Six discs. 138 tracks. Forty-seven years of waiting. “The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11” may be the most-hyped reissue release in years. But I’ve got four reasons why this set, despite all that I believe in – the greatness of Bob Dylan, record porn in general – is so unnecessary. I offer this knowing full well that my peers in the writing biz have spoken, teeing this up for every holiday gift guide west of Timor.
1. Too Much, Too Sloppy. Some slam the 1975, double-record compilation that documented the much-mythologized 1967 sessions featuring Dylan and the Band for having too much overdubbing and too little Bob. (Eight tracks are Band only.) But that collection had something this doesn’t: It was curated. Those of us who love, say, gazing at Velasquez or reading Alice Munro don’t expect to see every rough stab that led to the final product, unless we’re doing a dissertation. That’s what’s wrong with “The Basement Tapes Complete.” Three deadly dull versions of “Nothing Was Delivered”? Give ’em to the Smithsonian so scholars can study upon request. For actual listening, pick up a copy of the ’75 release.
2. The Joke’s On Us. Dylan certainly still has good records in him – 2012’s “Tempest” is proof – but he also spends too much time playing merry prankster (that Christmas album, “Chronicles, Volume One,” his cameo on “Pawn Stars”). Count the number of times on “The Basement Tapes Complete” that Dylan cracks up while singing. He is not laughing at Rick Danko’s Christmas sweater. He’s laughing at you, the consumer, slapping down $82.79 to hear a performance not even the player can get through with a straight face.
3. “Bourbon Street.” Track 21, Disc 4. Bob croaks “marvelous” and “play it pretty now, boys,” over a wounded trombone. Makes you almost miss Uriah Heep.
4. So Much Needs To Be Reissued. My only copy of Helen Carroll and the Satisfiers doing “(Oh Why, Oh Why Did I Ever Leave) Wyoming” should not be on a scratchy 78. Other material worthy of proper release: Neil Young’s “Homegrown,” the tracks Brian Wilson recorded with Andy Paley in the 1990s, and virtually everything in Prince’s archives. Truth is, if you love Bob Dylan, you’ve had all of this “Basement Tapes” material for years courtesy of the bootleggers. It’s hard to understand why we need to buy it again.