‘Cutting Edge’ Best Dylan Bootleg Yet

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Dylan Cutting Edge BootlegBob Dylan
The Bootleg Series Vol. 12: The Cutting Edge 1965–1966
(Columbia/Legacy)
In A Word: Ultra-essential

Bob Dylan’s early folk-rock period – an incredibly productive 15-month stretch during 1965 and 1966 – is arguably the most influential of his career. During this short but nearly magucal span, the then-23-year-old artist synthesized his stylistic inspirations and songwriting vision into an unprecedented body of music that altered the face of rock ‘n’ roll in ways that are still being felt a half-century later.

Those 15 months yielded many of Dylan’s most audacious and enduring compositions, and three of his greatest albums: Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde. But, as has often been the case during his most inspired periods, Dylan moved so fast that his albums couldn’t fully contain his genius and only told part of the story. Which is why Legacy’s long-running Bootleg Series is such an indispensable adjunct to Dylan’s main album catalog, and why the classic rock series has never been more useful than in the case of its 12th installment.

Although some of its contents have circulated on actual bootleg releases for decades, The Bootleg Series Vol. 12: The Cutting Edge 1965–1966 is a major event in the annals of Dylanology, tapping into a mother lode of studio outtakes from the era to illuminate this seminal phase. It’s available variously as a lavishly packaged and annotated six-CD, 110-track set, a lean, mean two-CD, 36-track sampler, and an ostentatious 18-CD, 357-track monster that encompasses every known alternate take, song fragment and bit of studio banter from the time, plus some additional live material and nine vinyl singles.

The latter edition, currently selling for around $600 on Dylan’s website, is likely to test the attention span (and budget) of all but the most obsessive fans, and the double CD only scratches the surface. But the six-disc version is expansive enough to convey the depth and breadth of the artist’s achievements during this crucial period.

Even in its relatively abbreviated form, the six-CD Cutting Edge is an epic musical and emotional journey. Although not quite arranged chronologically, the set lines up multiple takes that are rarely redundant, but which instead play out like complex emotional dramas, with Dylan working out many of the same mysteries that have engaged fans for decades.

For instance, Disc 3 consists entirely of 20 takes of “Like A Rolling Stone,” and it’s thrilling to hear the song evolve from ramshackle waltz on its way to becoming the definitive, vitriol-laced classic we know and love. The Cutting Edge is loaded with similar revelations, offering fascinating work-in-progress views of such soon-to-be-iconic numbers as “Positively 4th Street, “Desolation Row,” “Visions of Johanna,” “Highway 61 Revisited,” “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” and the pivotal “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window,” which transforms here from lukewarm mid-tempo stateliness to mischievous rock’n’roll subversion. Meanwhile, such potentially intriguing numbers as “Medicine Sunday,” “Jet Pilot” and the stirring “Farewell, Angelina” zip by in a first-take flash, underlining the breakneck pace at which Dylan was creating at the time.

Considering Dylan’s longstanding resistance to outsiders’ efforts to penetrate his creative motivations, The Cutting Edge‘s intimate view of this genius at the top of his game is truly remarkable, deepening and enriching the listener’s appreciation for this world-changing music.

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Scott Schinder

Scott Schinder has written written about music and popular culture for various publications in the U.S. and overseas, including Rolling Stone, Creem, Entertainment Weekly, Billboard, Time Out New York, Newsday, Stereophile, Musician, Tower Pulse, New Musical Express, Melody Maker and Texas Music. He's also written several music-related books and liner notes for numerous CD reissues and box sets and has contributed essays and other pieces to several other books, including all six editions of The Trouser Press Record Guide.
Scott Schinder
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