Who’s gonna throw that minstrel boy a coin?

91d+7ElDX0L._SL1500_This is supposed to be a new-music-cum-gig-journey sort of a Blog (although you could be forgiven for missing that) and so one of the reasons things have been a little quiet here of recent is this rather splendid Christmas present I received three weeks ago.

The Basement Tapes

I spent a large slice of the summer listening to a Best Of collection called The Basement Tapes Raw and reading alongside it Sid Griffin’s blow-by-blow account of this particularly fertile period of Dylan’s career. It’s a collection I became a little obsessed with as August progressed, and the prospect of listening to the whole damn thing began to grow on me.

141103_r25702-1200And now I’ve got my hands on it, I’ve not been at all disappointed, not least because it’s so beautifully presented. There’s a hardback book of photos and notes plus a gorgeous book-like presentation case of the six CDs, all packaged in a reassuringly sturdy boxset case. Gold standard…

Now, I’m not going to go off all completist on you – I’ve always thought, “Who needs multiple versions of one song?” – but, I’ve gotta say, I’m all turned around about it now on this evidence. The two different versions of “Ain’t No More Cane”, for example, are genuinely fascinating, and I’m by no means certain they picked the right one for the Best Of. Furthermore some of the alternate takes are tantalising glimpses of very different versions of certain songs – the second take of “Open the Door Homer”, for example, sounds even more soulful and homespun than either of the other two. It sounds great, truly wondrous, but, tragically, is cut off after just a minute (cue, cries of anguish at this punter’s first listen).

The thing of it is, I’ve never owned a copy of the original (belated) release of The Basement Tapes and what’s more, I’m not even much of a Dylan fan – he’s tended to leave me a little cold – but you hear an entirely (en-tire-ly) different version of the man from what I imagined. There’s a lot of laughing and general larking around, and such a comfortable, relaxed feel to the recordings that you just want to wriggle your shoes off and enjoy the whole private experience.

the-band-basementThe context of the recordings is, of course, that they were made by The Bob and members of the Band, in the mythical Big Pink, over the period of weeks as Dylan convalesced after his motorbike accident (and generally re-evaluated his career and ambitions). From that side, you can understand the generous, almost indulgent feel of the sessions; but at the same time, the Band were in something of a state of flux, unsure of their futures and whether they would have work to go on to. Levon Helm wasn’t even present for most of the sessions, having quit the band, bruised and battered by the events of Dylan’s electric tour. You really wouldn’t know this from the playing (I had no clue, until the Griffin book), the Band sound as loose and cool as ever they did.

The Band are, of course, responsible for my very favourite record of all time – the Brown album and Music from the Big Pink are as good a pair of debut records as will ever be released – and it’s probably this side of the recordings which are what I’m loving, first up. There’s so much more, though, so much heart, …

Anyway, having mentioned The Greatest Record Ever Made, it’s occurred to me there are a bunch of songs here that wouldn’t look out of place on that record (or Big Pink). And so, with that in mind, here’s a new Lucky Seven (Big Pink version):

Lucky Seven (Big Pink version)

(One Too Many Mornings; Ain’t No More Cane; Santa Fe; Open the Door, Homer; Goin’ to Acapulco; I’m Not There; All You Have to do is Dream; Minstrel Boy)

Yeah, I know, eight…