Bob Dylan – The Bootleg Series, Vol. 5: Bob Dylan Live 1975 The Rolling Thunder Revue

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 7)

I once received Chronicles: Volume One, the Dylan memoir, as a gift. I only made it partway through, as I found it impossible to credit the impossibly detailed remembrances from the early 1960s. There is no way all the contents were factual or accurate, and as a novel, it wasn’t terribly interesting.

What I Think of This Album

An exciting, revelatory live album, I really think this is a must own for even a casual Dylan fan. Notably, Dylan and his unruly band tear their way through a series of songs with reckless abandon, offering new arrangements and an unexpected vigor. Dylan doesn’t come across as playful, but neither is anger the animating emotion; instead, he sounds compelled by some unknown force to inject as much energy into his songs as possible. 

The track listing is hard to beat, drawing from across Dylan’s career and relying on popular favorites. It should be noted that the two disc album does not document any specific show during the tour, or even replicate a complete set list. Rather, it is a compilation of highlights from various nights, and I have no problem with that. In general, the electric songs are the best, and I prefer the first disc over the second.

The version of “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” is eye-opening, coming out of the gate like a caffeinated bucking bull; the slide guitar is slippery and silvery, Dylan is practically jumping out of his shoes, and the rhythm section keeps a monster beat throughout. The same energy suffuses “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You,” which sounds less like romance and more like obsession, while “It Ain’t Me, Babe” gets a funky arrangement with skittering drums, supplemental congas, a bouncy bass line, and an impassioned delivery from Dylan, as well as more impossibly mercurial slide guitar work (plus harmonica). 

“The Lonesome Death of Hattie McCarroll” gains heft and intensity. And there is an expansive muscularity to this version of  “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Lot to Cry.” “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” is vibrant, intricate, and maudlin (but in a good way). “Just Like a Woman” is a trash song, no matter what the arrangement.

The songs from Desire  – of which there are several, not surprising considering it was Dylan’s forthcoming (but already recorded) studio release – all benefit from the live setting. In fact, I submit there is no reason to own Desire when you can get this album, which has “Hurricane,” “Sara,” Romance In Durango,” “Isis,” “One More Cup of Coffee (Valley Below),” and “Oh, Sister” in superior versions. “Hurricane,” in particular, comes to life vividly, with neutrino-speed congas and an emotive violin and “Sara” gets an urgent and pained reading. The tempo and melody of “Oh, Sister” make me think of “No Woman, No Cry” (which was released one year earlier).

There are a number of tracks that are solo performances from Dylan, and these are much more subdued. This includes “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Simple Twist of Fate,” the latter of which does not come across well in this spare arrangement (and Dylan’s voice sounds fairly rough on this track). “Tangled Up In Blue” shifts to the third person for most of it, if you care about such things. I can’t say either “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” or “Love Minus Zero” gain much, but they are certainly not worse than the studio versions.

Splitting the difference between loud and spare are the duets with Joan Baez. The full-throated version of “Blowin’ In the Wind” is strident and somehow triumphant. Written during the Another Side of Bob Dylan sessions (but never released), rarity “Mama, You Been On My Mind” is given a very nice Sweetheart of the Rodeo-type treatment (though I don’t know what the studio version sounds like). Dion & the Belmonts covered it. On the other hand, “I Shall Be Released” comes across as overcooked, stodgy, and self-important. On the other other hand, the song has been covered by the Byrds, the Hollies, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Wilco, Elvis, and Paul Weller (the Jam), so what do I know? Traditional song “The Water Is Wide” is also a duet, with a full band backing, and it’s okay but not really a highlight or anything.

The members of the large backing band included Mick Ronson (Mott the Hoople, Bowie, Lou Reed, Ian Hunter), a relatively unknown T-Bone Burnett, violinist Scarlett Rivera, and Roger McGuinn (Byrds).

The Best Thing About This Album

The energy.

Release Date

November, 2002

The Cover Art

I like the black/white photo of the be-hatted Bobby.

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