Archive for Blood on the Tracks

Dylan’s “Blood On The Tracks” Finally Lives Up To Its Name

Posted in Music with tags , , on November 2, 2018 by johnbuckley100

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Gloss on the tracks may have been a better way of describing Dylan’s greatest collection of love songs, at least as they were first released into the world.  We didn’t know that before, but we do now that the underlying songs, what Dylan first intended to release as a follow up to Planet Waves, have been revealed.

I had known from Clinton Heylin’s excellent biography Behind the Shades that Dylan recorded most of these songs, in September 1974, in the familiar confines of the Columbia Records studios in New York, several with just his guitar and harmonica as accompaniment.  And I knew that somewhere along the way, he’d scrapped those versions, recorded in less than a week, only to re-record them with a band in Minneapolis. His brother, as I recall, had predicted the album would be a commercial flop, and after the success of Planet Waves and his ’74 tour with the Band, Dylan wanted his comeback, and his return to Columbia after his interlude with Geffen Records, to continue.

What I didn’t know until I read Jon Pareles’ surprisingly good piece this week in the Times was that when Blood On The Tracks was released in 1975, Dylan had the tracks slightly speeded up, which to me accounts for why, classic song that it may be, “Tangled Up In Blue” has never been completely satisfying.  It has always seemed just a little off.

On the one-album set, released today, of outtakes entitled More Blood, More Tracks, the version of “Tangled Up In Blue,” with just Dylan and his acoustic guitar is a revelation.  Hearing it in this version has a similar impact to hearing the versions of “Someday Baby” or “Can’t Wait” on The Bootleg Series, Vol. 8: Tell Tale Signs.  You can never again go back to listening to the “original,” never go back to the song that was released.  In almost every case, the versions Dylan, or his management and record company, chose not to release are more raw, more emotionally affecting, less commercial than what we first heard.

As with those songs, and so much of what comes out on his remarkable Bootleg Series, all of the songs on More Blood, More Tracks are the way we should have heard them.  The real Blood On the Tracks, finally available, consists of simple, blues-based acoustic folk songs, enraptured memories of the women in his life — Suze Rotolo, Sara Lownds, Ellen Bernstein — narrated by a series of characters invented for just this occasion.

Instead what we got in 1975, and what was still good enough that it has long been considered one of Dylan’s classic works, was a sped-up, fairly slick pop album, even if the instrumentation was dependent on its folk underpinnings.

But this is the real thing — “Meet Me in the Morning” containing all the pain of Dylan having to explain to his children why their mother wasn’t with them, “Simple Twist of Fate” cutting deep enough for real blood to drip from the turntable’s needle.

Dylan once had to chase away the likes of A.J. Weberman, who was intent on literally going through his garbage in order to find out more about the resonant cultural figure of his age.  We live now in an era in which, due to the miracles of technology, scientists and restorers can look under the paint to see Leonardo’s original brushstrokes.  Bob Dylan, Nobel laureate, has for more than 20 years freely flung open the vaults and shown us everything that was in there, sparing us from having to go through his garbage or operate an X-ray machine to find out what’s underneath the art that was released into the world.  Little by little, bit by bit, he’s giving us everything.

Today we learned how much was missing from an album already considered one of the high points of the ’70s.  Today we learned how great Blood on the Tracks really is.  This is a revelation and we are, all of us, so much better for it.

 

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