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The Bootleg Series, Vol. 9: The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964

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iTunes Review

Yet another outstanding volume of Bob Dylan’s continuing Bootleg Series, where rare and previously unreleased recordings are restored to their finest quality. This collection features solo performances made for publishing purposes. They’re loose and affecting. Dylan comes into his own, starting with the Woody Guthrie folk roots of “Hard Times In New York Town,” “Talking Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues” through his breakthrough songs, “Blowin’ In the Wind,” “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” and on to the gentle and forceful imagistic tunes that would turn his career into that of a genuine rock ‘n’ roll star. “Boots of Spanish Leather” has never sounded more vital. “Only a Hobo” is a beautiful traditional-sounding elegy. “Mr. Tambourine Man” is indestructible. Its lyrics lock into place and Dylan shoots for the stars and reaches them. “I’ll Keep It With Mine” would be given to the model/singer Nico. Fifteen of the tracks have never been officially released. It’s absolutely scary how good Dylan was at such a young age.

Customer Reviews

Buy the CD.

It's $13.99 at Best Buy. I always try to buy a real CD for better sound quality and the notes. This is a great deal either way, 47 songs,many interesting unheard versions. Dylan fans won't regret the purchase.

No liner notes?

I love the demo tracks here, but there has to be a way to include the liner notes with this...please!

I Was So Much Younger Then

I put off getting this, assuming it would be, well, different. Instead, it has be completely re-thinking his earliest work (which has until now been my least favorite part of his catalog, as I wrote it all up to "folk music" until at least the second side of Bringing It All Back Home, when things started getting interesting. But listening to these demos he made for his music publisher between 1962-64 has been revelatory.

First, it's now clear that with just his voice and guitar (and occasionally piano), these versions as in some ways stronger than the released ones, because they were cut in a literal office, with no thought of production values or radio play, but rather as demos for potentially selling his songs to other people. As such, the performances are stunning: he's not playing for a crowd, he's playing for his peers, a much more demanding audience. He's also playing for posterity, as these would become the officially transcribed, definitive version of these songs, no matter how much he himself may have changed them in the ensuing years. So he's got a real incentive to get it right.

And he does, starting with a stunning version of "Boots Of Spanish Leather," a song as naked and autobiographical — not to mention poetic — as he would ever sing (and to think he was 22 at the time of the recording). There are some of what would become his canon, including "Blowin' In The Wind," "Hard Rain," 'Masters Of War," "Don't Think Twice," "Mr. Tambourine Man," etc. But it's the other songs that really impress, from the talking blues of "Hard Time In New York Town" and "Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues" to the country blues of "Mama You've Been On My Mind' and "Poor Boy Blues" to the Child Balladesque "Seven Curses."

I keep coming back to "Gypsy Lou" and "Rambling Gambling Willie," both of which could have been lost Woody Guthrie classics — but aren't. In the year-plus he'd been in New York, Dylan went from being a Guthrie clone to not just an individual but and innovator. It's easy to see Dylan's most creative and fertile period as 1965-66, when he transcended folk to rock, or even the summer and fall of 1967 when he wrote and recorded more songs than in any comparable period during his Basement Tapes recordings and return to the studio with John Wesley Harding.

But listening to these, his earliest songs, makes a strong argument for the first two years of his career as being his most revolutionary, showing just how powerful a man with voice and guitar and a vision can be. I thought there would be a monotony of sound here, but it's just the opposite. It's stunning to hear how much musical ground could be covered so sparely.


Born: May 24, 1941 in Duluth, MN

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Bob Dylan's influence on popular music is incalculable. As a songwriter, he pioneered several different schools of pop songwriting, from confessional singer/songwriter to winding, hallucinatory, stream-of-consciousness narratives. As a vocalist, he broke down the notion that a singer must have a conventionally good voice in order to perform, thereby redefining the vocalist's role in popular music. As a musician, he sparked several genres of pop music, including electrified folk-rock and country-rock....
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