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The Bootleg Series - Vol. 5
Bob Dylan Live 1975
The Rolling Thunder Review

Review By Steven Stone
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CD Number: Columbia/Legacy

 

  Bob Dylan. Easily the most influential single musician of the second half of the twentieth century, his name alone conjures up an mélange of images. Dylan has never confined himself to one kind of music. At various times he has appeared as a finger-picking folk purist, protest-song singer, rock innovator, roots spelunker, and country crooner. Throughout his career Dylan has worn his mantle of inscrutability with a single-mindedness that at times bordered on downright curmudgeondom. His ability to change from one thing to another often left his fans wondering which Bob they were going to get – the "good" Bob, or the "bad" Bob. Depending on their own personal tastes, one person’s good Bob IS another person’s bad Bob. On "The Bootleg Series" – Vol. 5 we get a little bit of all the Bobs. Lucky us.

In 1975 Bob Dylan came up with the idea of putting together a touring group, not just a band, but also an entire musical revue. Instead of a headliner supported by a couple of opening acts as was the norm, Dylan wanted a troupe of musicians, a changing cast of characters, capable of entertaining an audience for an entire evening. In retrospect, his recruiting methods were not all that strange – assemble a group of musicians and see if they could make music together. But at the time his methods seemed like madness, picking musicians seemingly at random, but after a few false starts, the final result produced a remarkable band named "The Rolling Thunder Review." Personnel for "Rolling Thunder" included Joan Baez on vocal and guitar, Bobby Neuwirth on vocal and guitar, Scarlet Rivera on violin, T. Bone Burnet on guitar, Roger McGuinn on vocal and guitar, Steve Soles on vocal and guitar, Mick Ronson on guitar, David Mansfield on steel guitar, mandolin, violin, and dobro, Rob Stoner on bass, Howie Wyeth on piano and drums, Luthar Rix on drums, percussion and congas, and Ronee Blakely on vocals. Besides the musicians the revue included Alan Ginsburg and Peter Orlovsky, sound and lighting technicians, fifteen members of a film crew (their footage became "Renaldo and Clara"), and assorted friends and guests. The entire entourage added up to 70 people. Imagine a very hip, very wigged-out Grand Ol' Opry.

Of the 22 different songs on the two CDs, not a single selection lets you down. From early material like "A Hard Rain is Going To Fall" and "Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" right up through "Isis" and "Tangled up in Blue," the performances and arrangements are still fresh and exciting. My personal favorites are "Just Like a Woman" and "The Water Is Wide" which feature Joan Baez’ soaring soprano harmonies.

Although may fans taped the shows surreptitiously, and bootleg tapes have been circulating among hardcore Dylan fans for years, Legacy chose to use only material recorded by the official sound truck, who taped the revue’s shows in Worcester, Cambridge, and Boston, Massachusetts, and Montreal, Canada. While some cognoscenti will argue that these are not the best performances from the tour, they are the only recordings where the audio quality is at least equal to the level of the performances. Producers Jeff Rosen and Steve Berkowitz did a fine job with the song selections as well as the seamless way the songs flow from one to another.

With the sheer number of Bob Dylan albums available, any new release must offer something special and compelling to warrant its purchase. It’s gotten to the point that Bob Dylan is competing against himself. Even with the stiff competition, "The Bootleg Series" – Vol. 5 demands to be heard and owned. "The Bootleg Series" Vol. 5 certainly equals any previously released live Dylan album in the quality of the sound and the performances. For those who consider themselves a Dylan fan, this CD is a must-have.

 

 

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