Bob Dylan fans can finally rejoice as the "holy grail" of Bob Dylan's music catalog has been released! The "Basement Tapes" have become the most sought after bootleg recordings in the history of music. Back in 1967, a twenty-six year old Bob Dylan retreated to a house in upstate New York, following his motorcycle accident, to become a family man and get back to the roots of music. He invited his former backing band, The Hawks, to join him for what would become informal jam sessions that would last for about nine months. During the recordings, Dylan and The Hawks (who latter became The Band) performed over a hundred songs consisting of Dylan's originals and timeless folk and country music classics. An album of these recordings was released in 1975, titled "The Basement Tapes" as The Band's guitarist Robbie Roberson took it upon himself to go through hours of tape to find the best songs to release to the public. But Robertson felt the songs seem incomplete and added overdubs to help flesh them out. Plus, of the 24 songs released, only sixteen were from the "Basement Tape" session while the other eight were recordings of The Band at various locations between 1967 to 1975. Diehard fans were dissatisfied with the end results and have since sought out bootleg records to hear the amazingly fruitful original sessions.
On November 4th, Sony Legacy and Columbia Records made things right by releasing "The Complete Basement Tapes" on 6CDs (a 2CD set of highlights was also released). The songs featured in this set were mixed from the original recordings that have been held onto by The Band's Garth Hudson all these years. The first five discs have been compiled to closely follow the recordings chronologically as to when they were recorded during these sessions. The sixth disc contains 21 tracks that are rough versions of songs that didn't quite match up quality-wise with the other music, but stilled needed a place in this set.
The first two discs of the set show the musicians getting used to each other once again, performing loose covers of songs by Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Pete Seeger, John Lee Hooker, Curtis Mayfield and others. The atmosphere of these early recordings is laid back with none of them really performed to be final takes for an album. Discs three and four are where Bob Dylan and The Band begin to settle-down and get serious about performing some ground-breaking music. While bands like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Doors were looking to shake things up with loud, rocking rhythms, Bob Dylan was looking to do the opposite with getting back to his acoustic folk roots. Songs like "Tears Of Rage," "Quinn The Eskimo" and "Sign On The Cross" showed how fruitful these sessions were to create new music that would eventually becomes hit songs for other artists. Many of the songs on these discs contain multiple takes as each one sounds different and is a necessary addition to this set. Dylan's voice is in fine form during these sessions as The Band begin to come into their own as a group of performers, creating this timeless music that would eventually propel them into one of the folk/rock icons of American music. The fifth disc begins with Dylan and The Band performing the classics "Blowin' In The Wind" and "It Ain't Me Babe" as if the were looking to recreate these masterpieces. Dylan does a masterful job throughout the set taking traditional folk songs like "She'll Be Coming Around The Mountain" and "Ain't No More Cane" and recreating them into potential hit singles for either The Band or himself. While six discs may never be enough, it certainly will fill the need of historical documentation of Bob Dylan and his great extensive musical catalog.
The discs are housed in an 8.5" by 8.5" hardcover book that looks to replicate the boxes that the reel to reel tapes were stored in. Included alongside the discs is a 42-page full-color history of the recordings as told by Sid Griffen (author of "Million Dollar Bash: Bob Dylan, The Band & The Basement Tapes"), Clinton Heylin and Jan Haust. The box set also includes a 122-page hardcover book of "Photographs & More" as it shows Dylan and members of The Band in a more vulnerable, playful atmosphere. The book also contains historic newspaper clippings and articles that are a real treat to read.
This outstanding new release should be at the top of every music fan's Christmas list this year and should easily be considered one of the top new releases of 2014. While not every Bob Dylan fan will be completely satisfied with what this set contains or how it was presented, the time and effort that went into this set should be awarded as this should put to rest one of the great mysteries of the Bob Dylan catalog. To find out more about this amazing box set, please visit bobdylan.com.