Unpacking the 14th volume of the Bob Dylan Bootleg Series, More Blood, More Tracks
“There’s Bob Dylan, and then there’s the rest of us.” — Jeff Slate
I have the honor to be in the middle of a scenario I never expected to find myself in: covering Bob Dylan’s latest release. In this case, it’s the fourteenth volume of the bootlegs and outtakes of Blood on the Tracks, his 1975 masterpiece and one of the most impactful, pivotal, and resounding albums to ever hit the radios, stereos, and televisions in American music history.
Fourteenth volume. You read that correctly. This is the fourteenth volume of outtakes from a single record. By Bob Dylan. Who else would do that?
Who else could do that?
Rolling Stone called Dylan the greatest songwriter of all time. His contemporaries — The Beatles, for example — looked to him as a guide, a wiseman, a sage. His connection to the music, to the six-stringed instrument in his hands and the words that seems to flow from a well that would never run dry, and to the world around him was unrivaled and remains so. His delivery is entirely unique — in fact, I read somewhere that he sings like someone who never learned how to sing — and unmistakable. Whether in a folk setting, in a rock band, in his brief and controversial conversion to Christian, Bob Dylan is the bar. If you’re looking for an unpolished, messy recording outtake to disprove that theory, keep looking. More Blood, More Tracks — The Bootleg Series Vol. 14 makes one thing very clear: Bob Dylan doesn’t need autotune, a team of songwriters, or even producer Phil Ramone’s distinctive echo to create one of the greatest records of all time. He didn’t even need headphones. He was just a singer with a guitar and a harmonica, and he changed what songwriting meant forever.
“During the production of Blood on the Tracks, Dylan asked [producer Phil] Ramone to speed up many of the masters by 2-3%, a common practice in the 1960s and ‘70s,, especially for records sent to AM radios. It was thought that doing so would give the songs a little extra bounce to better engage listeners,” Jeff Slate explains. “Most of the songs from the New York sessions that previously circulated, officially and unofficially, are the sped-up versions that Dylan requested. On More Blood, More Tracks, for the first time, we’re hearing the songs exactly as Dylan recorded them.”
That includes the studio banter, outtakes, false starts, and even Dylan’s jacket buttons tapping against the guitar, creating an atmosphere of intense sonic intimacy, as if listeners are sitting in the live room with him in New York and Minneapolis while he creates ten songs that would casually set at the top of every list and chart for the next forty-something years.
Blood on the Tracks sees Bob Dylan returning to his folk roots, following a 1974 tour that felt too impersonal and a foray into rock and roll that left him dissatisfied. “The thing about rock and roll is that, for me, it wasn’t enough,” Dylan once said. “There were great catchphrases and driving pulse rhythms, but the songs weren’t serious or didn’t reflect life in a realistic way. I knew that when I got into folk music, it was more of a serious type of thing. The songs are filled with more despair, more sadness, more triumph, more faith in the supernatural, much deeper feelings.”
The resulting record was as contradicting, confounding, and enigmatic as the artist himself, and completely different than anything his contemporaries were writing and releasing in 1974. Inspired by Anton Chekhov’s short stories and his own burgeoning interest in painting, Blood on the Tracks was “obtuse yet precise, confounding yet enthralling, impersonal and yet achingly intimate, all at once.” The stories and the characters in them shift and change within the song, as fluidly and carelessly as Dylan himself. “To me, it felt almost too intimate; too close to the bone,” says Larry “Ratso” Sloman, who chronicled the New York sessions for Rolling Stone as a young journalist. “Literally, blood on every track.”
More Blood, More Tracks will be available for purchase on November 2nd, 2018, and released in two packages: the single disc/two LP set features 10 alternate versions of his most resonating tracks, while the six CD, full-length deluxe version includes the complete New York sessions in chronological order, along with the multi-track masters of five performances included in the original, finished Blood on the Tracks, the only recordings remaining from the Minneapolis Sound 80 sessions.