Wednesday, 14 March 2018

"Biograph" by BOB DYLAN (March 2011 Sony/Columbia/Legacy 3CD 'Book Pack Edition' Reissue - Greg Calbi Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...







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"...I Guess It Was Up To Me..."

As much as I find the actual working of these 'book holder' packs with their impossible plastic clip-ins to be a royal pain in the patouche - you can't but help feel that this 2011 reissue of 1985's "Biograph" (Bob Dylan's groundbreaking vaults-haul) is a musical cream cake that screams - damn the calories mama and just eat-me-up. This thing looks great, reads great, plays great and offers a combo of key album and single tracks vs. previous unreleased and rare recordings that is enlightening even if the sequencing is bloody irritating at times. It's not perfect, but it is a must-buy for Dylan fans.

The retrospective compilation "Biograph" was initially released November 1985 as a 3CD/5LP Box Set in Album-Sized 12" x 12" Packaging - 53 digitally remastered tracks covering 1961 to 1981 with 21 of them either rare or Previously Unreleased. The 36-page booklet had liner notes by famed filmmaker and uber fan CAMERON CROWE as well as ruminations by the Bobster on all of his songs - some enlightening - some typically oblique or even downright dismissive. It was downsized and reissued October 1997 into a neater 5" card slipcase with a 3CD ‘fatboy’ jewel case, a 36-page booklet inside and new 'SBM' remastering (Super Bit Mapping). .

And now we get this – a March 2011 'Book Pack' version roughly measuring 6" x 8" with an upgraded 44-page booklet. Although the SBM code is not on the rear of the 2011 packaging, the new liner notes add 'digitally mastered' by Greg Calbi of Supertramp, Television and Paul Simon reissue fame (he did the ‘mastering’ on the original 1985 set). Calbi is a fabulous Audio Engineer – and not surprisingly the sound is great. There's a lot of Subterranean Homesick Blues to document, so let's have at it...

UK and EUROPE re-released 21 March 2011 - "Biograph" by BOB DYLAN on Columbia/Sony Music/Legacy 88697 85648 2 (Barcode 886978564825) is a 3CD 56-Track 'Book Pack Edition' Reissue that plays out as follows:

Disc 1 (73:21 minutes):
1. Lay Lady Lay (from the April 1969 album "Nashville Skyline")
2. Baby, Let Me Follow You Down (from the March 1962 debut album "Bob Dylan")
3. If Not For You (from the October 1970 album "New Morning")
4. I'll Be Your Baby Tonight (from the December 1967 album "John Wesley Harding")
5. I'll Keep It With Mine (PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED recording from 14 January 1965)
6. The Times They Are A-Changin' (from the January 1964 album "The Times They Are A-Changin'")
7. Blowin' In The Wind (from the May 1963 album "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan)
8. Masters Of War (from the May 1963 album "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan)
9. Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll (from the January 1964 album "The Times They Are A-Changin'")
10. Percy's Song (PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED recording from 23 October 1963)
11. Mixed-Up Confusion (Non-Album US 7" single A-side from November 1962)
12. Tombstone Blues (from the August 1965 album "Highway 61 Revisited")
13. Groom's Still Waiting At The Altar (Non-Album US 7" single B-side to "Heart Of Mine" from September 1981)
14. Most Likely You'll Go Your Way And I'll Go Mine (from the May 1974 album "Before The Flood")
15. Like A Rolling Stone (from the August 1965 album "Highway 61 Revisited")
16. Lay Down Your Weary Tune (PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED recording from 24 October 1963)
17. Subterranean Homesick Blues (from the March 1965 album "Bringing It All Back Home")
18. I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Met) (PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED live recording from 6 May 1966)

Disc 2 (71:48 minutes):
1. Visions Of Johanna (PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED live recording from 26 May 1966)
2. Every Grain Of Sand (from the August 1981 album "Shot Of Love")
3. Quinn The Eskimo (The Might Quinn) (PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED version recorded July 1967)
4. Mr. Tambourine Man (from the March 1965 album "Bringing It All Back Home")
5. Dear Landlord (from the December 1967 album "John Wesley Harding")
6. It Ain't Me, Babe (from the August 1964 album "Another Side Of Bob Dylan")
7. You Angel You (from the January 1974 album "Planet Waves")
8. Million Dollar Bash (from the July 1975 double-album "The Basement Tapes")
9. To Ramona (from the August 1964 album "Another Side Of Bob Dylan")
10. You're A Big Girl Now (PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED Version - from the "Blood On The Track" sessions recorded 25 September 1974)
11. Abandoned Love (PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED Song recording from July 1975)
12. Tangled Up In Blue (from the January 1975 album "Blood On The Tracks")
13. It's All Over Now, Baby Blue (PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED Live Version recorded 17 May 1966)
14. Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window? (Non-Album US 7" Single A-side released December 1965)
15. Positively 4th Street (Non-Album US 7" Single A-side released September 1965)
16. Isis (PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED Live Version recorded 4 December 1975)
17. Jet Pilot (PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED Song recorded October 1965)

Disc 3 (71:42 minutes):
1. Caribbean Wind (PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED Song recorded 7 April 1981)
2. Up To Me (PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED Song outtake from the "Blood On The Track" sessions recorded 25 September 1974)
3. Baby, I'm In the Mood For You (PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED Song recorded 9 July 1962)
4. I Wanna Be Your Lover (PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED Song recorded October 1965)
5. I Want You (from the May 1966 double-album "Blonde On Blonde")
6. Heart Of Mine (PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED Live Version recorded August 1981)
7. On A Night Like This (from the January 1974 album "Planet Waves")
8. Just Like A Woman (from the May 1966 double-album "Blonde On Blonde")
9. Romance In Durango (PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED Live Version recorded 4 December 1975)
10. Senor (Tales Of Yankee Power) (from the June 1978 album "Street Legal")
11. Gotta Serve Somebody (from the August 1979 album "Slow Train Coming")
12. I Believe In You (from the August 1979 album "Slow Train Coming")
13. Time Passes Slowly (from the October 1970 album "New Morning")
14. I Shall Be Released (from the November 1971 double-album "Greatest Hits Volume 2")
15. Knockin' On Heaven's Door (from the July 1973 Soundtrack album "Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid")
16. All Along The Watchtower (from the June 1974 double-live album "Before The Flood")
17. Solid Rock (from the June 1980 album "Saved")
18. Forever Young (PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED Version recorded June 1973)

The 'Book Pack' stands nicely alongside all the others in this format, all the photos from the 1985 booklet are here as are the sheets of Dylan's comments. The GREG CALBI Remasters are gorgeous - even something as frantic as "Baby, I'm In The Mood For You" and the unreleased version of "I Wanna Be Your Lover" sound tight and in your face. Let's get to the music...

I'd admit that the track sequencing on Disc 1 feels odd to my ears – until about half through when it settles down. "Baby, Let Me Follow You Down" and the George Harrison/Olivia Newton John famous "If Not For You" don't really follow after the distinctive vibe of "Lay Lady Lay". I'd have opened with the fabulous "I'll Keep It With Mine" - the first of the unreleased studio and live songs - Bobster on the old Johanna tapping his foot as he keeps time. It's a confident rendition (fully formed) and yet delicate ("people like it..." he says in the liner notes sounding a little bewildered). Judy Collins famously took it and made a November 1965 Elektra Records single out of it (on London in the UK in 1966). The Audio on both "The Times They Are A-Changin'" and the iconic "Blowin' In The Wind" is hair-raisingly clean - amplifying the pretty melodies in both. The rhyming couplets in "Masters Of War" and the lonesome harmonica wail in "...Hattie Carroll" are the same – both lyrically carrying the power of a mallet (51 years old and ten children - amazing stuff).

Next up is unreleased goody number two - this time from the autumn of 1963 – a truly gorgeous acoustic cover of Paul Clayton's turn-turn-turn-again "Percy's Song". How did this beauty not make it onto an LP or even a 45 B-side? Fans will probably play this sucker into the ground (I feel the same about Simon & Garfunkel's "Blues Run The Game" which first showed on the "Old Friends" 3CD retrospective). The raucous "Mixed-Up Confusion" follows, as does another swinging non-album single track – the brutally brilliant "Groom’s Still Waiting At The Altar". Its slide guitars feel like "Blonde On Blonde" and that band revisited – Bob's voice just the right side of gnarly. With Ringo Starr on the drums - the non-album B was played on radio a lot at the time – Rock of Gibraltar baby. The live version of "Most Likely You Go Your Way And I'll Go Mine" feels out of place, as does the 1966 unreleased version of "I Don't Believe You...” A hundred times better is "Lay Down Your Weary Tune" – unreleased acoustic tune number three (again - an amazing find). What can you say about the lyrically thrilling "Subterranean Homesick Blues" as it rollicks out of your speakers with the hutzpah of a poet having a right-old rave-up on Speaker's Corner (throw down those cue cards Bob – don't follow leaders and watch out for parking meters).

Disc 2 offers a beautifully intimate and almost eerie "Visions Of Johanna" - an unreleased 7:32 minute live version from May 1966. Just acoustic guitar, echoed vocals, some harmonica punches and an almost reverent-silent audience listening enrapt. It's also so well recorded - the transfer making jelly-faced women, jewels and binoculars sound like they're in your living room. It's superbly followed by a forgotten 1981 gem few paid any attention to at the time - "Every Grain Of Sand" from his second religious album "Shot Of Love". The master's hand in the fury of the moment, in every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand... Bizarrely that's followed with a wobbly unreleased take of "Quinn The Eskimo" that won't be sugaring-me-sweet any day soon. Would have been better to follow "Every Grain Of Sand" with "Mr. Tambourine Man" - sounding utterly glorious here, fresh again despite its wildly overplayed history. Warm bass lines come at you with Harding's "Dear Landlord" and The Band sounding "You Angel You" - one of the better cuts on 1974's "Planet Waves" – is lifted up too with the mastering. But the second real fave-rave on CD2 is a spine-tingling alternate of "You're A Big Girl Now" from 1975's mighty "Blood On The Tracks" - exclusive here and still yet to make it to a 2-Disc 'Legacy Edition' of that astonishing album. Soft acoustic guitar, intimate vocals, pedal steel and sweet keyboards - you on dry land, you made in there somehow, you're a big girl now (what a tune). With girly backing vocals and violin strokes throughout - "Abandoned Love" sounds like a "Desire" outtake and is sweetly placed prior to "Tangled Up In Blue" – the magnificent Side 1 opener of "Blood On The Tracks". It comes roaring to a satisfying finish with the singles "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?" and the genius of "Positively 4th Street" – a song so smart it doesn’t have its title in the lyrics anywhere and few to this day know what its about. She’s got "...Jet Pilot eyes and carries a Monkey Wrench – got all the downtown boys at her command..." the Big Dill warns on the gender-bender "Jet Pilot" from 1966 – an unreleased snippet that's still worth owning - even if it is criminally short.

Disc 3 opens with another one of the set's unreleased prizes - "Caribbean Wind" from 1981 - where the long arm of the law cannot reach (where does he get all the words). But that's trumped by the real "Biograph" prize - an outtake from the "Blood On The Tracks" sessions - the wonderful "Up To Me". A variant of the album's "Shelter From The Storm" - despite the familiar structure and some duplicated lines - hearing the song anew like this is a thrill (someone had to reach for the rising star and I guess it was up to me...). The alternate "I Wanna Be Your Lover" has the studio band letting rip as 'Rasputin remains dignified' while the live cut of the single "Heart Of Mine" is surprisingly sweet - don't let her know - don't be a fool he warns and of course doesn't listen. I've always had a love-hate relationship with his religious outpouring 1979's "Slow Train Coming" - but the duo chosen are "Gotta Serve Somebody" and the beautiful ballad "I Believe In You" - the kind of song that elicits hero-worship amidst singers who have covered it proudly. They drive me from this town - they don't want me around - because I believe in you - Knopfler's subtle guitar adding another layer of class to his passionate vocals. While I can live without "Solid Rock" where Bob tries to sound like a bad Dire Straits - I absolutely love the rough 'n' ready unreleased demo version of "Forever Young" - another one of his best compositions. Despite its hissy nature, you can hear why the compilers knew it had to be included – there’s something in its voice and acoustic guitar simplicity that is quite magical. And like "I Believe In You" – it’s a tune that means so much to so many people.

The Bootleg Series started in 1991 and is still ongoing into 2018 - compilation after compilation of unreleased swag. But this officially released precursor to that series still feels like a 5-star nugget to me.

"...May you always be courageous, stand upright and be strong..." he sang on "Forever Young"  - and isn't that what every parent would want for their kids. 

Thank you sincerely Mr. Zimmerman for all the Biographs across the decades - and long may your song always be sung...

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