Bob Dylan: The Rolling Thunder Revue: The 1975 Live Recordings

Bob Dylan
The Rolling Thunder Revue: The 1975 Live Recordings
(Legacy Recordings)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

There is something that is so counterintuitive about a 14-CD release at a time when nobody seems to be buying the things that it’s positively, well, Dylanesque. If you put it out, Bob Dylan completists will come. And, as always, it’s hard to find anything negative about the content, especially since it comes from one of the most fertile periods of Bob’s career, right in the sweet spot between Blood On The Tracks and Desire.

The Rolling Thunder tour was notable for the all-star cast that showed up on stage, with marquee names like Joni Mitchell and Roger McGuinn throwing in a verse or two during encores. More important than that were the instrumentalists that Dylan had backing him. Mick Ronson makes his guitar solos work in songs that never before accepted them, while Scarlett Rivera’s violin wends through it all with a mysterious beauty. While The Band may have given Dylan a rootsy, soulful foundation, this band lets him play rock star.

And that is the real revelation on the five full live shows on this box set. For those who only know Dylan as an ornery, growling sage on stage, they will be shocked to hear how engaged he is in these performances, howling his lyrics with force while still treating them with the utmost respect. His duets with Joan Baez on both his classics and some rare covers (check out the lost R&B ballad “Never Let Me Go” in particular) are heartwarming.

Three discs worth of rehearsals are hit and miss; many songs are fragmentary and others don’t match the eventual live versions. Plus, the live shows don’t vary all that much in their set lists. Casual fans will probably stick with the ten or so Dylan songs they play on satellite radio. But true fans will greedily gobble this up and be more than pleased.