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|Dylan matures and thrills
on No Direction Home
No Direction Home: The Soundtrack
The Bootleg Series Vol. 7
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
Pop in this disc, and unfamiliarity is the name of the
game. There’s a soft, sensitive voice rising above
an acoustic guitar on a low-fi home tape, a relic of a
recording. The man — wait, boy — has something
deep he wants to relay. He’s unsure about himself,
he doesn’t know how far he can push his talent,
and he doesn’t know if anyone will listen. But he’s singing all the same, singing as softly and beautifully as he’ll
Bob Dylan was a scared kid once.
Sure, most people are young and frightened at some point in their lives. But Dylan was fearless, always had
been, right? No, Dylan was scared once, just like the rest of us. He didn’t know how if he’d make it. He didn’t
even know what he’d make it as, I’m sure.
Bob Dylan wasn’t scared for long, though. That’s what makes this album so great.
No Direction Home: The Soundtrack (The Bootleg Series Vol. 7) serves as the audio counterpart to Martin
Scorsese’s soon-to-be-aired film of the same name. But this is not just a cash-in on what’s sure to be a
successful documentary, this is a living, breathing document that has somehow, in the face of so many other
Dylan albums, collections and bootlegs available, breathed new life into an already legendary career.
After “When I Got Troubles,” the insecure ballad discussed above, the first disc of the album focuses on earlier
recordings, chronicalling Dylan’s rise through the folk ranks. He puts his own stamp on Woody Guthrie’s “This
Land Is Your Land,” and from there finds the courage to tackle the man directly on his own “Song To Woody.”
From there, his songs grow darker and deeper, from the plaintive (“Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”) to the
pessimistic (“Masters of War”). He introduces “Blowin’ In The Wind” as a “song I wrote that’s been recorded, uh,
it doesn’t much sound like it, the way I do it, but the words are the same. That’s the important thing.” He prefaces
“A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” with “means something’s gonna happen.” He doesn’t know that his songs would
define generations. They’re just his songs, his babies, and he treasures each one, treating them all with love.
Each step in the journey is a step closer to a more realized, more confident Dylan, and each track (save “Song
for Woody”) is an alternate, unheard take which, in tandem with the official releases, work to paint the whole
picture of young Mr. Zimmerman as a developing talent. It’s the rough drafts, the missed takes, the alternate
reads on standards that have long since passed the test of time that make this collection so endearing. He
really sounds as though he means every word he says, and really appreciates his audience.
Then he spits in their faces — and bless him for it.
Disc two is rollicking. It’s Dylan at his most rocking. It’s Michael Bloomfield’s guitar wailing and teetering behind
his desperate screams for solidarity. He’s not a jukebox, he’s an artist with something to say, and he says it loud
and clear here.
With the quiet, solid strums of “She Belongs to Me,” a very different Dylan is present. He doesn’t have an ounce
of scared in him. He’s fearless, brash, cocky, brilliant, boundless. There is nothing worthwhile in his way, and
the years of folk credibility and singing about revolution are behind him. He’s far more interested in electric
guitars and the human psyche than fascists in America.
The second track is the infamous “Maggie’s Farm” from 1965’s Newbury Folk Festival. This version is much
more menacing and charged than the one that wound up on Bringing It All Back Home. This has real anger
pushing it. “I’ve got a head full of ideas that are driving me insane!” He did, and he pushed as many out as
The rest of the disc contains some of the loudest, off the wall tracks that he ever recorded. The version of “It
Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry” shares the melody from the Highway 61 Revisited-version of
“From A Buick 6,” while “Leopard Skin Pill-box Hat” has a loose blues twang. This disc contains Dylan at
perhaps his most free, and this album gives one of the most complete glimpses into what drove him in those
Dylan grew, and from there, he changed everything. No Direction Home, changes everything about Dylan — just
when there couldn’t be any more to say, someone slips us back in time, just so we can be amazed again.
Through those first unsure warbles into a microphone to the brash defiance of “Like a Rolling Stone,” Dylan
transforms, from child to adult, from folkie to rocker, from Artist to Amazing.
Martin Scorsese’s film No Direction Home will air on PBS on Sept. 26 and 27.