Monday, October 18, 2010

Bob Dylan- Bootleg Series Volume 9 – The Witmark Demos 1962-1964

Ok, the question at this point has to be: how did this happen? How did this guy come to be? It seems inconceivable that a man in his early 20’s, from an unsophisticated background in a modest Midwest town would turn out to be the genius of the age. Dylan’s place in American history is assured, although it is still evolving. With each new album, book, radio show or movie he bends the light around his image becoming more tantalizing, more smoke-like. This set of demos (songs recorded in a minimal fashion to secure the copyright and use as a calling card to other, more famous, singers) recorded between 1962 and 1964 do indeed show this young man to be a genius. It is just hard to fathom the creative arc this skinny kid embarked upon in the first six years of his career. He goes from a topical folk singer - on a par with his hero Woody Guthrie - to a once-in-a-generation poet using the most elevated language and demonstrating a real understanding of poetic convention and the turn of history in just the two years illustrated on this box (2 CDs or 4 LPs). Early on we are struck by the seemingly wizened experience of the words to songs like “Poor Boy Blues,” “Rambling, Gambling Willie” or “Man On The Street.” Then like some bolt from the blue, “Blowin’In The Wind” and “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” signal a seismic shift in his songwriting, and he is off to the races. His reputation and career could have stopped right there. Ponder that for a moment. The majority of his storied career could have never happened and his place in history was still assured. That’s how good those songs are. But, as we know, and as this set amply illustrates, this was just the starting gun for Bob Dylan. His winning streak has been so long and so varied and so exhilarating, that going back to the beginning and re-examining those first sparks is instructional.

In addition to the miracle that is the songwriting, one has to marvel at Dylan’s abilities as an instrumentalist and his already developed performance sensibilities. He is self-assured and funny pulling off even the trickiest emotions and tongue twisting phrases like a seasoned pro. One has to imagine that this kid was so smart and paying such close attention to the culture evolving in front of him that he somehow became the tip of the spear. When you see a flock of Geese winging south, somehow that one at the very front of the flock ended up there through some combination of circumstances and genetic predisposition. That’s Dylan. He is so far ahead of the pack you can’t help but just shake your head in wonder. Over the course of the 46 songs on this set, Dylan exceeds expectations again and again, moving from the stately “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” to the mature “Boots Of Spanish Leather” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright." There are humorous side-trips through “Talkin’ John Birch Society Blues” and “I Shall Be Free,” but by the time we arrive at “Mr Tambourine Man” and the incomparable “I’ll Keep It With Mine” all one can do is sit back in awe.

Everything on this set is unreleased. These are different versions than you are used to, conveying the solitary achievement of this one person. Listening to the entire box reinforces the fact that it wasn’t the producers, or the backing musicians, or the other three Beatles - it was Bob. Loaded with gorgeous unreleased photos and a fascinating narrative by journalist Colin Escott that explains, among other things, how Dylan single-handedly destroyed Tin Pan Alley, this might be the most important of Dylan’s Bootleg Series because it so clearly shows the germination of a singular talent that shook the world.

1 comment:


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Hi TS,

On behalf of Columbia Records and Special Rider many thanks for plugging "The Bootleg Series Volume 9 — The Witmark Demos" on your site (street date 19th October) ... .. thanks, also, on behalf of the artist and label for not posting any pirate links this material and, if you / your readers would like good quality, non-pirated previews from Dylan’s upcoming releases, then full-length versions of "The Times They Are A–Changin” and "Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right" shall shortly be available for fans and bloggers to host / post / share etc from . Up-to-the-minute news on Dylan’s 2010 / 2011 shows and releases is, of course, also available on the official web-site and on and an increasing archive of exclusive film footage of Bob Dylan performances is also available for fans and YouTubers via the official channel at ... .. and keep an eye on these official sources for details of further Dylan news, preview material and on-line promotions.

Also and as a goodwill gesture to fans and bloggers, an exclusive preview stream of a selection of tracks from "The Witmark Demos" is available via NPR as part of their ‘First Listen’ series at ... .. this is for hyper-linking ONLY and for streaming by fans directly off NPR, so please reciprocate this goodwill gesture by NOT ripping or embedding these files.

Thanks again for your plug.