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Reviews: Bob Dylan, The Bootleg Series Vol. 9: The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964; and

Bob Dylan
The Bootleg Series Vol. 9: The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964
[Columbia (2010)]

Shortly after the first Biograph box set came out in 1991, a Dylan aficionado visited Jeff Rosen, the set’s producer, in his Columbia Records office and asked him why several of his favorites hadn’t been among the compilation’s 58 songs. According to the story, which may be apocryphal, Rosen walked over to a large cupboard, opened it, revealed a cache of tapes from floor to ceiling, and said, “Well, you have to start somewhere.” Twenty years later that mother lode of Dylan nuggets is still being mined.

Dylan was still in his early twenties when he recorded for the Leeds and M. Witmark & Sons publishing houses, making the songs on this Bootleg volume the genesis of his oeuvre. Although the young wunderkind was still a bit wet behind the ears, it’s obvious that his muse compelled him to function at full throttle. Fifteen of the fourty-seven songs contained in this set had never been released. As was the custom at the time, the songs were recorded in order to persuade other singers to record cover versions, as well as for the purpose of registration of copyright. Indeed, Hamilton Camp’s debut album from 1964 featured seven Dylan songs, all of which Dylan first recorded at these sessions, including the title song, “Paths of Victory,” and “Tomorrow Is a Long Time,” the latter also showing up on Judy Collins’s Fifth Album (1965) along with a couple of other Dylan songs.

Because these recordings were not meant for public consumption, the performances sometimes lack polish or hint at an emotional detachment from the material. A few songs are in their embryonic form, while in other cases the flow of the performances is interrupted by flubs or coughs. The songs were recorded with a rudimentary tape console, but the sound quality, although not state of the art, has been rendered satisfactorily. Most of the songs have stood the test of time, including “The Death of Emmett Till,” “Farewell,” and “Mama, You Been on My Mind.” On some of the songs that later became famous, such as “When the Ship Comes In” and “Mr. Tambourine Man,” Dylan accompanies himself on piano rather than on guitar.

The raw talent that exudes from these recordings point to the cornucopia of musical riches that the protean figure would produce later in the decade and beyond. Although scores of performers would soon record Dylan songs, the irony is that the young songsmith ushered in a more autonomous way of doing things, one that would soon bring about the decline of the Brill Building writers and the Tin Pan Alley tradition of song plugging. It’s amazing to ponder the fact that twenty years after the release of the Bootleg Series, Vol. 1-3, the cupboard seems far from bare.

—Paul-Emile Comeau (Comeauville, NS)

When Bob Met Woody: The Story of the Young Bob Dylan
By Gary Golio, illustrations by Marc Burckhardt
[Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (2011)]

In 1960, Bob Dylan hitchhiked from Minnesota to New York to visit his hero, Woody Guthrie, then confined by Huntington’s disease to Creedmore State Hospital. A half-century later, that historic moment serves as the key to Woodstock, New York-based author Gary Golio’s tale of Dylan’s transformation from singing in his grandmother’s kitchen, and dreaming of Hank Williams and Muddy Waters, to the Dust Bowl balladeer’s successor. With his second musically oriented children’s book, When Bob Met Woody: The Story of the Young Bob Dylan, Golio, whose Jimi: Sounds Like a Rainbow: The Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix, received a Coretta Scott King Honor Award in 2011, uses that story to introduce youngsters to two of America’s most iconic tunesmiths. Brilliant color illustrations by Marc Burckhardt add to this masterfully crafted tale.

—Craig Harris (Chicopee, MA)

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