Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Bob Dylan 46: No Direction Home

Since his last new album, our cups had overflowed with archival titles. The so-called soundtrack to the excellent PBS/Martin Scorsese documentary No Direction Home offered two CDs worth of stuff from the vaults. (Like the film, the cutoff was July 1966; following the numbering scheme set up by the box set, technically this release should have been considered volumes seven and eight.)
It’s not strictly a soundtrack to the film, but it does try to follow a chronological thread and include pieces of historic value. Two early “pre-professional” recordings show the sound of the kid before he discovered Woody Guthrie, underscored by a live performance of “This Land Is Your Land” and his own “Song To Woody”, taken from the debut. A variety of live performances and demos follow, plus such key outtakes as “Sally Gal” from Freewheelin’ and the first recording of “Mr. Tambourine Man”, sung as an out-of-tune duet with Ramblin’ Jack Elliot from the wine-soaked Another Side sessions. What stands out are the live acoustic performances, which sit alongside the recorded catalog to demonstrate why he was such a Big Deal.
With a few exceptions, the selections on the second disc underscore that Bob was right to use the established takes on the original albums. Some of those nuggets include the alternate “Desolation Row” with electric guitar, another early take of “Visions Of Johanna”, a slow stomp through “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” and the blast of “Maggie’s Farm” from Newport that may or may not have pissed everybody off. The disc ends appropriately with two live performances with the Hawks—“Ballad Of A Thin Man” from Edinburgh, and the famous “Judas” performance of “Like A Rolling Stone”, which of course closed Live 1966.
No Direction Home offers some diversion here and there, but it wasn’t exactly the most revelatory of the Bootleg Series. But the home office wasn’t done yet, as they served up two additional titles the same week. Live At The Gaslight 1962 gave people a reason to find a nearby Starbucks, as the coffee chain had the exclusive rights to it for the first year. As a collection of coffeehouse recordings from the folkie days, it got more repeat plays, as did Live At Carnegie Hall 1963, available only as a promo freebie and soon ubiquitous on eBay. Both offer lovely versions of both familiar songs and folk standards, in tighter a snapshot.

Bob Dylan The Bootleg Series Vol. 7—No Direction Home: The Soundtrack (2005)—
Bob Dylan Live At The Gaslight 1962 (2005)—4


  1. I've only just found your site, and am now devouring the archives with relish. Thanks for writing these articles!

    Just one suggestion: for those of us not already familiar with the histories of all these artists, it would be really helpful if you'd include each album's release year, ideally in the article title.

  2. Thanks Mike -- hope you continue to like what you see!

    You make an excellent point about including the year. I do include the release year of each title at the end of the entry, plus each is tagged with same (and in some cases, the year of the recording if it's an archival title). And I generally review artists chronologically, to give some kind of context.

    Mostly I don't want to go back and retag all those entries! But it's something to consider.