Culture & Criticism From the Far Distant Realms
Since its introductory release 25 years ago, Bob Dylan’s Bootleg Series has been renowned for its ability to showcase the artist in the midst of the creative process. And this fact has never more evident then with The Cutting Edge, serving as the 12th installment of the series.
The 6-CD deluxe edition of The Cutting Edge is comprised of over 100 alternate versions of songs from what many regard as the poet’s most fertile period (1965-1966), a two year span that spawned arguably the three most important rock and roll records ever released: Bringing It All Back Home; Highway 61 Revisited; and Blonde On Blonde.
Simply, this package is astounding, not so much for what we hear, but instead, for what this album represents and for everything it shows us.
The songs on these discs have been rumored for years as bootleggers throughout the world hunted for every version of “Visions of Johanna” and “Like A Rolling Stone.” When word originally leaked out that there were first-run takes somewhere of “Love Minus Zero” and “Queen Jane” collectors went crazy on the prowl, hunting through record stores on the midnight streets of Greenwich Village, hoping that they’d happen on a piece of treasure…on a piece of history.
Conversely, many non-fans wondered just what the hell could be so special about Bob Dylan that people had to not only hear, but had to OWN, every version of every track he ever laid down. But when you finally hear The Cutting Edge you’ll know the answer to the question: Beyond anything else, this set lets you turn the knobs along-side Bob Johnston, simultaneously experiencing how a record is made in conjunction with the haunting cool cutting-edge dimensions of these songs. Catch the alternate take of “Tambourine Man” and you’ll start to see what Dylan was thinking when he chose the version that ultimately made it to Bringing It All Back Home. What’s more, you will immediately understand just where that endless breathless harmonica break came from on the live versions of the song Dylan performed in Europe during those famous ’66 shows (Bootleg Series Volume 4: The Royal Albert Hall Concert).
It’s impossible to hail stand-out tracks since they all have their particular moments. If reviewers are being honest with their readers, they’ll tell them that when citing stand-outs they’re really just listing their personal favorites. Mine include take four of “Positively 4th Street” – a song that marked one of the last times Dylan would address his audience directly, spitting back venomously at the hollow scent of schadenfreude that has consumed cultures since the dawn of time. Also, the compendium of “Like a Rolling Stone” versions is amazing as we sit in the background of the booth and look for just the right sound. Finally, the alternate version of “Queen Jane” and the widely rumored “Medicine Sunday” collectively illuminate the timeless brilliance of both Dylan’s lyricism and his melodic presence.
Listening to The Cutting Edge is a truly transcendental experience, almost like being in the room as Kerouac was writing “On The Road” or Whitman was polishing “Leaves of Grass” – this rare chance to peer into the artist’s mind framed in cobwebs as he edits himself into best version. So much more than a journey through nostalgia’s old mirror, The Cutting Edge marks a series of brand new moments – graceful and daring, global in its reach.
In the end, even Dylan’s most ardent critics will concede that this set is a brilliantly conceived journey into the heart of a year that changed the way we perceive music and art – and ourselves. In turn, you have no choice but to go out and buy this record: it’s as indispensable to your collection as the first official releases themselves.