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Monday, February 1, 2016

From New Orleans To New Jerusalem: Unreleased Live Recordings, 1997



From New Orleans To New Jerusalem
Live Recordings - 1997

Shooting Star - Live - Fukuoka - February 14, 1997
I & I - Live - Fredericton - April 7, 1997
Maggie's Farm - Live - Lincoln - August 3, 1997
One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later) - Live - Scranton - August 12, 1997
Obviously 5 Believers - Live - Waltham - April 12, 1997
Blind Willie McTell - Live - Montreal - August 5, 1997
Can't Wait - Live - Starkville - October 24, 1997
Long Black Veil - Live - Wheeling - April 28, 1997
Cold Irons Bound - Live - Lisle - November 11, 1997
Pretty Peggy-O - Live - Albany - April 18, 1997
Don't Think Twice, It's Alright - Live - Los Angeles - December 20, 1997
Shelter From The Storm - Live - Tokyo - February 10, 1997
God Knows - Live - Bournemouth - October 2, 1997


This was a deeply challenging collection to assemble, because 1997 is one of the best years of Bob Dylan's Never-Ending Tour.

As a bit of history, this was the year that Dylan released his notable comeback record, Time Out Of Mind. That album, possibly influenced by the preceding half-decade of performing and recording songs from the traditions of North America and the British Isles, offered a unique and forward-looking interpretation of the singer's past. While rooted in history, Dylan had enlisted the help of Daniel Lanois to produce a lush modern sound. He soon took these songs on the road, and turned increasingly away from the earlier songs that had characterized much of his 1990s live show.

To that end, this compilation includes two new songs from Time Out Of Mind, along with some traditional songs, some recently introduced songs from Dylan's 1960s catalog, and some intriguing songs from his past handful of releases.

The first track, "Shooting Star," is admittedly a peculiar start. It's a slow, tentative rendition that picks up steam as it rolls along. The portrait feels like an artist performing, as he would describe on-stage the following year, for himself rather than an audience of adoring fans; the results are transcendent.

"I & I" is one of Dylan's more successful songs of the preceding decade, though it had a tendency to get mired in lengthy jams throughout much of the 1990s. The version here was already excellent, but I slimmed it down just a touch through the editing process. This is the first song on the set emphasizing two sounds that would dominate the band's profile throughout the year - jagged, distorted guitar and resonant drums.

"Maggie's Farm" is among the best arrangements of this song performed in the half century since its conception. It gets the full Time Out Of Mind treatment, pulling back from what can some times be a bombastic approach to instead be represented by a slick beat and snaky guitars.

The next song, "One Of Us Must Know," is a very rare outing for this Blonde On Blonde classic. After one or two performances in 1976, and a strong showing in 1978, it only appeared again at a handful of dates in 1997 before disappearing permanently (as of 2015). The listener may take issue with the occasionally less than perfect lyrical recall, but the passion of the vocals, both primary and backup in the final chorus, put the song across with feeling.

"Obviously 5 Believers" is another Blonde On Blonde song that has been played only rarely outside the studio. Though it was played with some regularity in 1995, it only appeared briefly in 1996 and 1997 before fading away entirely. One suspects that it was part and parcel with Dylan's refocus on sparse, riff-oriented rhythmic blues tracks in the mid-1990s; this was the same impulse that produced much of the comparatively sparse, focused record referred to above. While his session players had evidently struggled with the rhythm in 1966, his 1997 band proves more than up to the challenge of producing the scathing blues track here.

The sixth performance, "Blind Willie McTell," is an exciting first. The song, which had only grown in stature since its release on 1991's The Bootleg Series, Volume 1-3, has often been declared one of the writer's masterpieces. Its sudden appearance in 1997 was not a coincidence though - apparently Dylan had heard The Band performing this song earlier in the decade and decided he could do it better than them onstage. This friendly rivalry would produce wonderful results for fans, as the singer would go on to play the song beautifully throughout the next two decades.

"Can't Wait" is one of the two songs from the recently released Time Out Of Mind, and it does not stray distantly from its studio incarnation. For better or for worse, though fans generally hew to the former assessment, it is rendered here in a cleaner sound than would be possible under Daniel Lanois' style of production. Many of the songs from those sessions would see release in the late 1990s on semi-obscure Sony/Columbia releases in live form, reinforcing the impression that Dylan had not necessarily been happy with the overwhelming swampy presence of the producer on his most recent record.

The next track, "Long Black Veil," is one of a variety of songs that many fans had long wished Bob Dylan to cover in performance. Having done justice to so many American, Scottish, British and Irish songs over the previous thirty years, listeners were delighted when the singer finally unveiled his deeply atmospheric rendering of this beloved ballad. Though many of his Americana covers in the 1999 - 2002 era would be produced in acoustic arrangements (and indeed you can find a later performance of this song on the Thousand Highways compilation Keep Humming), this rendition is in a slow, brooding electric style.

"Cold Irons Bound" is one of the highlights of this compilation, and it would go on to be one of the highlights of the next ten years. David Kemper's addition to the band is nowhere more valued than in his drumming contributions to this powerfully rhythmic experience.

Though "Pretty Peggy-O" already appeared on the One More Night overview compilations, I couldn't bear to leave it off of my 1997-focused collection. Since its appearance on a noted bootleg compilation, Bathed In A Stream Of Pure Heat, this recording from Albany, New York has long been considered one of the gems of the Never-Ending Tour, and I'd be inclined to agree.

"Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" represents a song that was really starting to come into its own. This may seem to be a bit absurd as a remark about a song originally recorded in 1962, but Bob Dylan had avoided performing the track for a fair amount of his middle period. After he "went electric" in 1965, the song would go on to appear with regularity in 1974 and 1978 alone before becoming something of a standard in 1986 and later. Outside of an inventive reggae arrangement in 1978, it had often been performed either solo or with minimal accompaniment, so the song hadn't really been able to evolve past its simplest form; this began to change in the mid-1990s, though, as the song rapidly transitioned into something of a bluegrass stomper. Sometimes it was more relaxed, while other times it was more reflective, as it appears here; either way, it soon became one of the most reliable songs in the singer's songbook.

The penultimate performance, a Tokyo rendition of "Shelter From The Storm," was both an early and a late addition to the compilation. I love this unique, bouncy arrangement, but it went by the wayside as I came to emphasize the darker side to Dylan's 1997 performance catalog; only in the last few days before publishing did the song come back to its place in the setlist. It's admittedly a bit meandering, but the overall tone of the recording is remarkable - the song evolves dramatically from its relaxed early minutes to an intense conclusion. My recommendation is to just get into the groove and go with it. One intriguing note about this one - the inventive arrangement of "Shelter From The Storm" that appeared on One More Night: Volume Four would also originate in Tokyo. I wonder what it is about that city that inspires such remarkable, bizarre versions of this song?

"God Knows" is a song that I'm drawn to, and this version is an exemplary one. Beginning with an almost solo vocal and guitar performance, the song grows into a powerful electric fervor before slowing to an elegant closure. Again, Kemper's drumming pulls the track together from start to finish.

Listeners may find a couple of omissions to take issue with here: other Time Out Of Mind songs are absent, including "Love Sick," "'Til I Fell In Love With You," "Make You Feel My Love," and "Not Dark Yet" were played in 1997 but are not represented on this release. The first three of those are likely to appear on next month's 1998 compilation, After Hours; while "Not Dark Yet" would go on to attain extraordinary stature by 1999 and demonstrate that quality time and again over the following decade, it was still evolving in its earliest performances. One other notable performance from this year, "When I Paint My Masterpiece," from the singer's December El Rey residency, is not present here - I don't agree with the common consensus, and find it a bit rushed. You might want to seek it out, since your take could very well differ from my own.

Whatever you take away from this release, I hope you find something to enjoy. 1997 was a remarkable year for the evolution of Bob Dylan's performance art, and I'm happy to finally add it to the Thousand Highways Collection.

Next month will feature another long-awaited compilation: 1998. A handful of songs from that year are featured on the overview set, One More Night, but this one will be a keeper you don't want to miss.

As always, keep yourself healthy and listen to some good tunes. Thanks for listening!

-CS

February 3, 2016 Update: I've been informed that the date on the rear art is incorrect for "Blind Willie McTell" - it should read August 5 instead of April 5. I'll try to get new art up as soon as possible.

12 comments:

  1. I love the first of the month! Looking forward to this. Thank you.

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  2. Brilliant - thank you so much!

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  3. Wonderful stuff as ever CS. Thank you so much and as always the notes are a fascinating insight to a masterfan!

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  4. Thank you very much! I greatly enjoy your notes, especially the reflections on why some "popular" renditions don't make the cut. I feel that we all greatly benefit form your deeper and more thorough examination of these issues!

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  5. Hi, thanks again for this one !

    I was going through some of your older offerings and wonderin' if you would ever consider making a collection of covers from our beloved Bob ? I thought about that when I ran into "Memories - Fall 2002" : Boom Boom Mancini is but a bonus track, Old Man and Brown Sugar are left aside ? That's the sound of my heart breaking right there !

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    1. Good question! I don't regret leaving aside "Old Man" and "Brown Sugar" since neither, particularly the second, were performed with the same panache as the tracks that made the cut - my opinion only, of course. I'm not planning to put out a covers record, since covers turn up on so many of my already existing and more thematically coherent CDs, but I am going to do another "Odds and Ends" release at the end of my second run. I'll take these covers into account when I publish those.

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    2. Great, I'm really looking forward to this !

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  6. Don't see enough '97 shows about, so I'm grateful for this. Thank you.

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  9. Thank you so much for sharing and reviewing this.

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