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No Direction Home: The Soundtrack (The Bootleg Series Vol. 7)
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61 of 64 people found the following review helpful
Oh man! This CD is just terrific!! I guess I need to write more though to turn out a decent review. Where to begin. "No Direction Home: The Soundtrack" is the 7th volume in Bob Dylan's archival Bootleg Series and is also the soundtrack for Martin Scorsese's excellent PBS documentary of the same title. The double CD is chronologically sequenced and features 28 recordings, 26 of them previously unreleased and rare, (most from between 1961 and 1966), including "When I Got Troubles," which is supposedly the first song Dylan ever taped. Many of the tracks are alternate takes of his classic songs, along with some surprise live versions, like "Chimes of Freedom" and "When The Ship Comes In." What a phenomenal body of work created in just six years! This is a superb retrospective of that time.

Disc 1 covers Dylan's early period, 1959 to 1965, from his last year as a Minnesota high school student through his years as the brilliant young troubadour, master folk singer, people's poet and the voice of protest in America. In 1960, Dylan dropped out of college and moved to New York, where legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie was hospitalized with a rare disease of the nervous system. Dylan visited with his idol regularly in the hospital and performed his signature tune, "This Land Is Your Land," soon after arriving in Manhattan. The CD features the Guthrie anthem, recorded live as well as "Song To Woody." Other outstanding cuts on the first CD include: "Sally Gal," adapted from "Sally Don't You Grieve" by Woody Guthrie, ("Freewheelin' Bob Dylan"), "Masters of War" and "Blowin' in the Wind" - Dylan's own protest songs, and alternate takes of "Don't Think Twice" and "It's All Over Now Baby Blue." I haven't heard "Dink's Song" in years and that's here too as is an early version of the old folk favorite "Rambler, Gambler." A great CD!!

Disc Two, however, is even more amazing - it ROCKS!! Here is Dylan's electric, raucous version of "Maggie's Farm," the one that tore-up the 1965 Newport Folk Festival....with hostility. He came onstage in a funky orange shirt and black leather, carrying an electric guitar, and proceeded to play music that was not folk. He performed "Like a Rolling Stone," this CD's final cut, (the Manchester 1966 version), right after "Farm," and when he began "It Takes a Train to Cry," the purists threw him out of the genre. Exit acoustic, enter electric! That's when Bob Dylan became an ex-folk singer and a modern day cultural icon, an artist who greatly influenced the music of his own and later generations...and he continues to do so. "Visions of Johanna" (with full band) is also featured here, as is the emotional "Ballad of the Thin Man," the almost psychedelic "Tombstone Blues," and alternate studio takes of "Leopard-Skin Pill-box Hat," and "Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again."

You don't have to be a hardcore Dylan fan to appreciate this album. It is exceptional. Every track is special. And the CDs come with a 58-page liner booklet that includes rarely and formerly unpublished photos, essays and track-by-track analysis. A must have CD(s)!

JANA
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38 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on August 30, 2005
This two-disc set is everything you hope you'll hear when you attend a Dylan concert. There are a few quality rarities from the Dylan songbook, the requisite traditional songs, and a lot of songs that are ordinarily recognizable to almost anyone but given a new spin. Anyone who has been to a Dylan show knows the experience of spending two or three verses trying to figure out which classic song Bob has completely re-imagined. There's nothing quite so radical here, but it's fascinating to hear all of Dylan's different takes on songs that fans know by heart. The sprawling "Desolation Row" is almost country-fied!

Because it sticks to a short time frame, 1959-1966, the tracklist of 30 songs also has time to portray Dylan's growth, from the home recordings that open the first CD to the Blonde on Blonde and Highway 61 alternate takes that fill much of disc two. This is probably the most accessible of the Bootleg Series sets for casual fans, but true-blue, have-every-album fans will delight in the varied instrumentation and altered phrasing that pops up in song after song. A welcome addition to the Dylan discography!
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52 of 61 people found the following review helpful
This latest entry in Dylan's "The Bootleg Series" is the most satisfying since "Live 1966" (Volume Four). It spans the first known recording made by Dylan ("When I Got Troubles") in 1959 to the infamous "Judas" performance of "Like a Rolling Stone" in 1966.

"No Direction Home," interestingly enough, ends up being Dylan's answer to "The Beatles Anthology"--most of what we get here comes in the form of alternate takes of great album cuts. Disc One features the most new (officially released) titles, including the aforementioned "When I Got Troubles" and 1960's "Rambler, Gambler." Neither song is particularly good, but similar in quality to other first attempts at recording like The Beatles/The Quarrymen's "In Spite of All the Danger" or Elvis Presley's "My Happiness." Dylan's early nod to Woody Guthrie, here, a cover of "This Land is Your Land," shows him hitting his stride. Two early highlights from this disc are "Dink's Song" and "I Was Young When I Left Home," both which show how rhythmically dynamic a guitar player Dylan could be (in addition to being "a poet," he was/is actually a highly underrated guitarist). Arguably the best cut on Disc One is a live performance of "Blowin' in the Wind" that is powerfully sung by the young Dylan. Giving it a run for its money is "Chimes of Freedom," an often overlooked cut from "Another Side of Bob Dylan," which features some of Dylan's most affected vocals. The demo for "Mr. Tambourine Man," with Ramblin' Jack Elliott joining Dylan on vocals, is slightly disappointing, but still fascinating.

Disc Two is also a little underwhelming. It is easy to see why these takes did not end up on the albums they were intended for. The big disappointments here include a dull version of "Desolation Row" and a more sedate version of "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues." "Blonde on Blonde" tracks "Leopard-skin Pill-box Hat," "Visions of Johanna" and "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again" are here presented in alternate arrangements with slight lyrical variations. These takes are quite interesting, but do not improve upon the versions on the album. The two best cuts on the second disc include a fiery performance from the "Dylan goes Electric" show at Newport in 1965 ("Maggie's Farm") and a hot live version of "Ballad of a Thin Man" which shows just how possessed Dylan and the Band were during their 1966 tours. This set is awfully fascinating for Dylan afficionados, but there's somethin' happening here and most newcomers won't know what it is ...
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on September 2, 2005
The latest entry in the consistently excellent "Bootleg Series," "No Direction Home: The Soundtrack," is a seemingly schizophrenic collection, split between acoustic rarities from Dylan's first recordings, roaring live cuts and studio outtakes culled from Dylan's infamous transition to rock 'n' roll. But taken together, the two-disc set -- which accompanies a new Martin Scorsese documentary for PBS -- beautifully captures Dylan's momentous early career. The 28 tracks make for a fascinating listen, but, more importantly, it is a constant pleasure to discover new richness and complexity in the alternate performances.

The set starts off with "When I Got Troubles," purportedly Dylan's first recording. The song is simple and the sound quality is poor, yet you can hear that even way back in 1959, he was channeling the folk genius of Hank Williams, Leadbelly and his foremost idol, Woody Guthrie. And in his soft moaning and guitar strumming, you can hear the bluesiness that would influence his treasonous switch from acoustic to electric guitar.

Among the unreleased early material, Dylan's interpretation of the traditional up-tempo "Dink's Song" stands out. Folk can sound awfully soporific, but here the requisite repetitiveness is tempered by his heartfelt singing and energetic, almost percussive guitar playing. His infatuation with Guthrie has a strong presence. Besides the charming but relatively forgettable "Song To Woody," Dylan turns Guthrie's socialist anthem "This Land Is Your Land" into a melancholic and cynical ballad. When he sings the famous refrain, "This land was made for you and me," he sounds like an abandoned lover.

Here, Dylan slows down "Blowin' in the Wind" to a crawl, opening with a 50-second harmonica solo that takes away some of the song's initial blow. His druggy murmuring again makes him sound heartbroken on what was originally a brazen political protest song. It can be disappointing to hear strange versions of familiar songs, but it's hard not to be swept away by the gorgeous demo for "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright." His quiet finger-picking sounds better than the famously sloppy recorded version; it is a reminder that Dylan was an ingenious musician as well as songwriter and lyricist. The same can be said for the passionate, pained performances of "Masters of War" and "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall." Dylan plays a shorter version of the first, making it more concise and effective; he plays a longer version of the second, allowing it to grow into a prophetic meditation.

The second disc, even better than the first, captures Dylan at his songwriting peak. Dylan is known and beloved for perpetually reinterpreting his songs. Even seven entries into "The Bootleg Series," it's difficult not to enjoy the experimentation. Perhaps the greatest asset of "No Direction Home" is the instrumental richness. On nearly each track, Dylan and his always wonderful backup musicians -- the Butterfield Blues Band and an early incarnation of The Band -- bring a raw and unpolished intensity that improves even classic songs.

The disc boasts Dylan's first ever electric performance, recorded at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival (where Dylan's mentor Pete Seeger reportedly threatened to cut the amps' wires.) The exuberant "Maggie's Farm," boasting a rare and raring guitar solo, sounds better than it does on the record. It's easy to see why; Dylan revels in aiming the song's anger at an audience who had expected a folk singer with a harmonica.

On the last track of the album, one of just two on the discs that was already released, fans in Manchester, England jeer wildly at their hero's electric betrayal. Responding to the now infamous "Judas!" call from the audience, Dylan tells his band to "Play f---ing loud." Listening to their performance on "Like A Rolling Stone," it's clear they got the message. The track -- also documented on the fourth volume of "The Bootleg Series" -- has more vitriol than death metal.

An alternate, longer version of "Desolation Row," features a heavy electric guitar that sounds lifted from the Velvet Underground. (Though the link, of course, was more likely the other way around.) On the opening track of disc two, "She Belongs to Me," drums are replaced by an additional electric guitar that dances gracefully around the main melody of the song. It is one of the essentials of the set, as is a heavy, intoxicated version of "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat" and a cut of "Ballad of a Thin Man" which resolutely builds to a crashing climax.

Many of the other studio outtakes are too similar to the released versions to be more than slightly interesting to a casual fan already well acquainted with the music. It's clear that, for the most part, the best versions did often make it to the original albums. Then again, "No Direction Home" would serve as a better introduction to Bob Dylan than most of his greatest hits collections. The music is potent and electrifying throughout.

(Originally published in the Yale Daily News, September 2, 2005.)
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on September 19, 2005
Not really a soundtrack as the booklet notes confess and probably not beginner's stuff. Starts with the home tapes a la Beatles Anthology, then some nice solo live stuff, most of which would have been brand new to the live audience because the records weren't out yet (Hard Rain is the exception). Then lots of early takes, mostly interesting to hear but proof that artist and producer knew what they were doing. I didn't hear one that was better than the released version. The set ends with a couple of those druggy 1966 performances that the critics fawn over. The "Maggie's Farm" from the infamous Newport 1965 set sounds laughably innocent for all the uproar it caused. Ah, politics of ancient history! There's also a booklet with three essays, one to explain the selection, another by former Stones guru Andrew Loog Oldham that is a particularly spacey narrative of the usual sixties mythology, and finally a funny, rather earthy account of the recording sessions by Dylan's partner Al Kooper. Probably the Scorsese DVD will be more interesting, and there's a difficult to obtain disk with seven Carnegie Hall 1963 songs that's really fine. If only Sony would release the Town Hall 1963 and Carnegie Hall 1963 concerts in a double set!
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on March 16, 2006
This album is a must-have if you're a Dylan addict dying to see a slightly different angle on many of his great songs, and a few Dylan renditions of songs you've never heard him sing before. It feels like, and in fact at times is, a collection of greatest bootleg hits.

Case in point: "Like a Rolling Stone." Before the song, Dylan gets heckled from the audience. He responds in a way only he could saying, in a loud whine, "I don't BELIEVE you, man." Classic. But the recording of the song is actually not very good. The acoustics stink, and the delivery is rushed and severe.

One more example: the first verse of his "Man of Constant Sorrow" will blow away anyone who has seen "O Brother, Where Art Thou." Dylan's interpretation is THAT different, and THAT amazing.

But on this, and other songs, there's a lack of balance. You have to work hard to get your ears past the piercing harmonica which is much mellower on other, less raw, albums.

There's no denying this album really does offer something interesting, and plainly demonstrates the artist's towering abilities.

But, if you own three Dylan albums and don't consider yourself an addict, buy (or keep listening to) "The Essential Bob Dylan," his best reasonably-priced collection.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on September 10, 2005
Bob Dylan's The Bootleg Series began its life as a three-disc box set that compiled an enlightening array of previously unreleased leftovers, alternate versions, live cuts, and demos that spanned the fabled folk singer's illustrious career. Although its fourth, fifth, and sixth installments diverged from such a wide-sweeping purpose in order to emphasize several landmark concert performances, its latest chapter returns the collection to its conceptual roots. Gleaning inspiration from the focused storyline of Martin Scorsese's forthcoming documentary No Direction Home, the 28-track set employs a retrospective-style format that successfully paints an elaborate portrait of Dylan's formative years. In the process, its producers amazingly found a whole new treasure trove of worthwhile moments - amounting to 26 of the 28 selections - to unveil.

No Direction Home: The Soundtrack opens with When I Got Troubles, a rather raw home recording made in 1959 by a high school friend. Nevertheless, it quickly moves forward and establishes Dylan's well-known connections to Woody Guthrie, the early blues, and the Greenwich Village folk scene via a pensive cover version of This Land Is Your Land, the poignant Song to Woody, the whirling instrumental Sally Girl, and the forlorn I Was Young When I Left Home. Its heart, however, traces the astounding 39-month period of personal and artistic growth that began in March 1963, just prior to the release of The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, and concluded with the discord that surrounded his tour of the U.K. in May 1966.

Accentuated primarily by an assortment of concert performances, the latter portion of No Direction Home: The Soundtrack's first disc sets the stage for this magnificent transformation, while the second half of the collection utilizes the variegated shades of his studio work in New York City and Nashville to follow Dylan as he brings his vision to fruition. Repeatedly striking archival gold, the compilation finds eloquence within everything from a profoundly delivered demo of Don't Think Twice, It's Alright to the shimmering luminescence of She Belongs to Me and from an hypnotically chilling rendition of Masters of War to a revelatory reading of Desolation Row. Standing in sharp contrast to the less-assured singer who tackled Rambler, Gambler before a crowd of students less than four years earlier is the authoritative Chimes of Freedom, which was culled from Dylan's appearance at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival. Further highlighting his evolution is the fully electrified romp through Maggie's Farm that he unleashed upon an unsuspecting crowd a mere 12 months later as well as the snarling fury of Like a Rolling Stone, which irascibly slammed the door shut in the face of a fan who dared to call him "Judas." Indeed, although the two discs that compose No Direction Home: The Soundtrack take wildly different approaches, together they achieve the common goal of effectively chronicling with pinprick accuracy the making of a legend
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 19, 2006
My son gave me this CD as a follow-up to the "No Direction Home" DVD - - which I was completely absorbed in at the time. I especially enjoyed the early material that Dylan covered like Woody' Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land" and the traditional "Man of Constant Sorrow." However, his performances of his own songs are the reason to buy this CD. From the haunting "Desolation Row" to the rancorous "When the Ship Comes In", Dylan demonstrates his abilities as what Liam Clancy characterized of being a "shape changer." Regardless of how people reacted to his electrification in the mid-sixties, it's hard to imagine a world without Dylan's music. In the DVD, Dylan mused that Woody Guthrie's songs were more than just music -- they actually could teach you how to live. I could say the same thing about Dylan's songs. He was always the vanguard of musical trends and, whether or not he wanted to, gave a voice to what people were feeling. I've been picking his songs on my guitar again and I'm looking forward to the rest of the "bootleg" tapes.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 19, 2009
More of a companion to the Martin Scorsese picture than a traditional soundtrack, the seventh volume of Bob Dylan's magnificent "Bootleg Series" consists of 28 tracks of which 26 are previously unreleased.

There are early home recordings here, live performances, and plenty of alternate takes which offer a different perspective on Dylan's ground-breaking 60s output. Disc one presents the young Bob Dylan in his acoustic folk mode, while disc two is a showcase for his powerful mid-to-late 60s rock n' roll.
You'll find Dylan's version of "Man of Constant Sorrow" here, grittier and more defiant than Rod Stewarts well-known rendition. A passionate "Chimes of Freedom" from the 1964 Newport Festival. Unusually slow, intimate and almost mellow performances of "Blowin' in the Wind" and "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall", both recorded live in New York in 1963. A crisp, energetic "When the Ship comes In", and early takes of "Mr Tambourine Man" and "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue".

And those who prefer Dylan the rocker to Dylan the folk singer will delight in the quality of the alternates and live recordings on disc two, from the furious "Maggie's Farm" to "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, it Takes a Train to Cry" in its original up-tempo blues-rock guise from back when it was to have been titled "Phantom Engineer".
The disc opens with a slower, drum-less (and absolutely lovely) version of "She Belongs to Me", one of many the highlights of this collection, along with the wonderful alternate take of "Just like Tom Thumb's Blues", a tough, slide guitar-driven "Highway 61 Revisited", "Leopard-skin Pill-box Hat" played as a slow, thumping, bluesy grind, and a sparse, organic "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again".

Many of these alternates are just as good as the takes originally issued, and some are, in my never appropriately humble opinion, even better. This lean, mean version of "Visions of Johanna" is markedly heavier and more powerful than the one from "Blonde on Blonde", and "It Takes a Lot to Laugh..." and the even more up-tempo "Tombstone Blues" are delivered with a tremendous, burning urgency. Oh, and we get a beautiful, soulful "Desolation Row" with electric guitar and the fabled line "he is spoon-feeding Casanova the boiled guts of birds"! (The originally issued version had "...spoon-feeding Casanova to get him to feel more self-assured".)

Disc two ends with one of only two previously released recordings, the majestic eight-minute "Like a Rolling Stone" from the legendary "Royal Albert Hall" concert (which actually took place in Manchester on May 17, 1966). We've heard it before, but it still amazing, probably the most powerful eight minutes of rock n' roll I've ever heard.

"No Direction Home" shows bob Dylan evolving from an eighteen-year-old folk singer to an incredibly productive, original and visionary composer and lyricist. The early folk songs are vibrant and intense, you can hear the sincerity and immediacy in Dylan's nasal voice. And the rock songs hit harder than almost anything else from that period...the instrumentation on each song is perfect, nothing less, whether it's just a couple of guys with a guitar, or a driving, incendiary blues-rock ensemble with searing electric guitars, thudding drums, and a clanging blues-n'-boogie piano.

This is just one more proof, if proof was indeed still needed, of Robert Allen Zimmerman's incredible impact on popular music. Cultural icon and everything aside - he is just a tremendous songwriter, plain and simple.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on March 1, 2006
Further illustrates the principle (useful to recall when you go to see him live) that when Dylan is on, he's unbeatable, but when he's off he's mediocre to outright horrible.

And there's no way to predict which you'll get (of the two Dylan live shows i've seen, i got one horrible and one fan-f'n-tastically good, myself.)

Several of the tracks on here suffer from less than pristine sound, and it can be seen why several others remain "Alternate Takes":

"Desolation Row" sounds as if he's not quite sure of the lyric (or the tune, for that matter)

"Blowin' in the Wind" has an overly-long harmonica intro (it's not the only one, but it's the most annoying) which includes a couple of those "miss the harp and blow on the mike" moments that Neil Innes satirises in his "Protest Song" ("I've suffered for my music, and now it's your turn...") in "Pleasure at Her Majesty's" and "Monty Python at Hollywood Bowl")

"Ballad of a Thin Man" is both poorly recorded (live) and has a slogging-through-mud vocal delivery.

And so on -- the sort of thing that you get in sets of alternate takes, out takes and live or demo versions of material from a popular artist's long career. But even the downer tracks are worth having, because they help to put the performer in perspective.

And the "up" tracks are some of the best recorded Dylan i have ever heard -- particularly the Newport performance of "Maggie's Farm" backed by the Butterfield Blues Band that was part of the electric set that allegedly got him booed offstage (I say "allegedly" because, according to a transcript of the official tape taken from the soundboard and available online, it actually appears that the booing is mostly for Peter Yarrow trying to strictly enforce the set time limit on Dylan when the audience wants more).

Whether or not Dylan actually got booed for that set, the performance that opened it, "Maggie's Farm" (almost impeccably reproduced here), might almost have been calculated to stick a thumb in folk purists' eye -- i had to keep reminding myself that this was only 1965 as the tight band roared through the song, with Dylan's vocal absolutely matching the fervor of the backup.

I've never seen the Scorsese film from which this is the SOundtrack, but this is one of the few "soundtrack" albums that can pretty well stand up for themselves (in fact, one could argue that the soundtrack may well be more important than the film, or perhaps the film's only reason for existing...)

Well worth the price. Buy it.
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