- Odds and Ends
- Orange Juice Blues (Blues for Breakfast)
- Million Dollar Bash
- Yazoo Street Scandal
- Goin' to Acapulco
- Katie's Been Gone
- Lo and Behold!
- Bessie Smith
- Clothes Line Saga
- Apple Suckling Tree
- Please, Mrs. Henry
- Tears of Rage
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The official release of The Basement Tapes -- which were first heard on a 1968 bootleg called The Great White Wonder -- plays with history somewhat, as Robbie Robertson overemphasizes the Band's status in the sessions, making them out to be equally active to Dylan, adding in demos not cut at the sessions and overdubbing their recordings to flesh them out. As many bootlegs (most notably the complete five-disc series) reveal, this isn't entirely true and the Band were nowhere near as active as Dylan, but that ultimately is a bit like nitpicking, since the music here (including the Band's) is astonishingly good. The party line on The Basement Tapes is that it is Americana, as Dylan and the Band pick up the weirdness inherent in old folk, country, and blues tunes, but it transcends mere historical arcana through its lively, humorous, full-bodied performances. Dylan never sounded as loose, nor was he ever as funny as he is here, and this positively revels in its weird, wild character. For all the apparent antecedents -- and the allusions are sly and obvious in equal measure -- this is truly Dylan's show, as he majestically evokes old myths and creates new ones, resulting in a crazy quilt of blues, humor, folk, tall tales, inside jokes, and rock. The Band pretty much pick up where Dylan left off, even singing a couple of his tunes, but they play it a little straight, on both their rockers and ballads. Not a bad thing at all, since this actually winds up providing context for the wild, mercurial brilliance of Dylan's work -- and, taken together, the results (especially in this judiciously compiled form with its expert song selection, even if there's a bit too much Band) rank among the greatest American music ever made.
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I agree that this set isn't perfect. It could have used a couple more fast songs for one thing. However, this is one of the few times (the Wilbury albums were the others) that we see Bob Dylan working as part of a group. We also hear The Band just before their official debut. Robbie's guitar and Garth;s organ are as important to the overall sound as Bob's singing. I suspect that if all of the songs came out the impact of the sessions would be diluted. For anyone else this would be 5 star work. Because it is not quite Dylan or the Band's best I rate it 4 1/2 stars.
In many ways, despite the "never meant for release" nature of these recordings, this 2 CD album is one of the most enjoyable Dylan albums. This is not an album for the casual Dylan fan but it is essential for the Dylan fanatic. Dylan and The Band sound like they are having a great time and the listener can't help but be caught up in the fun. These are not serious songs (for the most part) and it has the feel of musicians working out some old and new songs just because they are together and want to play. Yes, the very first bootleg (The Great White Wonder) included a few of these songs. That bootlegs existence was understandable as Dylan was in seclusion from mid 1966 to mid 1968, so the desire for new songs by Dylan was very high. It was great when Columbia made this official release of those songs, but it needs to be reexamined by the studio. Even now there are several bootlegs of Basement Tapes that did not make it to these two CD's and in this age of complete recordings; it is long overdue for a box set of the entire Basement Tapes. But until that happens (if at all) these two CD's are a pleasure.