2014 Holiday Gifts for the Home

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Bob Dylan and the Band: The Basement Tapes Complete

The Bootleg Series Vol. 11 (Columbia/Legacy) & The Basement Tapes Raw: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11 (Columbia/Legacy)

Holed up in the Catskills in 1967, Bob Dylan and the Band warmed up with recordings of country, blues and gospel favorites in their homes in and around Woodstock, N.Y. Then, having set aside current rock, they plunged into a new batch of masterpieces: songs that were absurd, heartsick, biblical, bawdy, playful, rooted and footloose. They were made as demo recordings that Mr. Dylan’s publisher offered to other groups. But in their casual sessions, Mr. Dylan and the Band were putting America’s past through a time warp; they harked back to honky-tonks, juke joints, churches and sock hops but had wayward thoughts all their own. The demos were bootlegged and hailed, and in 1975, Robbie Robertson of the Band shaped the 1967 recordings and some Band material into the official album “The Basement Tapes,” overdubbing and adjusting the originals. Bootleggers escalated with more 1967 material. Now Mr. Dylan’s camp trumps them with everything that can be salvaged from the original tapes, fragments and all: overdubs removed, multiple takes collected, sound restored as much as possible. The six-disc set is exhaustive and exhausting, from very loose cover songs through a final disc of distorted recordings that only full-time Dylanologists will replay (though “Next Time on the Highway” and “That’s the Breaks” are tantalizing). But the songs released in 1975, now unadorned, are still zany and deep (and often in multiple takes), and later discoveries like “I’m Not There” and “Wild Wolf” deserve to join them. It’s also illuminating to hear Mr. Dylan singing material he’d hand over to the Band. Still, for most listeners, the two-disc “Basement Tapes Raw” is ample and well selected. – Jon Pareles



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