Bob Dylan has released thirty-six studio albums during his incredibly prolific and enduring career, so it stands to reason that there has to be quite a catalog of unreleased outtakes, alternate takes and demos from these sessions. Still, I’m impressed that the twelfth volume of his Bootleg Series requires a “best of” edition to whittle the material down to a more manageable two discs. The uncut edition is comprised of every single take of the recording sessions that produced his legendary projects Another Side of Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde. This is two years in the studio with Dylan and it arguably gives one of the most accurate depictions of Dylan at a certain period in his life. Props should be handed out to whoever the studio heads are who documented his career so thoroughly.
These sessions are incredibly relaxed and informal. It’s refreshing to hear Bob Dylan not caught up in his artistry. This collection actually serves to highlight Dylan’s understated musicality. It’s disarming to hear Dylan tracks like “Visions of Johanna” and “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry” in a completely different time signature or with vastly different instrumentation.
On the other hand, folk purists will be excited to see quite a few acoustic takes and piano demos of popular tunes like “Love minus Zero.” Iconic Dylan songs like “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Like a Rolling Stone” appear in highly altered or incomplete versions, but with high take counts that expose his humanity to his devout fan base. Some serious work and experimentation went into achieving the takes that made it onto his critically acclaimed albums back in the ‘60s.
This collection’s runtime might turn off all but the most devout Dylan fans, but for the patient listener, The Best of the Cutting Edge 1965-1966 is as close as we’ll get to sitting in the studio with the man. The first take of “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” devolves into fits of laughter that halt the music in its tracks after only seven seconds. It’s moments like these that remind us of the performance required in studio sessions. Some of these takes are sloppy and some of the instrumentation choices just don’t work, but that’s the point. He’s just being creative, flipping his songs into unrecognizable forms and further cementing his status as one of the greatest musicians to ever do it. He also sounds happy doing it, and that’s nothing if not a new face for the material from this time. While the takes that were included on the studio albums can’t really be touched, this is a very entertaining listen for fans of Bob Dylan, rock, folk or music in general.