Album: Bob Dylan

Bootleg Series Vol 7: No Direction Home, COLUMBIA
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The Independent Culture

Ostensibly the soundtrack to the Scorsese documentary, this two-CD anthology goes further than its brief by including alternative takes from the "electric trilogy" of albums with which Dylan revolutionised pop, building up to the "Judas!" 1966 live version of "Like a Rolling Stone", which ended that part of his career. The result is a 28-track retrospective which offers possibly the best survey yet compiled of Dylan's development as writer and performer, and his impact as a kind of socio-political barometer of his era.

It opens with a high-school home recording of "When I Got Troubles" from 1959 and "Rambler, Gambler" from his student days in Minneapolis. They're fascinating cameos of a performer in transition, sung in a mild, crooning voice. It would be a year or two before he developed his characteristic snarl with the influence of Woody Guthrie providing a bridge via "This Land Is Your Land".

His progress was phenomenal: a few months after going to New York, Dylan had become an accomplished guitarist with original material such as the "Dink's Song" and "I Was Young When I Left Home". He had located an early forte for songs about hardship and drifting. By 1963 concerts at New York City Hall and Carnegie Hall, he was king of the protest singers. The first disc closes with him in his pomp at the 1964 Newport Festival, delivering "Chimes of Freedom" to an ecstatic crowd who had no idea it signalled a sea-change in his ambitions. The extent of those ambitions is displayed on the second disc, which tracks the course of Dylan's transformation through amplification, initially just as a few electric guitar notes on "She Belongs to Me", before the frenzied cauldron of "Maggie's Farm" from the 1965 Newport Festival.

The rest of the album is taken up with prime outtakes such as the "Phantom Engineer", uptempo versions of "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry"; a "Desolation Row" lacking the recurrent flamenco guitar motif; different takes of "Visions of Johanna" and "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again"; and a live "Ballad of a Thin Man", with Bob emoting like a preacher. It all adds up to a compelling portrait of an artist working at such a pitch of fiery creativity he broke the very mould of his medium.

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