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The latest installment in Bob Dylan's career retrospective 'Bootleg Series' is his best yet

"Bob Dylan - The Cutting Edge 1965-1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12" digs deep into the mother lode of Mr. D's iconic albums from 1965-66.

As a longstanding Dylan fan, I've eagerly devoured each new volume of his "Bootleg Series," but the latest, "Bob Dylan - The Cutting Edge 1965-1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12" may be the best yet. It's chock full of outtakes, rehearsals and alternate takes from the "Bringing It All Back Home," "Highway 61 Revisited" and "Blonde On Blonde" sessions. The collection presents a very different, alternate history of this music.

"The Cutting Edge 1965-1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12" is available in a dizzying array of release configurations, including the best-of two-CD version, also as a three-LP best-of set, and as MP3s. Me, I'd go for the six-disc set (there's also a MP3 version). The six-CD set comes with a lavishly illustrated 8.25 inch (210mm) square hardcover book of photographs from that period. There's also an 18-CD Collector's Edition -- more on that later.

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"The Cutting Edge 1965-1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12" covers his transition from acoustic folk singer to electrically charged rocker, spewing surreal lyrics that roared past the other bands of the sixties. Everybody was trying to keep up with this angry young man from Minnesota. These recordings were all mixed, mastered and released very quickly; the entire "Bringing It All Back Home" album was recorded in just three days. Dylan recorded "Mr. Tambourine Man," Maggie's Farm," "It's All Over Now Baby Blue" and "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)," along with three other songs in a single three-hour session! The other two albums in this box set are bursting with gems: "Like A Rolling Stone," "Just Like A Woman," "Positively 4th Street" and "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35." You know that last one from its refrain, "Everybody must get stoned." That tune, which was released as a single, was recorded in a single take.

During a phone chat with the set's producer, Steve Berkowitz, I heard about how he, Jeff Rosen, and the rest of the team put this project together. It started with listening to all of the 96kHz/24-bit high-resolution digital transfers of the session's four-track analog tapes, most of which hadn't been played in decades. Berkowitz said the tapes were in great condition. He spent a year living with not just the music, but also the studio chatter, rehearsals, etc., that provide a glimpse of history in the making. You hear what the band heard as the music was taking form -- for fans it doesn't get better than that. In his exchanges with the producer before a take, Dylan is clearly having the time of his life. His wordplay before a take is nonstop, and he frequently makes up hilarious nonsense titles for the tunes.

Alternate takes and rehearsals by other artists can be boring when the tunes sound similar, but Dylan's restless tinkering with arrangements produced wildly different versions, some of which sound better than the official versions. Like the alternate take of "Tombstone Blues" where guitarist Mike Bloomfield's freaked out barrage of notes mirrors Dylan's cutting lyrics, and as the tune ends Dylan laughs and says "Put a wall around that guy!" You hear the creative sparks fly!

"She's Your Lover Now" never made it onto "Blonde On Blonde," but Dylan struggling to put the song across alone on piano is, for me, one of the great discoveries of the box. There's something about the sound of his vocals on this tune that, for some reason, is closer to what he sounded like in his 50s and 60s.


Bob Dylan - The Cutting Edge 1965-1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12, comes with a book of photos.

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I loved the radically sped up version of "Visions of Johanna" that totally changes the tune, for the better in my opinion. I still love the original, but I'm going to use this one to make a complete alternate, personalized version of "Blonde On Blonde" from my favorite alternate takes. I have a feeling other fans will do the same with "Bringing It All Back Home," and "Highway 61 Revisited."

But wait, there's more! Truly diehard fans might need the limited-edition 18-CD Collector's Edition of "The Cutting Edge 1965-1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12" that includes every note recorded during the 1965-66 studio sessions. Also included, nine mono 45 RPM vinyl singles released during the time period, packaged in newly created picture sleeves. The limited edition includes rare hotel room recordings from the Savoy Hotel in London (May 4, 1965), the North British Station Hotel in Glasgow (May 13, 1966) and a Denver, Colorado hotel (March 12, 1966) as well as a strip of original film cels from D.A. Pennebaker's 1967 "Don't Look Back" Dylan documentary.

If you're just now starting with Dylan, get the two-CD "The Best Of The Cutting Edge 1965 - 1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12" collection.