By Brian Ives
Sony Legacy has revealed that they’ll be releasing the next installment of Bob Dylan‘s Bootleg Series. Titled The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11, the collection is credited to Bob Dylan and the Band. The six-disc set, including 138 tracks, is available for pre-order at Amazon and iTunes.
The collection draws from Dylan’s legendary 1967 sessions with the musicians who would later name themselves “The Band.” But for those who are unfamiliar with that era in Dylan history, here’s some context: After a few years as one of pop’s most significant voices in the ’60s, Dylan took a break in July of 1966, when he was reported to have been injured in a motorcycle accident (Dylanologists have long debated whether or not that was just a ruse).
What is agreed upon is that Dylan retreated to upstate New York, where he recorded lots of new music (reportedly over a hundred songs) with Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson and, later, Levon Helm, in the basement of a small house, dubbed “Big Pink” by the group, in West Saugerties. Their recordings included traditional covers as well as dozens of newly written Bob Dylan songs, including “I Shall Be Released,” “The Mighty Quinn,” “This Wheel’s On Fire” and “You Ain’t Going Nowhere.”
In June of 1968, Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner heard many of the tracks and wrote: “There is enough material — most all of it very good — to make an entirely new Bob Dylan record, a record with a distinct style of its own. Although it is highly unlikely that Dylan would want to go into the studio to record material that is now seven or eight months old, nonetheless these tapes could easily be remastered and made into a record. The concept of a cohesive record is already present.”
Curiosity among Dylan fans reached a fever pitch, which led to what is often referred to as the very first “bootleg” record. In 1969, the unauthorized recording known as “Great White Wonder” began showing up in record shops around the country.
Eventually, Dylan’s label, Columbia Records, took Wenner’s advice… sort of. In 1975, they released The Basement Tapes, featuring 16 songs from those sessions (as well as eight new songs by the Band, sans Dylan). But for years, other tracks from that album have circulated among fans, first via bootleg records, and more recently as illegal downloads.
According to the album’s description on Amazon, “The Basement Tapes Complete brings together, for the first time ever, every salvageable recording from the tapes.” This includes some recordings that fans may not have heard anywhere: the press release claims that the collection has “recently discovered early gems recorded in the ‘Red Room’ of Dylan’s home in upstate New York.” The Band’s multi-instrumentalist Garth Hudson worked on the project, “To restore the deteriorating tapes to pristine sound, with much of this music preserved digitally for the first time.”
The description adds that “the decision was made to present The Basement Tapes Complete as intact as possible. Also, unlike the official 1975 release, these performances are presented as close as possible to the way they were originally recorded and sounded back in the summer of 1967. The tracks on The Basement Tapes Complete run in mostly chronological order based on Garth Hudson’s numbering system.”
While earlier this year, rumors were circulating that the next installment of The Bootleg Series would focus on Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks era, it’s likely that Vol. 11 is focusing on The Basement Tapes era the coincide with the November release of Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes, an album featuring an all-star cast (including Jim James of My Morning Jacket, Marcus Mumford of Mumford and Sons and Elvis Costello) recording songs written by Dylan during that same era.
Dylan is also reportedly working on a new album, which will include a cover of “Full Moon and Empty Hearts,” recorded by Frank Sinatra in 1945.
The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11 is due for release on Nov. 4.
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