Bob Dylan fans rejoice! If the upcoming PBS documentary No Direction Home
, directed by Martin Scorsese, is as good as the soundtrack then we are truly in for a treat. This heavily loaded two-disc set (16 tracks on Disc 1 and 12 tracks on Disc 2) is number seven in “The Bootleg Series” and it overflows with demos, fascinating alternate takes and stunning live performances. Perhaps most amazingly, everything here, with the exception of two tracks, is being officially released for the first time.
Disc one offers up more in the way of rarities. There’s a 1959 recording of “When I Got Trouble” and a home recording of “Rambler Gambler”. These may be a little scratchy, but they are still worth a listen. After all, it’s amazing that they exist in any form. Over all, the producers of this soundtrack, have done a solid job of crafting high quality sound from what must have been less than perfect source material.
The most stunning tracks on Disc 1 of No Direction Home are the live recordings. Of course, they aren’t just any live tracks. These are the most talked about so called “legendary ” performances and they have been restored to crystal clear sound. There’s a young Dylan introducing “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” at Carnegie Hall by saying that the song means “something’s gonna happen”. “Blowin in the Wind” has a long harmonica opening which finds the singer focusing on the melody and kicking in the lyrics at just the right time.
Alternate versions also get great treatment on this set as well. “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” has always been a stinging kiss-off song, but in this alternate take, Dylan adds just a scant trace of ironic sweetness. It’s safe to say that the hammer lands even harder than usual. A rousing version of “Mr Tambourine”, featuring Ramblin’ Jack Elliot has been culled from the 1964 Newport Folk Festival sessions.
Disc 2 introduces the more eclectic side of Bob Dylan. At this point in his career, he has turned into a man who is wary and largely turned off by the “voice of a generation” label thrust upon him by his fans and the media alike. In fact, this disc has the now notorious moment when Dylan and a large portion of his acoustic-loving fans broke from each other. Track 2 is the live version of “Maggie’s Farm” where the iconic folk singer plugged in and, in going electric, he made sure folk music would never be the same again. He also ensured his own survival as a musician by showing that he was able to grow with the changing times.
Alternate and live takes fill up the majority of this disc. While these aren’t terribly different from their original studio releases, Bob Dylan enthusiasts will enjoy the small things like the slight lyric changes in the alternate take of “Just Like Thom Thumb’s Blues” or the session recording of “Tombstone Blues” with its prominent guitar and drum tracks.
Another famous moment on Disc 2 is a live recording of “Like a Rolling Stone” that has come to be known as the “Judas” version. This track is one of the two that has been released before, but it’s so reminiscent of who the young Bob Dylan was that’s inclusion here is almost a must. On this track, a disgruntled folkie attempts to heckle the singer only to be dressed down by the performer. What follows is a very loud, extremely passionate take on his signature song. It could put a small country in its place, let alone one obnoxious fan.
No Direction Home, which also includes a great booklet full of facts and photos, is a great collection of material that spans the earlier portion of Bob Dylan’s career. From his days as an earnest folkie to a rockin’ rebel, it is easy to see why a collection like this still spawns so much interest. It also begs the question as to why it took so long to officially release this material. With 2005 looking to be the year of Bob Dylan, we will surely be able to look forward to many more Bootleg Collections.