Review: Bob Dylan’s Latest Collection, ‘Springtime in New York,’ Exceeds Expectations

Bob Dylan/Springtime in New York – The Bootleg Series Vol. 16 1980 – 1985/Columbia Legacy

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After the high bar he had set for himself in the ‘70s, courtesy of such albums as Blood on the Tracks and Desire, not to mention his groundbreaking Rolling Thunder Review tour, Bob Dylan had clearly raised expectations when it came time to embark into the ‘80s. That said, his initial outing of the decade, Shot of Love, didn’t bode well for what might follow. Another of his so-called “Christian albums,” its songs were generally weak, and with the exception of “Lenny Bruce,” “Heart of Mine” and “The Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar” (a rocker relegated to B side status), it was best forgotten.

Fortunately, Dylan quickly rebounded with his next two studio efforts, Infidels, produced a bonafide Dylan disciple Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits, and Empire Burlesque, which featured various members of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, Mick Taylor and Ron Wood offering support. Neither album was hailed as a triumph, but they did show Dylan was still capable of writing great songs even when nobody seemed to notice.

Springtime In New York takes a narrow focus on the first half of that otherwise obscured decade and manages to cull enough gems to justify a full five-disc box set. Of course, the Bootleg series has excelled and even accumulated honors for unearthing outtakes, live material, and other unreleased offerings, but this particular volume actually exceeds expectations, especially given that the basis for this compilation seemed rather slim, to begin with. Nevertheless, it manages to gather together some prime offerings, most of which outshines the initial work. For example, two tracks originally intended for Empire Burlesque—“New Danville Girl” and “Dark Eye”—offer reason to wonder why they weren’t included in that album originally. Each of them is that good. Alternate takes of “Jokerman” and “Don’t Fall Apart On Me Tonight,” all songs that first appeared on Infidels, suggest Dylan had plenty of quality music to choose from. So too, “Angelina,” “Price of Love” and “I Wish It Would Rain,” recorded during the Shot of Love sessions, are actually far better than anything on the finished release.

There are curiosities of course—unlikely attempts at “Let It Be Me,” “Cold, Cold Heart,” “Abraham, Martin and John,” “Sweet Caroline,” and “Angels Flying Too Close to the Ground” reflect that fact that Dylan hadn’t tired of covering classics long after Self Portrait had again given way to original work. A live version of “License To Kill,” culled from an appearance on “Late Night With David Letterman” sounds frayed around the edges, but makes for an interesting entry regardless. Likewise, disc one is comprised almost entirely of rehearsals, giving a glimpse of Dylan’s creative process in motion.

Like the various Bootleg boxes that preceded it, Springtime In New York boasts an impressive hardcover book that provides essential facts about each album’s origins, rare photos, and extensive studio notes that detail the sessions in thorough detail. 

Naturally, Dylan aficionados will likely view this once again as part of a holy grail, but even the casual collector may see the need to add this to their collection. Springtime In New York could be considered one of the richest seasons of all.

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  1. Nice review, and I do agree that this collection is a great one! However, it needs to be pointed out that “Dark Eyes” (not “Dark Eye” as called by the author) was actually the last track on Empire Burlesque in a very similar version.

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