"All I can do is be me, whoever that is."--Bob Dylan
That's the thing about Mr. D, he never stands still. He's always evolving and these four newly remastered CDs, "New Morning," "Before the Flood," "The Basement Tapes," and "Dylan and the Dead," are proof of that.
I'll tell you upfront I've always had a thing for "New Morning," and I was bummed when it wasn't part of the 2003 SACD release collection. Sony put out 15 titles in one big chunk, and they were pretty amazing.
These four new titles were last remastered 20 years ago, so I had my hopes up. The new ones come in Digipak cases (matching the look of the SACD versions) with new photos, but no new liner notes or bonus tracks.
OK, now that I finally have a newly tweaked "New Morning," was it worth the wait? Released in 1970, "New Morning" kicked off the second phase of his long career. There's no big hits, but it's one of Dylan's most consistent albums, not a weak tune in there.
The sound is very warm and natural, and Dylan's vocals sound like he's in the room with you. The new CD sounds so close to the sound of my original LP it's scary. It's interesting, I can hear the analog master tape's hiss more clearly on the CD (it's not obtrusive, but it's there) than the LP (the LP's surface noise obscures the tape hiss). "New Morning" is one of Dylan's forgotten gems.
"Before the Flood" is a live, two-disc album, originally released in 1974. Dylan's vocal style was always changing, and he sounds completely different here. The songs tempos are much faster than the studio versions, and Dylan's almost screaming the lyrics. He's backed up by The Band, and they're terrific. They get to do a nice set of their own tunes. Sound quality is average for a live 1970s set.
"The Basement Tapes" was a lo-fi effort, also recorded with The Band, in June to November, 1967, and was originally released in 1975. "The Basement Tapes" (another two-disc set) was recorded by a member of The Band, literally in the basement of the group's house, and the sound quality varies from tune to tune.
That said, this new version is clearer than what I've heard before. The music is looser and more relaxed than Dylan's then most recent album, "Blonde on Blonde." The "Basement Tapes" music was never intended for release, it documents rehearsals and demos. Still, this stash of terrific tunes is a treasure not to be missed.
"Dylan and the Dead," recorded in 1987, released in 1989, is one I missed the first time around. The Grateful Dead as backup band seems a little strange, but it works. Dylan's in fine form, and his rollicking take on "I Want You" made me smile. The smoldering groove on "Queen Jane Approximately" leaves room for the Dead to stretch out. Sound quality is the best of the four CDs here, a really nice live mix.
Dylan's all-new album, "Together Through Life," is due April 28. From what I've heard on the radio, it sounds like a winner.