Friday, March 1, 2013
Bob Dylan-"Mixed Up Confusion"- The 50th Anniversary Collection Limited
Today in the "rock room" I am partaking in a strange, but definitive Bob Dylan release referred to as "The 50th Anniversary Collection", also known as "The Copyright Extension Collection Vol 1". This 86 track set of Dylan songs from the early stages of his career is a European only release and only around 100 copies were pressed. Strange? Yes. The reason behind this sets public release is to stop the escape of these tunes into the public domain. The songs on this collection hail from 1962-63 and due to European copyright loopholes, the set was sent to a few random European record stores at the end of 2012 to prevent the songs from entering the public domain half a century after their creation. European lawmakers have a "use it or lose it" provision regarding their copyrights, and all of the songs on this set were due to be unprotected by 2014. By releasing the songs, ownership remains with Dylan, and the speculation is that they are being readied for a future release, thus the "Copyright Collection". It remains to be seen if any other artists with threatened copyrights follow suit. Copies of the set in its plain brown "bootleg" type packaging have been fetching over $1000.00 on internet auction sites. How do I have the set? That's a secret, but you can hear all about it here in my blog! That's why I'm here!
The Dylan set contains like I previously stated 86 tracks, so a song by song analysis is not reasonable for this space, but I will give a detailed overview of the assortment of songs contained. Many of the songs are "Freewheeling Bob Dylan" outtakes, but also included are crisp tracks from live performances at various musical venues such as the Gaslight, Finjan Club, and Carnegie Hall. Disc one of the anthology begins with tracks from April of 1962 and moves into songs recorded in July of 1962. There are multiple versions of many of the songs, including numerous "take ones". The sound quality is legendary with many of the outtakes sounding better than the official releases.
Highlights of disc one are a backcountry version of "(I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle Blow" containing some honky-tonk Dylan vocalizations, and swelling railroad harp blasts, as well as a tumbling circular version of "Rocks and Gravel" that elicits a shadowy country road, and a longing, slightly darkened heart. Listening to this collection has a semblance of similarity to digging into a Son House, Robert Johnson, or Charley Patton stack of 78 records, or even a Alan Lomax collection of traditional tunes. Dylan's songs have a sepia toned historic importance to them. Even though Dylan is still recording and performing to this day, the breezes of time have made these songs part of the American patchwork, and an important documentation of folk, blues, and the formative stages of self penned rock and roll. Take 3 of "Baby Please Don't Go" is another dusty book pulled off of the shelf, spotlighting Dylan's quaint blues picking, and moaning harp blasts. The segment featuring Robert Johnson's "Milk Cow Blues" with Dylan on piano is soul stirring, Dylan channels the blues greats with his field hollers, and falsetto sailing vocals. I am not overstating it when I say that this collection is one of the greatest things I have ever experienced! Following the piano "Milk Cow Blues" is a acoustic guitar version that is just as moving. Other tracks on disc one worth mentioning is the take one of "Blowing In The Wind", and the horny, roll in the hay, "Baby I'm In the Mood For You".
The second disc takes off with a series of outtakes from the October 1962 LP sessions. The takes of "Corinna, Corinna" are glistening, fragile examples of Dylan's play with phrasing and expressiveness while at work. You can't help but smile at the three takes of Dylan's arrangement of"That's All Right Mama" that sizzle like sugar to a flame. Foreshadowing the kinetic, electric days on the horizon, these takes are antique filaments, glowing, ready to erupt into multidimensional revelatory rock and roll. After take one Dylan can be heard, "do it again fast while we're still here", priceless gold. The sessions move into November and the seven takes of "Mixed Up Confusion" share a unique insight into the development of the song,(which never saw release in this guise) as well as Dylan's adept maneuvering in the studio. Again, Dylan's forward thinking and rock and roll roots are on full display by take ten, with Dylan and his band speeding down the line slightly out of control. Additional highlights of disc two are alternate versions of "The Ballad of Hollis Brown", "I Shall Be Free" and the ghostly finger picked unreleased Dylan tune "When Death Comes Creepin (Whatcha Gonna Do?)". The disc closes with the aptly titled and hum-dinging "Hero Blues", which would finally emerge from obscurity when Dylan broke it out with a super powered version by "The Band" on their 1974 tour.
Disc three opens with what is familiar to Dylan collectors as the 'Mackenzie Home Tapes", with six songs being featured. The final two discs of this set collect live performances, most recognizable to Dylan fans, but in pristine sound quality, and revealing different faces than the normal "bootleg" releases. This "Mackenzie Tape" is dated from Fall 1962. Five songs then follow from Gerde's Folk City dating from April 16th 1962. Slightly hissy, but sounding studio quality, these performances are amazing. The give and take with the crowd is evident, with discussion and chuckles audible on the recording during a "straight up" "Talkin New York. Coffee rings are visible on the tables, smoke drapes itself over the hipsters as traffic noise filters in a swinging door to the rain soaked street, this segment of prime Dylan puts you there, gives you the "Deep Ellum Blues". Disc three closes with the complete Finjan Club performance from July 2nd 1962, which is in my opinion the definitive early Dylan performance as far as song choice, quality, and availability. The version of "Stealin" is leg slappin, stuttering, performance, with assured and confident playing. "Hiram Hubbard" is a rarely played social commentary song, that gets a sophisticated and deep reading here. My personal favorite highlights are a gentle puppy like reading of "He Was a Friend of Mine", that travels along a percolating bass note and and ringing melody line. Dylan sounds wise beyond his years, and everything he says, I am convinced is true. "Let Me Die In My Footsteps", "Two Trains Runnin", and "Ramblin On My Mind" all receive authoritative readings saturated with emotion and Dylan's investment to become the performer he was destined to become. Dylan's early of mastery of blues at such a young age is staggering to me. Two fun and chuckle filled attempts of "Muleskinner Blues" close out the performance and the disc.
Disc four begins withe the complete Carnegie Hall Hootenanny audience recording from September 22, 1962, which to these ears sounds much better then what I have previously heard. Dylan opens with a well played "Sally Girl" stretched out instrumentally and with some huff and puff harmonica. Dylan tunes down for the "Highway 51" that follows and gives himself a chance to dip his ladle into the cool well of the blues, "Dylan renames the song "Highway 75" in his introduction. The performance then turns a bit more serious topically as he concludes his set with "Talkin John Birch Paranoid Blues", "Ballad of Hollis Brown" "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall". The wealth and diversity of Dylan's catalog at such an early time and performed such a well known venue is an honor to witness aurally through these tapes. Wow. The collection concludes with absolutely immaculate recordings of Dylan at the Gaslight on October 15, 1962. On the precipice of his world domination, these quiet and intimate recordings again feature Dylan ablaze, and offer the proof to why he is the songwriter. As Dylan fans know, the reading of "No More Auction Block" from this performance is tear inducing, the vocals so emphatic, the recording so affectionate, and the soul of Dylan so visible, it feels like a glimpse of something clandestine, that should only be glimpsed by the most private eyes. "Motherless Children" continues in the same vein, Dylan is the character's in these songs, he is the narrator and wise sage to advise us even fifty years down the road. Music this unadulterated has no style, it requires none. It's emotional content and portrayal of basic human emotions is what makes it valuable, whether it be Dylan penned songs, or his arrangement of traditional tunes, the tapping of the human condition is what keeps these songs relevant.
I could compose a book about these aforementioned performances, I could ruminate for hours, and if you've made it this far in my blog, thank you for sticking with me. "Black Cross" is an arrangement of a poem by Joseph Newman, set to music by Dylan. A tale of religious persecution, prejudice, and hate, tellingly told like a child's night time story, accompanied by Dylan's patient acoustic strums. Again, a lesson that will never go out of style, as timeless as the songs Dylan was composing, he knew what was important, and the core value of the human condition. "The Ballad of Hollis Brown" the comes next is the definitive version, soaked in venom, sung like a desperate narrator screaming into the silent night. The collection ends with a version of "Aint No More Cane", familiar to Band fans and Basement Tapes aficionados through the version recorded up in Woodstock in 1967. This version is somehow a fitting conclusion to this set, a look toward the future, but still deeply rooted into the past.
The 50th Anniversary Collection is a strange beast. The contents are amazing and in stellar sound quality . The reasoning for the release different than any other in music history, to protect the songs from becoming common property, yet did that reasoning fail? The songs are already a part of the consciousness of the world, but Dylan has also earned the right to protect them. I'm sure there will be an "official" release of these songs in the United States in the future, that's why they were protected in the first place. But now that they have been "released", even in a limited fashion, things have a way of getting around. Regardless, this is a timeless collection of music that we can learn from, enjoy, become educated through, and just jam. It brings to the surface things that are obvious but somehow obscured by time. It also reminds the listener about how vital Dylan is to the world of music. He truly is an American treasure.
Talkin New York -Gerde's Folk City
Rocks and Gravel