Bob's Big Box

Bob's Big Box
As a music lover who just turned 40, I thought it was about time I explored the back catalogue of Bob Dylan, an artist I'd largely ignored previously. Right then...

Saturday, 23 May 2015

16. Blood on the Tracks (1975)

In the last week or so since I started listening to Blood on the Tracks, not a morning has gone by when one or other of its ten songs hasn't been going round in my head upon waking.  In my previous post I remarked at how it seemed that on Planet Waves, Dylan's songwriting mojo was beginning to return.  BOTT confirms that it has indeed, fully-fledged and with a new, more mature edge, resulting in a set of songs whose intensely personal lyrics and captivating melodies have a universality that has seen them becoming one of the best-loved albums of the 20th century.

It didn't come easy, though.  The excesses of Tour '74 put a strain on what was now an already fragile relationship between Mr and Mrs Dylan.  That summer Bob went to stay on his Minnesota farm with mistress Ellen Bernstein, where he spent the mornings working on a well of 17 songs, from which BOTT was drawn.  Now back with Columbia, he recorded the album in New York in September with just bassist Tony Brown accompanying him (organ and pedal steel were overdubbed later), but following his brother's advice, several were re-cut in December with local Minnesotan session musicians providing a more commercial, full-band sound.

Through dealing with the torment of his private life, it's clear that Dylan's creative spark returned with a new potency.  On this album he looks at human relationships through the prism of his foundering marriage, and the result is a wealth of stories, characters and predicaments fashioned into some of the most heartbreaking songs of loss you're ever likely to hear.

It begins with the Minnesota re-cut of Tangled Up In Blue, one of Bob's most well-loved songs and one with which even this Dylan neophyte was familiar.  His voice is more gluey than ever, and across seven verses that fracture time and hop between perspectives, the wistful reminiscence of a doomed love affair unfolds over shuffling percussion, mandolin and ringing guitars.  It has the feel of Dire Straits' Romeo and Juliet, or an epic Springsteen story-song, nothing is resolved and we leave the narrator "...still on the road, headin' for another joint".

This restless feeling is still with us for the next track, Simple Twist of Fate, which also shifts between first and third-person narrative, to remember an encounter that meant everything to the author and little to the mysterious, unknowable woman for whom he still longs.  This is from the original NY sessions, featuring beautifully sympathetic bass from Brown that adds to the feelings of emptiness and loss.  The calmness of Dylan's voice makes it sadder still as he both curses and blesses the fate that brought the lovers together and then separated them, as does the tiny pinprick of hope that someday he'll meet her again.

He sounds painfully vulnerable on You're A Big Girl Now, where the object of his desire has moved on without him.  The cheerful arrangement contrasts sharply with the aching lyrics, where the wretched plea "I can change, I swear" pulls at my heart almost as strongly as the tortured "ohhhh"s in the middle of each verse.  These are almost a howl at times, and when he describes his pain as "like a corkscrew to my heart", I can almost feel it myself.  I've heard one of the New York outtakes of this song, i.e. in it's rawer, stripped down form, and it really is lovely, with Buddy Cage's glorious pedal steel working particularly well.  This is the only instance where I can't choose between the NY and Minnesota approaches; in all other cases of the re-records I prefer the do-overs.

In the case of the next song, I'm firmly in the officially released version camp.  There's no introduction to Idiot Wind; we're plunged straight into the opening verse with the memorable "Someone's got it in for me, they're planting stories in the press", before a wounded Dylan cocoons himself in a protective layer of anger over almost eight spitting, venomous minutes. Whether this tirade is entirely aimed at Sara is unclear.  He berates his "sweet lady" for not understanding him anymore, which is a bit rich considering it was he that had changed (and not to mention shagged around).  His ire also seems to be aimed at others unknown for being unable to relate to him - rather ironic for the creator of his own myth - and for double-crossing him.  Of course it's not necessarily autobiographical (certainly not the bit about shooting a man, marrying his wife and inheriting a million bucks, although the "I can't help it if I'm lucky" makes me laugh), but I can't help feeling that much of it is.  It recalls the bite of Positively 4th Street but with the added bonus of a chorus, where his pronunciation of "Eyeeeerdiot wiyend" fascinates and irritates me in equal measure.  It's a brutal catharsis on which muffled organ underlines his anger and accusations, as opposed to the bubbling organ that supports his much wearier singing on the NY original.  Right at the end the snarling "you" changes to "we".  If this is Bob finally taking some of the blame, then perhaps there is hope.

There's little hope to be found on You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go, supposedly about Bernstein.  The inevitable end to their affair seems to have come, and Dylan sounds pretty chipper considering, although there's a resigned air about the way he sings lines like "Flowers on the hillside, bloomin' crazy, Crickets talkin' back and forth in rhyme", recalling Nashville Skyline, but more contemplative.  His harmonica outro closes out Side 1 of the original LP.  Side 2 opens with the smooth, Clapton-esque blues of Meet Me In The Morning.  It's a fine song, with a laid back mood and some great electric guitar licks, but it suffers in comparison to the rest of BOTT by just merely being very good, and so is the weakest track here.

Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts follows, acting as a refreshing palate cleanser.  I've missed these epic story-songs over the last few albums, and this nearly nine-minute tall tale is that of an intriguing cast of characters set in the Old West, with a grand cinematic sweep. Dylan's ability to use language economically is thoroughly demonstrated here as he conjures up all manner of scenes, personalities and confrontations with no superfluous descriptions yet with a painter's eye for detail.  It's a fast-paced, entertaining affair and I love the slight gruffness in his voice.  Although the song sounds pretty jovial, it shares the sense of loss that runs through BOTT, and I must disagree with those that would award it the title of weakest or odd-one-out.

My favourite song on the album is If You See Her, Say Hello, a tender ballad of quiet desolation over a lost love, backed by acoustic guitars and subtle organ.  Its longing and desperation are perfectly expressed in the line "...the bitter taste still lingers on from the night I tried to make her stay".  Ouch.  It's so, so sad, and it boggles the mind to know that the lyrics were altered to temper an even rawer first draft.

Shelter From The Storm sounds as though he's acknowledging the debt he owes to his wife. Over scratchy guitar and gentle bass, and using Biblical references, he remembers the one who protected him from the battleground of the outside world, regretting the carelessness with which he treated her love.  He hints at an emotional betrayal, but coupled with his regret is a huge sense of gratitude for the time they had together, despite the way it finished.

Buckets Of Rain is a suitable sign-off (or sigh-off) to BOTT.  Whether the woman in question is his wife or a rebound affair, it sounds like he is accepting that a relationship has come to end, despite the agony.  The middle verse sums it up beautifully - and painfully:

Like your smile
And your fingertips
Like the way that you move your lips
I like the cool way that you look at me
Everything about you is bringing me

Musically, BOTT is a very consistent album.  The music is warm, gentle and has a clean 70s production that doesn't overwhelm the all-important words.  I'm glad that Bob listened to his brother over the re-records as they prevented it from sounding 'samey', which given the subject matter and tone might have been wearing (although this didn't do Springsteen's Nebraska any harm).  Dylan claims that the songs are based on a set of short stories by Chekov, and in no way linked to his personal life.  Whether this is true or not (not!), I wouldn't expect anything less from the jokerman that is Mr. R. Zimmerman, and it really doesn't matter anyway.

For me, BOTT is his most human album yet, and although the view from the bottom of the chasm is bleak, there's no real self-pity on display.  Nothing is resolved; love may morph temporarily into anger and hurt, but it remains, and in a world where little is permanent, love is the only thing that never disappears, whatever form it is currently taking.  In the case of Blood On The Tracks, Dylan's loss is our gain.

Life is sad,
Life is a bust,
All ya can do is do what you must,
You do what you must do and ya do it well
I'll do it for you, honey baby
Can't you tell?

Note: I'll be able to listen to the next three albums in the BobBox on vinyl as well as CD, because they were all bargain LPs found at car boot sales.  Two of them were quite recent finds which I've been saving up, so I've yet to hear a note of them. (Take a look at my other other blog, Car Boot Vinyl Diaries here: ).

*****BobBox price check***** - £138.85 (free postage)
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All prices correct on 23/05/2015

Saturday, 16 May 2015

15. Before The Flood (1974)

And so, I finally get to hear my first ever Bob Dylan live album.  I've resisted the temptation to go on over to Spotify to listen to any of the live stuff from the Bootleg Series such as the '66 Albert Hall Concert and the Rolling Thunder Revue (although these are both on my birthday wishlist!), so I don't yet have anything to compare it to.

The tour of 1974 took place over eight weeks, beginning on the 3rd of January and ending on St. Valentine's Day. Dylan and The Band played 40 dates in 21 cities and were flown around in a Boeing 707 named Starship One.  Before The Flood is composed mainly of tracks recorded in LA on the final date's two shows, a few from the day before, plus a single track from a New York concert on the 30th of January.

The album features Bob and The Band together and apart, and is structured in the same way that the concerts were, beginning with half a dozen full-band Dylan numbers.  It's soon apparent that although it's a hit-heavy set on both sides, the delivery means that this is no nostalgia performance.  An impassioned Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine) sets thing off at a thrilling pace and is followed by an enjoyable - if shouty - Lay Lady Lay which although doesn't compare to the sexy original is still great, with Robertson's playing a highlight.  BTF has been criticised a lot for its reliance on power over subtlety, particularly in terms of Bob's singing; an article from Rolling Stone magazine from March 1974 quotes Joan Baez's sister Mimi Farina as complaining,
" I brought Kleenex with me.  I was ready to cry.  But I never had an inkling of emotion, of the poetry behind the songs".
Obviously no-one had told her she was attending a rock concert, because apart from a few acoustic numbers, this is clearly Dylan and his old pals rocking their way across America (plus a couple of dates in Canada) powered by electricity, aviation fuel and very likely some white powder, too.

Crowd favourite Rainy Day Women # 12 & 35 is next, the original's woozy brass and tinkling piano replaced here with synthesiser, bluesy guitar and carnival organ, all held up by Levon Helm's muscular pounding.  Garth Hudson had been experimenting with an early version of a synthesiser embedded in a Lowrey H25-3 organ which although works well on this track, is less welcome on Knockin' On Heaven's Door which follows (the sole recording from the NY Madison Square Garden show).  The churchy organ is effective though, making a good replacement for the original's haunting backing vocals.  Bob slips an extra verse into the middle so that what was a rather short song is made more satisfying.  It goes,

"Mama wipe the blood from my face,
I'm sick and tired of the war,
Got a lone black feelin' and it's hard to trace,
Feel like I'm knockin' on heaven's door".

It's true that much of the emotion and tenderness of the original is lost, but it's more than made up for in boisterous fun and sheer energy - Bob and The Band are together again, on the road and having one hell of a good time.  On their raucous translation of It Ain't Me, Babe they sound like a proper gang, a real band of brothers with a mission to bring the party to town.

It's not on youtube, so here it is on Spotify instead: 

Ballad Of A Thin Man rounds out this first section.  The spooky organ of the Highway 61 version is a chirpy whistle here, and we only get six of the eight verses - there's no one-eyed midget or sword swallower - but it's still a tremendous rendition and the audience evidently appreciate it. They sound as amped-up as those on stage, which must have felt amazing for Dylan and co. compared to when they played this on the 1966 world tour, where the reception was rather different.

The rest of CD 1, which would have made up Side 2 on the first disc of the LP, is given over to The Band, who perform five of their best known songs including Up On Cripple Creek and The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.  They sound really strong here but by this stage the tour has taken its toll on some of their throats.  Danko's voice sounds absolutely shredded on Stage Fright and poor Manuel croaks his way through I Shall Be Released.  I never liked his falsetto on this song anyway, but it's more pitiful than ever for the want of some Chloraseptic.

Bob takes to the stage alone with just acoustic guitar and harmonica for the first three tracks on CD 2.  He strums rather than picks his way through a coarse but vigorous Don't Think Twice, It's Alright and sounds like a completely different man from the one on Freewheelin', which of course he is.  Despite the obvious strain on his vocal chords after weeks of touring, he's actually in very fine voice, in the same way he was on Planet Waves, even when he enters Vic Reeves territory on Just Like A Woman ("jussa lakka WO-man").  Best of all is It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding) which he whizzes through next.  Although it's a truncated version, there's a palpable anger, and the audience's response to the line "Even the President of the United States sometimes must have to stand naked!" is especially pleasing, since at this time the Watergate scandal was at its height.

We then get another three numbers from The Band, including a painfully husky Danko singing When You Awake, and their colossal The Weight on which an unscathed Helm lends much-needed vocal support.  To be honest, I'd have preferred the album to feature fewer Band songs.  I can take or leave them really as their own material can be a bit dull sometimes.  The attraction of The Last Waltz for me was definitely all the guest stars, and I feel that 8 out of 21 songs on Before The Flood is a few too many.  But in this setting they suit Bob's needs very well and we're treated to four more ensemble performances to finish the record.

They gallop through a menacing Hendrix-inspired (and sadly too short) version Of All Along The Watchtower where Robertson's playing is never more frenetic, followed by a country-rock Highway 61 Revisited that bears little resemblance to the original but isn't bad at all.  The crowd go nuts for an excitable Like A Rolling Stone and Bob's newly found confidence really shows in his voice.  It's certainly way better than the straggly IOW version on Self Portrait.  The set ends with Blowin' In The Wind, composed of two different performances from the afternoon shows of the 13th and 14th of February, spliced together.  It's a gentle, plodding arrangement that with the guys' hearty backing vocals makes a fitting closer.

Overall I found Before The Flood to be an interesting, often exciting document of the '74 tour. Although Bob often plays fast and loose with the melodies, there's no self-indulgence.  As I mentioned in the previous post, no songs from Planet Waves appear, nor any lesser-known songs from his back catalogue.  It's a solid set of tried and tested crowd pleasers guaranteed to appeal to casual fans as well as Dylanites, and I suppose for his first tour in eight years this risk-free approach seemed the safest bet, even with the re-workings and the less sensitive treatment in terms of vocals.

On Planet Waves it sounded like Bob was getting his songwriting mojo back.  Here it's obvious that his appetite for playing to his fans and with his pals has also returned.  With his marriage reportedly already on the rocks, it appears that a new chapter is about to begin.

Do you like Before The Flood?  Can't be doing with it?  Leave your comments below.

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Monday, 11 May 2015

14. Planet Waves (1974)

Planet Waves came out on Dylan's new label Asylum just eight weeks after Columbia issued the collection of odds and ends that was the disappointing 'Dylan'.  It was written and recorded quite hastily in order to have something to tour behind, as David Geffen had persuaded him to go back out on the road after an eight-year break.  Both the album and the '74 tour reunited Bob with The Band, and Planet Waves was the first and only studio album (save for the Basement Tapes) with the group as whole backing him up.

It opens with the bluesy shuffle of On A Night Like This, where we find Bob still enjoying cosy coupledom in a remote cabin, with a roaring fire on the go and singing "If I'm not too far off, I think we did this once before".  If I'm not too far off, I think they did, on To Be Alone With You back in 1969.  It's a fun number, and the bit where he asks his missus not to elbow him because there's "plenty a-room for all" is a neat little flash of humour.  Another fun, mostly light-hearted song is the funky Tough Mama, again seemingly in praise of his beloved wife, although it gets darker towards the end where he's crestfallen, having "..gained some recognition but I lost my appetite".  And yes, you did hear him right, he does describe the weather as "a-hotter than a crotch"!  Garth Hudson's organ sounds sweeter than ever, playing us out with a twisting fairground confection, and it's clear that Dylan and his old pals fit together as well as they ever did, completely in tune with one another in every sense.  It has to be said though, that The Band feel a little reined in over the album; for one thing it lacks their backing vocals, which I feel is a bit of a shame.  But although Dylan is clearly in the driving seat here, the guys are solid and they serve him well.

Something that holds Planet Waves back from being in the upper echelons of his discography so far in the BobBox (for me at least) is its pace.  Most of the songs are either slow or mid-tempo, and as a result the album seems to proceed sluggishly. The heartfelt delivery of Hazel makes up for its rather cliched lyrics, even when Bob goes a little off-key.  Something There Is About You is a lukewarm nostalgic love song made bittersweet by the confession that fidelity would surely mean death to him - charming!  It's one of several songs that would have benefited greatly from a chorus, or at least a stronger melody; another downside of PW for me is its lack of tunes.  If you asked me right now to hum, for example You Angel You, I really couldn't, despite having heard it countless times over the past week.  Although the goddess-worshipping lyrics are giddy with infatuation and The Band play with an enjoyable sloppiness, it has a weak tune and Dylan sounds tired and unconvincing.

One big positive is that Bob's voice is better than ever; I'd even go so far as to describe it as magnificent.  Neither overly nasal nor weirdly croony, it sounds particularly good (if a bit creaky) on Never Say Goodbye where he's almost pleading for his lover to stand by him.  It's best of all on Going Going Gone, which represents the other, darker side of Planet Waves.  Whether he's referring to his career, marriage (which was in its last months) or less likely, life itself, he seems to have reached the end of the road and is preparing to enter the unknown for the first time in a long while.  Coming after the jaunty opener On A Night Like This, the pain and resignation in his voice is both shocking and beautiful, and is sensitively augmented by Robertson's devastatingly expressive guitar.

Equally superb is the best known song on the album, the much-covered Forever Young.  This prayer-like song with its universal theme of a parent's hopes for his child manages to stay the right side of mawkishness; this and the fact that it has a tune AND a decent chorus has no doubt helped it to become the anthem it is now.  During the recording sessions a visitor jokingly accused Dylan of turning "mushy" in his old age (he was 32!), and in an uncharacteristic confidence-wobble he recorded an alternative sub three-minute country rock version.  He was convinced to keep the original one on the album too, so on the CD the newer version - which I hate - immediately follows the gorgeous, hymnal version, completely ruining any lingering sentiment.  On the LP they would have been separated by the need to flip the record, mitigating this effect somewhat, but I still think he should have left the crappy second-rate version in the vaults.

We return to the dark side with Dirge, where Dylan takes to the piano to tear himself apart over his dependency on.... what?  Whether it's fame, drugs, a lover or even love itself ("Can't recall a useful thing you ever did for me"), this is the sound of a man in pain, and the first sign of bile in several years.  Like many of the songs here it lacks melody but Robertson's acoustic guitar is enough to support Bob's playing and deeply disturbing, sometimes clumsy words so that it sticks firmly in my head.

'Dirge' means 'funeral song', and the album closer, at first glance the other side of the coin, is called Wedding Song.  Bob appears solo, accompanied by his harmonica, guitar and the sound of his coats buttons clacking against it.  Clearly about Sara (he makes mention of their many years together and their children) he sings of his devotion and debt to her in no uncertain terms, e.g. "Love you more than life itself", "..made my life a richer one to live".  But there's more going on here the further we listen.  Halfway through, the line "I'd sacrifice the world for you and watch my senses die" , and then "We'll play it out the best we know, whatever it is worth" make the preceding words sound like a desperate attempt at holding together a failing relationship, no matter the consequences.  It's a sad way to end a rather unsatisfying album, but at the same time it's one of the best songs.

Planet Waves is preoccupied with two conflicting sides of love.  The comfortable, comforting bubble of his family life and his deep love and commitment to his wife inform most of the album, but dissatisfaction is beginning to creep in and it seems that something is about to give.  Perhaps this period of writing/recording in preparation for the tour brought on a desire to get on the road and extend himself again after his long hibernation period.  Whatever was happening in his personal life, this album shows signs of his edge beginning to return, which after the happy-but-dumb country period will come as a welcome change.

Are you a fan of Planet Waves?  Let me know how you feel about it in the comments below.

Next in the Box is the live album Before The Flood, recorded during the '74 tour.  I've been perusing the tracklist and no songs from Planet Waves made the cut - I read that as the tour progressed, more and more of its songs were dropped from the setlist.  After the fairly tune-free PW I'm very much looking forward to listening to the first live album to be included in the BobBox.

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All prices correct on 11/05/2015

Friday, 8 May 2015

13. Dylan (1973)

'Dylan' is a collection of nine songs, all cover versions, released by Columbia Records after Bob left them in 1973 to sign with David Geffen's new label Asylum.  It seems as though this was an act of revenge as well as a quick cash-in, as Dylan claims that none of the tracks were ever intended for release, being a cobbled-together bunch of rough cuts and warm-ups from the New Morning and Self Portrait sessions in 1969 and '70. It was deleted from the catalogue on his return to Columbia in 1974, and the album contained in the BobBox represents its only US outing on CD.  I'd read that it's one of his most reviled albums (not least by the man himself) so I gritted my teeth and pressed Play.

The first seven tracks are all from the New Morning sessions.  The original plan for New Morning had been to put together a collection of originals and covers in the same fashion as Self Portrait, but as we know this didn't go down too well, and so the covers were dropped.  'Dylan' starts with murder ballad Lily Of The West.  The vocals are slightly buried in the mix, but the guitar propels things along at a galloping pace and the harpsichord flourishes and harmonica add to the dramatic air.  Surprisingly, so far so good.

Next is a cover of Elvis's I Can't Help Falling In Love With You, boasting a sweet little harmonica intro and a great organ/guitar break halfway through.  Bob's voice sounds fantastic.  After this is the exuberant Sarah Jane, and when Dylan follows the opening la-la-la-las with "I've got a wife and five little children!" I can't help but smile.  Despite the poor sound quality of this track, it really is a belter, and a more polished version would have livened up New Morning considerably. Another high point comes immediately with The Ballad Of Ira Hayes, about the death from alcohol poisoning of the Pima Native American who raised the flag on Mount Suribachi at the Battle of Iwo Jima during WWII.  I already knew Johnny Cash's more up tempo version; this is a slow lament, with mournful backing vocals and restrained accompaniment from piano, organ, bass and what sounds like a cocktail shaker.  Wait a minute - this record's supposed to be rubbish, isn't it? I can't be the only person to like it though; it got to no.17 in the US and went gold.  So why the terrible reputation?

The reasons for this become a little clearer on what would have been Side 2, which begins with Mr Bojangles.  This is a much-covered song (the most moving I've heard is Nina Simone's) and although Bob does a fair version in a gorgeously husky voice, it pales in comparison with others. I still blubbed at the dog dying, though.  A nasal rendition of Mary Ann comes next, which is spoiled by some Self Portrait-style backing vocals that are just a bit much.  The worst, however is Big Yellow Taxi.  It's my least favourite Joni song by a mile already, and Dylan does it no favours at all.  The nicest thing I can say is that it's the shortest song on the album and at least there's no awkward little chuckle at the end.  Also, the "Chooo, bop-bop-bop-bop" b/vs never fail to bring these vintage collectible bubble gums to mind:

Things get better again with the final two tracks, both from the Self Portrait sessions.  The country funk of A Fool Such As I (Elvis, Hank Snow) is sung in his Nashville Skyline voice, and although this is a bit low in the mix, the whole thing is a soulful, gritty joy.  The full-on NS country croon is employed for cowboy poem Spanish Is The Loving Tongue (written by Charles Badger Clarke and later set to music by Billy Simon).   La-la-las, maracas and Spanish guitar compose the landscape for this tale of lost love.

Aside from commenting on the individual tracks, there's not much to say about this album as a whole, as Dylan himself had no input at all and so it doesn't represent any particular idea or vision.  I really liked Self Portrait, so found this rag-bag of sloppy covers mostly very enjoyable, although I can understand how many fans and critics, patiently waiting through the late 60s/early 70s dry spell might have felt short-changed.  Anyway, I'm glad it was seen fit for inclusion in the BobBox; perhaps this will give it the opportunity to be more kindly reappraised, especially in light of more recent archive diggings such as Another Self Portrait.

What do you think of this album?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below (for which I've now altered the settings, so no need to sign up to Blogger or Google+ first).

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BobBox price drop!!

The Complete Album Collection is currently listed on amazon UK at £101.57, which is extremely favourable compared to last week's £143.32.  If you've been humming and haa-ing, now might be the time to grab it.

This has been a Special BoxBox Price Watch.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

12. Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid (1973)

His first release in almost three years (save for a couple of singles and a Greatest Hits), this soundtrack to Sam Peckinpah's 1973 western, although not a 'proper' Dylan album, feels like a breath of fresh air after the disappointing New Morning and the patchy though enjoyable Self Portrait.  It also provided my first quality control quibble with this box set, as whoever was in charge of the metadata messed it right up by adding two unnamed tracks, omitting two others and scrambling the rest.  A minor complaint, but irritating.

It begins with the instrumental Main Title Theme (Billy), which includes Booker T Jones on bass and welcomes back Bruce Langhorne, who contributes some lovely, winding guitar to accompany Bob's strumming.  The tambourine is shaken like sleigh bells and provides a feeling of forward motion as well as conjuring up an image of jingling spurs.  It's a pleasant introduction, although it could have been cut down a bit for the album as it's quite repetitive over the six-minute running time.  There are three more 'Billys' over the course of the album; all variations on the same song.  I'm not sure how many versions were recorded in all, but I noticed a couple more during the film.  Billy 1 is the most soothing and also sounds the more 'Western' thanks to Booker T's ambling cowboy bass. Billy 4 is my favourite, probably because it sounds most like Bob of old.  The same tragic tale has a more desperate sound and a real sense of inevitability, and this version is used several times throughout the movie.

He sings in a deeper voice on the much darker Billy 7 which ends the album.  The line "Sleep with one eye open when you slumber" is a redundancy that grates a little (this is altered to "..when you wander" in Billy 4, which is little better as it suggests that Billy the Kid was a sleepwalker).  Jim Keltner's sparse drums contribute effectively to the sense of hopelessness, as does Roger McGuinn's gentle twang.

Oh yes, did I mention Roger McGuinn is on here?  Bob played harmonica on his solo debut the same year, on opening song I'm So Restless which has a verse about "Mr. D" and his simple country domesticity.  McGuinn is unable to lift the repetitive Cantina Theme out of the doldrums; there's not much at all going on during this short track (where in the film Garrett issues his threat/promise), although Russ Kunkel's bongos are a pleasant listen.  Bunkhouse Theme is also a short affair, with Carol Hunter's 12-string blending beautifully with Dylan's playing.  It doesn't appear in either of the cuts I've seen (the 2005 Special Edition and the longer, Peckinpah-faithful 1988 Turner Preview Version), which is a shame, as it's gorgeous.

Turkey Chase soundtracks just that in the film: Billy and Alias (played by Dylan) capering about on horseback trying to catch wild turkeys.  It's a fun bluegrass number with the talented Byron Berline on fiddle, and someone named Jolly Roger playing banjo, who I assume is Roger McGuinn messing with us (he actually wrote a sea shanty called Jolly Roger for his 1976 LP Cardiff Rose).

The ten-gallon hat atop the album is of course the single Knockin' On Heaven's Door, written after Bob had seen the rushes for the scene where old Sheriff Baker dies before the tear-filled eyes of his wife.  A heavenly choir of backing singers accompany Bob's gentle vocal; one that's yet to be bettered in any of the (often overblown) cover versions that I've heard over the years.  It's tender, beautiful and surprisingly short, and is echoed in the even more modest River Theme where acoustic guitar, bass and soft moans supply a simple soundtrack for the minor scene at the riverside.

Final Theme is also an extension of KOHD, its spectral bvs, flute, recorder, cello and harmonium joining the guitar to produce the most moving piece of music on the whole soundtrack.  Although it's only used in tiny, cut-up chunks during the film, on the record it comes straight after KOHD, suggesting to me the poor old Sheriff, already at peace, ascending to heaven and looking forward to getting through that door.

I really liked this album.  My fear was that outside of the film, like many soundtracks, it would be a rather bland experience (and indeed it seemed so at first), but after a few listens the similarities between the tracks - even between the various Billys - disintegrated.  For a first-timer, Dylan did the job of scoring the film very well; it's thoughtfully done and avoids the mistake of reflecting the writer rather than the story.  It's a worthy inclusion to the BobBox, and I'd say certainly not just for Dylan completists.

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