Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Album Review: Bob Dylan - Springtime in New York: Bootleg Series 16

Bob Dylan
Springtime in New York: Bootleg Series 16 1980-1985
****and1/2 out of *****

(This review is of the Standard Edition 2 CD version of this release)

When Bob Dylan released Bootleg Series 1-3 back in 1991 it was a revelation. These songs brought to light just how rich and fulfilling Dylan's studio work was throughout his whole career, which until then had been maligned as spotty. As the series has progressed, things have fluctuated with some installments highlighting career defining live shows, some serving as soundtracks and some just dumping every take/error/breath Dylan exhaled into a mic.

What the two CD Springtime in New York: Bootleg Series 16 1980-1985 does well is curate Dylan's outtakes, proving that his 80's songwriting, singing and playing were solid to excellent, and recalls the 10th installment of this series, illuminating a less than loved era.  Rather than releasing every take, these performances, culled from the recording of Shot of Love, Infidels, and Empire Burlesque, show Dylan as jovial, passionate, off the cuff and dynamic.

What is interesting is there are a few songs that first saw the light of day on first bootleg release which return with different takes here and while these are lesser versions this go around, it is fun to compare say this faster/fuller run through of "Blind Willie McTell" with the haunting classic officially released for the first time in 1991.   

Dylan fans should dive right in, but the performances are also accessible for newcomers to the bard.  Opener "Angelina" is slow simple and direct with affecting background vocals, the funky clunky rehearsal version of "Need a Woman" and the organ led "Keep It Between Us" particularly is a great tune for this series; a rehearsal song that is intriguing but not full out. 
Playful Dylan comes through with the Bo Diddley wail of "Price of Love" and the silly "Fur Slippers" which contrasts with "Yes Sir, No Sir" holy hellfire guitars as Dylan pulls away from his gospel years. Infidels has many alternate takes and all are worth hearing, perhaps the most eye opening is "Too Late" an early version of "Foot of Pride" one of the strangest songs in Dylan's oeuvre. Hearing that song evolve with cool floating, nightmare/dream like vibes is delightful. 

Also evolving is "Someone's Got a Hold of My Heart" which finds Mark Knopfler delivering a gnarly guitar tone as Sly and Robbie hold down the low end, this version trumps both the outtake of "Tight Connection To My Heart" here as well as the Empire Burlesque official version which is forever trapped in the slick 80's production amber. 

The live version of "Enough is Enough" flashes the semi-punk that Dylan displayed on David Letterman back in 1984 while "I and I" is more of a rock take than the reggae inspired album cut. "Emotionally Yours" goes in the other direction flashing a softer side with warm singing from Dylan before two of his best 80's songs are presented in alternate versions to end the collection. 

"New Danville Girl" is an early draft of "Brownsville Girl" and shows the freewheeling Bard in a groove, bringing in Woody Guthrie, Gregory Peck and and host of illusions, ending up exhilarating. A more upbeat version of "Dark Eyes" closes this installment and while not as impressive as the disk closing Empire Burlesque sparse stunner, it is what this series was meant to do, highlight the lost songs, unique takes and process Dylan has worked through to make some of the best music of the last seventy years. 
Support the artist, buy the album, peep some video below:

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