on October 18, 2005
When first listening to this excellent collection of previously unreleased Bob Dylan songs, the question that first popped into my mind was "Why didn't I buy this a whole lot sooner?". So I'm going to go ahead and say that if you are a Bob Dylan fan in any way and you already have the five essential albums (Freewheelin', Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde and Blood on the Tracks) then you should buy this as soon as possible.
These three discs have so much excellent music that nearly any Bob Dylan fan whether novice or veteran will find something of interest. The first disc covers 1961 to 1963. That's one-third of the entire collection from only three years. Well, there was a lot of excellent music during Dylan's early years that didn't see the light of day, for any number of reasons. For example, Talkin' Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues, an excellent talking blues number from 1961 similar to Talkin' World War III Blues from The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. Also standing out are the excellent Only A Hobo, Walls of Red Wing, and Let Me Die In My Footsteps, which would certainly have been a classic had it been released on an album back in '62 or '63. The early demo of When The Ship Comes In is stunning as well. One thing particularly that makes this set a must-own is the last track on disc one, Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie. It's a spoken word poem, recorded in April 1963, containing no musical accompaniment yet its one of the most riveting Bob Dylan tracks I've ever heard. It is one of the true highlights of this set.
Disc two covers 1963 - 1975, and yes there are several periods of Dylan's career that get little or no representation. But then again, it's only a three-disc set. Highlights of disc two are Mama You Been On My Mind, an early version of Subterranean Homesick Blues, the up-tempo hard rocking version of It Takes A Lot To Laugh, the country tune Wallflower, an earlier take of Tangled Up In Blue and a significantly more mellow, subdued version of Idiot Wind. There is an early version of Like A Rolling Stone as well, but disappointingly, it's only the first verse or so. One of my favorite tracks on this disc is the electric version of If You Got To Go, Go Now (Or Else You Got To Stay All Night) recorded in January 1965. I really think this song would have been a huge pop hit had it been released. It's one of the catchiest, most pop-oriented songs Dylan has probably ever recorded. It was later recorded by Manfred Mann, and was a big hit in England, but Dylan's version as heard here could easily have topped the charts as well.
Disc three covers '75 to '89, picking up with an early version of If You See Her, Say Hello which is good, but inferior to the album version. More interesting are Golden Loom and Catfish, two excellent outtakes from the Desire album. There are some good religious-period outtakes too such as a couple of good tracks that were left off of Shot of Love. However, the real highlight of the disc, and perhaps the entire collection, are the outtakes from the 1983 Infidels album. These are the tracks that would have turned a good album into a great album. Tell Me, Lord Protect My Child, Foot of Pride and Blind Willie McTell. Anyone who is a fan of Bob Dylan, needs to have a copy of Blind Willie McTell in their collection. It is a true Dylan classic. I'm tempted to say that disc three is almost worth the price of the whole box set alone. But there is so much great stuff on the other two discs that purchasing this should not be an issue for anyone who loves Bob Dylan.
Sure, there aren't nearly enough Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde era tracks, and I would liked some outtakes from John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline (an era which is completely skipped over). I would also liked to have heard the original version of Hurricane with Emmylou Harris on backing vocals. Also, Dignity from the Oh Mercy sessions is missing, though it was later released on Greatest Hits, Volume 3. Hopefully another volume of rare and unreleased tracks will be released in the future to correct these oversights. Even with those slight criticisms this is still an excellent package that any Bob Dylan fan NEEDS.