Bob Dylan at the tail end of 2018 was a fascinating, irascible concept. Dylan at the circus selling his Heaven’s Door whiskey with Jimmy Fallon by his side. Dylan making clear melodic sense of his catalog during the November/December leg of his Never Ending Tour with a date opening the grand old Met Philadelphia in MAGNET’s hometown. The six-disc re-release/reconsideration of 1975’s Blood On The Tracks, a troubled epic within said catalog and the very best of his albums of the 1970s.
As far as thematic concept albums on the overdone topic of ruined romance go, they started with crooner Frank Sinatra’s Only The Lonely (a slowly danced, bourbon-soaked illustration of frustration and despair over an affair’s finale) and end with irked songwriter Bob Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks (itself a meditation on love’s loss, but geared more toward anger and resentment). Only Marvin Gaye’s Here, My Dear (1978), Richard And Linda Thompson’s Shoot Out The Lights (1982), Willie Nelson’s Phases And Stages (1974) and, of course, Tammy Wynette’s D-I-V-O-R-C-E (1968) show as must disgust, fear, anxiety and loathing at having to separate love’s bonds.
Each of these stately recordings, Sinatra’s torch songs of 1958, Dylan’s blues and reds of 1975, were re-released at the end of 2018 with additional songs and missed-opportunity rarities, particularly in the case of Dylan’s deluxe-edition More Blood, More Tracks in accordance with his long-running Bootleg series. This refreshed collection features unheard alternative versions of searing songs from the moody masterpiece such as raw, emotional, solo, acoustic renditions of “Tangled Up In Blue,” “Simple Twist Of Fate” and “If You See Her, Say Hello” as well as the standard-bearing “Spanish Is The Loving Tongue.”
Other Dylan Bootleg collections have found their majesty in their rarities. With Dylan, in the case of Blood, there’s a quiet intensity to the original recordings (here, merely enhanced by new fidelity) that thin 1975 production missed, an immense sense of sonic stewing that has grown as we, the listeners, have grown up with its author and remastered sound.
The take after take of “Idiot Wind” and “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” the solo addresses of “You’re A Big Girl Now,” a rubbed-raw rehearsal version of “Up To Me,” a test pressing’s take on “Lily, Rosemary And The Jack Of Hearts”—these versions make Blood more earnest and yearning in its completeness.
The version of Blood On The Tracks recorded in NYC before the famed Minneapolis sessions—the holy grail of Dylan tapes—finds his band racing to catch up with the songwriter’s solo demos, and you can sense the rush best on the takes of “Call Letter Blues” and “Meet Me In The Morning.” Anyone who remembers the hushed first takes of “Idiot Wind” and “Tangled Up In Blue,” available on The Bootleg Series, Vols. 1-3, will recall how his anger was magnified the quieter he got.
One thing that doesn’t change or alter, no matter the version, take or ensemble, is Dylan’s lyrics and melodies. Regretful and bitter with the life he’s leaving behind, this album is Dylan’s bloodiest shot at wearing his heart and soul on his sleeve.