Release Date: Nov 10, 2014
Record label: Island
Genre(s): Country, Folk, Americana, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Contemporary Singer/Songwriter, Alternative Pop/Rock, Roots Rock
Given that Bob Dylan and the Band recorded more than 100 tracks when they were holed up in rural Woodstock in 1967 (many of which have only just been released as an expanded Basement Tapes package) it’s extraordinary that Dylan had written lyrics to a further 40 songs, brought to life here by T Bone Burnett. The producer has assembled a cast of worthies – Elvis Costello, Marcus Mumford, Jim James (My Morning Jacket), Rhiannon Giddens (Carolina Chocolate Drops) and Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes) – to put music to Dylan’s unpublished lyrics. But it doesn’t sound like anyone’s side project.
Every culture and generation creates its own mythology, and for baby boomers or fans of classic rock music, Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes sessions from the summer and fall of 1967 have assumed an importance that rivals the mystique of the Ark of the Covenant or the unearthing of The Dead Sea Scrolls. As overstated as that may sound, Dylan’s Basement Tapes have already been the subject of two books and more articles than anyone would want to count, and prior to the release this month of The Basement Tapes Complete, the number of fan attempts to cull all of the sessions together in bootleg form has been equally impressive and intense. The only other unreleased music that has received close to the same amount of intense scrutiny and unofficial pressings as The Basement Tapes is The Beach Boys’ Smile and Jimi Hendrix’s unreleased albums, all of which have seen the light of day in recent years.
The period between 1966 and 1968 saw Bob Dylan write and record some of the best material of his career. Those freewheelin' sessions where he laid down tracks with his pals in The Band became the subject of fans and bootleggers alike who couldn't get enough of these songs that deviated so far from what they were used to hearing. Though a deluxe edition of the sessions known as The Basement Tapes was released, a separate batch of Dylan lyrics were discovered by the bard's publisher and given to producer T.
Bob Dylan and the Band’s Basement Tapes comes with a heavy rock history. Numerous books have been written on the subject, taking the music into the realms of archaeology, with Greil Marcus’ Invisible Republic/The Old, Weird America and Sid Griffin’s Million Dollar Bash as required reading on the syllabus. A brief summary of the facts, or something like the facts: Dylan fell off a motorbike in ‘66 and for a year or so was limited to pottering around his house in Woodstock.
Lost On The River: The New Basement TapesVarious Artists(Electromagnetic Recordings/Harvest Records)Rating: 4 out of 5 stars On Nov. 4, Bob Dylan released The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Volume 11, a six-disc, 138-track box set that marks the first time every recording from his 1967 Basement Tapes sessions will be compiled in one volume. Following a near fatal motorcycle accident, the tome was produced over a period of several months where Dylan and the Band (then known as the Hawks) wrote and recorded effusively in the relative isolation of several homes in the Woodstock, New York vicinity.
Sonic Highways’ surefire reign as the most ambitious and intriguing major record of the year arguably ended before it even began. So, what did it take to dethrone Dave Grohl and his Foo Fighters’ innovative, eight-city recording and documentary project? Nothing short of Bob Dylan, the “poet laureate of rock and roll,” bequeathing recently discovered lyrics from The Basement Tapes era, the most mythologized recording sessions in rock history, to legendary producer T Bone Burnett and an all-star band comprised of Elvis Costello, Jim James (My Morning Jacket), Marcus Mumford (Mumford & Sons), Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes), and Rhiannon Giddens (Carolina Chocolate Drops). Entire empires have been toppled by far less momentous developments than all these distinct moons aligning.
When a clutch of unfinished lyrics written during Bob Dylan's 1967 sojourn at Big Pink in Woodstock, New York was discovered in 2013, there were really only two choices left for his publisher: either they could be collected as text or set to music. Once the decision to turn these words into songs was made, there was really only one logical choice to direct the project: T-Bone Burnett, the master of impressionistic Americana. He had played with Dylan during the Rolling Thunder Revue of 1975 and 1976 -- a tour that happened to occur in the wake of the first official release of The Basement Tapes -- but more importantly, his 2002 work on the Grammy-winning O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack established him as deft modernizer of classic American folk and country, skills that were needed for an album that wound up called Lost on the River.
It's a little wearying that Bob Dylan's burst of creativity in the spring and summer of 1967 is still getting tapped; it would be nice if, for instance, a single artist had had a moment within the past couple of decades that was both as musically fertile and as exhaustively catalogued, mythologized and picked over. But there The Basement Tapes are—an ever-brighter star in the Boomer firmament—and here we are, as their glow increases from a distance of 47 years. The six-disc Basement Tapes Complete set that Dylan released last week isn't even the whole story.
Doubtless the official release of Dylan’s legendary Basement Tapes will take the wind out of these sails. Story goes that Dylan gave T Bone Burnett a collection of over 100 lyrics he penned – and subsequently shelved – in 1967, and Burnett assembled a cadre of Americana aficionados to record them. It’s a worthy enterprise, but the “New” BTs stamp, and hyperbolic “A music event 47 years in the making” tagline (yeah, 46 of which were spent in a box) inevitably invites comparison with the countless songs Dylan did record with The Band in 1967… And, inevitably, they can’t compare.
It may seem like a surprising combination at first — the pairing of newly found Dylan lyrics, originally written while recording the much revered Basement Tapes, with a group of performers representing both the old guard and the new. Indeed, the prospect of putting new music to such esteemed prose might seem daunting to say the least, killing the initiative before it’s even underway. So credit this would be supergroup (Elvis Costello, Jim James, Marcus Mumford, Dawes’ Taylor Goldsmith and Rhiannon Giddens of Carolina Chocolate Drops) for their willingness to put themselves under such scrutiny.
The producer T Bone Burnett was offered, out of the blue, a batch of lyrics that Bob Dylan wrote in 1967, when Mr. Dylan and the Band were in upstate New York recording what would become known as “The Basement Tapes.” They were tall tales, surreal travelogues, love songs, existential riddles ….
After a tension-filled tour and a life-threatening motorcycle accident, Bob Dylan famously holed up in his Big Pink home near Woodstock, New York in 1967. There, with his backing group The Band—then known as The Hawks—he recorded over 100 songs, officially releasing the final, 24-song product in 1975. The album, The Basement Tapes, would go on to be considered one of Dylan’s best works, a wholly compelling if messy document of rustic American music.