulnerability and isolation in his voice that echoes through both his acoustic guitar and Tony Brown’s bass.

As with previous installments of The Bootleg Series, a perceptive team of producers and contributors maximize the benefit of hindsight with More Blood More Tracks, the fruits of their labor as represented on this one CD alone clearly delineating why Blood On The Tracks deserves its stature as such landmark in  Bob Dylan’s remarkable canon.

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