Bob Dylan’s Disc 18 of Vol. 12 of the Collector’s Edition of the Bootleg Series, The Cutting Edge, Reviewed
The final disc of this 18-disc ‘Collector’s Edition’ of Bob Dylan’s The Cutting Edge, the twelfth volume of the Bootleg Series, and the one that features every piece of music Bob recorded in 1965 and 1966, includes the loose ends that were recorded in hotel rooms or heard in films such as D.A. Pennebaker’sDon’t Look Back and the unreleased Eat the Document. It does not include the live concert material from either, but the informal songs that appear — and then some.
According to Dylan fanatics far more thorough than myself, these ‘Hotel Tapes’ are not complete and that a 26-CD bootleg from Vigatone called Jewels and Binoculars 1966 includes the remaining tapes. What those contain, I have no idea. It was pointed out, however, that possibly five of the eight 1965 London Savoy Hotel Recordings have never been released on bootleg or elsewhere.
Those eight would be the first eight on the disc. Clearly,”Lost Highway” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”—both officially recorded by Hank Williams—can be heard (and seen) on Don’t Look Back. At 2:15, “Lost Highway” is nearly a complete song, while 51 seconds of “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” is but a tease. Both feature Joan Baez on harmony. Of the remaining six, “More and More” is a classic Webb Pierce tune. “Weary Blues from Waitin’” is a minute and a half of another fine Hank Williams song. “Young But Daily Growing” and “Wild Mountain Thyme” are gorgeous pieces shared between Dylan and Baez, a casual celebration of the folk world that Bob was leaving behind, and songs that were later heard on the Bootleg Series’ Vol. 11 of the Basement Tapes and the Isle of Wight Concert that comes as part of the Super Deluxe Version of the Self-Portrait volume of the series.
From here we jump to 1966. Chronologically, we jump ahead for six cuts on May 13. Personally speaking, the chance to hear extended moments of “I Can’t Leave Her Behind” (here in 2:42 and 4:57 increments) that ended Eat the Document with Bob and Robbie Robertson playing together—in what is said to be the North British Station Hotel in Glasgow, Scotland—are worth the price of admission. The tune isn’t completely worked out, but the beauty of the melody is first-rate. (If this is a cover, I’d love to know more.) Assuming it’s an original, it’s one of Bob’s gentlest songs—and pure tragedy that it was never pursued to perfection in any studio. As it stands, we hear snatches, with Bob pausing in spots to explain the song to Robertson (“I’m playing a ‘C’ chord there”).
“On A Rainy Afternoon” and “What Kind of Friend Is This” appeared in Eat the Document and, while interesting, aren’t near the beauty of “Behind.” Few things are. However, I’m pleased the producers saw fit to include these pieces for historical importance. “Rainy Afternoon” bounces with a pleasant flow that suggests it could’ve been a ‘B’ section to “Behind” or its own tune. Whichever, it makes one wish there had never been a ‘motorcycle accident’ to derail Dylan’s trajectory. “Friend” is a jaunty exercise of little consequence. Two takes of “If I Was A King” superficially resemble Elton John’s “Your Song” in the melody, while suggesting Dylan had some fine material in the waiting.
From here, the disc retreats to March 12, 1966 to a Denver, Colorado hotel room for the final seven tracks. “Positively Van Gogh” is cut into three tracks, but the stops and starts make for frustrating listening and the generally low audio quality interferes with whatever ‘history’ is being made here. The two standouts are a swaying “If You Want My Love,” and a solo acoustic “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.” Dylan appears to be showing the song to someone (Robertson?) and interrupts the flow to explain a few things and because he gets lost in the words several times. At thirteen minutes, it still manages to lull you with its rhythm, even though the full band takes found on disc 14 are what you’ll listen to in the future.
Hardcore Dylan fanatics know what isn’t here. It seems doubtful that anything left off is of crucial importance. These are lo-fi hotel room tapes that appeal to completists. Though it can be argued that this entire 18-CD set is aimed at exactly those people, I think the overall appeal is wider. The two-disc and six-disc versions only shake the listener awake. It’s impossible to guess what an individual would select if given the chance to slim down this 18-disc monster. I could likely get it down to half the size and be happy, but it would be an arbitrary mess—the same-but-different result any individual would create. It’s why it’s best to release everything and let every fan decide for themselves whether or not they want to hear that many takes of “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat.”
A major artist like Bob Dylan working at the height of his powers deserves this approach and any serious musician (and/or listener) should undertake hearing its every move — to see how a master worked. The surprise here is how even semi-serious fans should get around to hearing this. There are revelations everywhere. As for Disc 18, it’s obviously a departure from the studio. It shows Dylan in the everyday, as a musician who straps on his guitar in hotel rooms to see where he’s at — and to show others where he might be going. That fate altered these plans makes these tapes all the more poignant regarding what could’ve been. Besides, singing along to “Lost Highway” is a ton of fun.
Disc 18 Grade: A-