"Bootleg Series Vol. 5:
Bob Dylan Live 1975 -- The
Rolling Thunder Revue"
Much bootlegged over the decades, this fantastic retrospective of the fiery first leg of Bob Dylan's fabled Rolling Thunder Revue finally earns legitimate release, sonically crude copies now replaced by sterling multi-track sound truck recordings. The latter leg of Rolling Thunder we know from 1976's "Hard Rain" concert album, but when Dylan took to the road from October to December of 1975, the notion of a postmodern medicine show caravan was still fresh and Dylan sounded hyper-energized, racing though his back pages and excitedly previewing upcoming material (he was between two critically acclaimed albums, 1975's "Blood on the Tracks" and 1976's "Desire").
Dylan offers taut solo readings of "Tangled Up in Blue" and "Simple Twist of Fate" from the former and a half-dozen tracks from the latter. The best of those include his Marty Robbins-style narrative, "Romance in Durango," a sinewy "Isis," the melancholy marriage eulogy "Sara" and a "Hurricane" full of furious righteousness. The Band was no longer aboard, but the band on hand was pretty good, from a guitar lineup that included T-Bone Burnett, Mick Ronson, Steven Soles and Roger McGuinn to Scarlet Rivera's Gypsy violin flurries. There's a bracing urgency fueling many numbers, from rarities like "Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You" to the raucous "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry" and speedy "It Ain't Me Babe" that rides rippling guitars atop a neo-reggae shuffle beat.
Dylan et al. also rip it when he revisits two of his vintage protest songs, "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" and "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll," but tenderly cushion the melancholy plaint "Just Like a Woman," the philosophic rumination "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" and a stately "I Shall Be Released," the last two duets with Roger McGuinn and Joan Baez, respectively. Baez also helps Dylan on the seminal "Blowin' in the Wind" and a playful "Mama, You Been on My Mind." The 22 tracks spread over two CDs also feature a bounty of unplugged Dylan on such exemplary songs as "Mr. Tambourine Man," "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" and a taut "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue."
The initial pressings of "The Rolling Thunder Revue" include a bonus DVD with 5.1 surround-sound remixes of "Tangled Up in Blue" and "Isis" taken from "Renaldo & Clara," the legendarily awful documentary of the tour (thankfully, it's being kept off the market for now). Expansive notes are provided by Larry Sloman, whose Revue travelogue, "On the Road With Bob Dylan," has just been reissued as well. This album and that book are testaments to Dylan at the height of his powers, with levels of commitment, energy and invention he has only revisited in the last five years.
-- Richard Harrington
Appearing Friday at the Patriot Center. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Bob Dylan, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8109. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)