Bob Dylan is a gift that keeps on giving, even fifty years after the fact.
The twelfth and latest in Dylan’s Bootleg Series is called The Cutting Edge 1965-1966. It covers the period of time where Dylan was at an artistic peak. Being Dylan, this is the Mt. Everest of artistic peaks. The three albums released during this time are rock and roll gold, some of the most influential recordings ever made. Bringing it All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blond on Blond are arguably the greatest three consecutive albums to ever be released by a single artist. The three albums are consistently ranked very high in various publication’s “Greatest Ever” Lists.
The Bootleg Series release arrives in three formats. The all encompassing, every-note-played [Collector’s Edition] version is 18 discs. The Deluxe version is six discs and the standard [Best Of] is two discs. Dylanologists and completists will fork out the $600 plus for the 18 disc set. $17 will get you the two-disc set. The six disc set would run you over $100.
Any of these would be an enriching experience for whatever level of Dylan aficionado that you are. I wrote this review based on the six-disc set.
The music contained within is guaranteed to smoke your eyelids, should you get stuck inside the Memphis Blues Again. It’s simply a delight to hear these alternate versions of songs that have been stamped into the consciousness of American Pop Culture.
There are two recommended methods of enjoying the six discs. I put the playlist of a hundred plus tracks on shuffle mode and let the music blow my mind. This is a method that can be applied to some of the other Dylan bootleg sets as well.
Another method is to studiously open the book that came with the release and follow along with the session notes and take in the instrumental talent. Al Kooper, Mike Bloomfield, The Band, and others are featured throughout. There are also Dylan solo performances. The recording sessions are legendary. Listeners gain a further understanding of not only what went through mind of the genius producing his finest works, but a fine expression of styles and musical dichotomy that the tracks were built from…which honestly is not apparent in the albums released fifty years ago.
A whole disc is devoted to “Like a Rolling Stone.” It’s a bit of overkill, but still a fascinating listen. The five versions of “Visions of Johanna” are diverse, but they don’t sound raw. The two versions of “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” present a slow blues number (Take 3) and a quicker, more rocked out version (Take 8) which are both fresh and compare well with the finished version that appeared on the Blond on Blond album. “Absolutely Sweet Marie” surpasses the album version. There are many examples of this throughout. “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” and “Ballad of a Thin Man” come directly to mind.
To realize that this musical gift was created in a thirteen month span from January of 1965 to mid-February of the next year is an amazing thing. With the double album Blond on Blond and probably another complete album from the unreleased titles, we have five records of Dylan from this period. Even the Beatles can’t match the quantity and quality production.
If you like classic rock, you can’t get more classic than the rock contained on the two disc set. If you love Dylan, spring for the deluxe set of six is a must have. If you’re the type that can afford the eighteen disc collector’s set, please invite me over for a listening party.