47 years after they were recorded, the most complete set of Bob Dylan and The Band’s Basement Tapes to date have just been released, and I’m immersed in them. By the end of the year an estimated eleventy billion words will have been written on the subject, by people who’ve done a lot more research than me; here are my first impressions, anyway.
- They sound really good in stereo compared to the last official release, particularly with the extra clarity in the backing vocals (and it’s amazing to hear the Band harmonising so easily and songs that are being learnt – or written – on the spot).
- Dylan’s singing sounds incredibly confident (for a man who, so the legend goes, needed a break and wasn’t sure what he was doing any more).
- I’m not sure the fragments of tracks add too much; similarly the multiple takes. 139 tracks is a lot; as interesting as the first takes and throwaways are, I’m not sure how many times I’ll want to hear them.
- The pastiche songs are better than I expected, except for the ‘funny’ backing vocals. Does musical comedy every age well?
- There’s something magical about hearing the band feel their way into a song, as on The Auld Triangle where at the start it sounds like only Dylan knows what they’re playing, and by the end they’re playing it with style and confidence. That, along with the sound of a band playing all together in one room, is – I think – the magic of these recordings.
I’ll probably have completely changed my mind by track 139/139, though.