There have been many, many milestones in Bob Dylan’s career, though none more endearing than the fabled “Basement Tapes.” Recorded with The Band at various locations – including the legendary “Big Pink” – during 1967, the recordings including dozens of newly written Dylan songs along with covers of traditional songs covering a number of diverse genres. It has always been unclear whether these recordings were meant to end up as some sort of record at the time, though the relaxed nature of the project seems to give credence that this was more of a creative exercise then an attempt at a new release.
Word quickly spread about these sessions and Dylan’s fans quickly became obsessed with the project. Some of the tracks began to leak out and found their way onto a pirated recording – the first “bootleg” album called the “Great White Wonder.” Over the years a few more songs made their way into the hands of the fans, usually poorly reproduced copies. In 1975, Columbia records released an official Basement Tapes album. It was by no means complete, and some of the songs were over-dubbed and had added instrumentation, making the faithful more obsessed than ever with getting their hands on the original material.
Now the wait is over.
On November 4th, 2014, Columbia will release The Basement Tapes Complete – a six-CD collection that is part of the excellent Bootleg Series of archival releases that Dylan has put together over the years. Featuring 138 tracks on 6 discs along with a 120-page deluxe bound book, this release defines “complete” bringing together, for the first time ever, every salvageable recording from the tapes including recently discovered early gems recorded in the “Red Room” of Dylan’s home in upstate New York. Garth Hudson worked closely with Canadian music archivist and producer Jan Haust to restore the deteriorating tapes to pristine sound, with much of this music preserved digitally for the first time. You can here a track here.
Whew. You would think that this would be overwhelming to even the most ardent Dylan fan. But as they say on TV – wait, there’s more.
Coming right on the heels of The Basement Tapes Complete is “Lost On The River – The New Basement Tapes.” Described as a “music event 47 years in the making,” Lost On The River came about when musician/producer T Bone Burnett was contacted by Dylan’s publisher with the news that a box of lyrics had been found, all hand-written by Dylan in 1967 during the recording of the original Basement Tapes. If the news of that find didn’t fire up the musicologist, then the question that followed surely must have – “Would you like to do something with these?” After confirming that this came with Dylan’s blessing, Burnett began to assemble a group of musicians who he felt would be up to the task of finishing and recording these songs.
The musicians he contacted – Elvis Costello, Rhiannon Giddens, Taylor Goldsmith, Jim James and Marcus Mumford – were ready, willing and able to give it a go. Burnett said of the sessions, “What transpired during those two weeks was amazing for all of us. There was a deep well of generosity and support in the studio at all times, which reflected the tremendous trust and generosity shown by Bob in sharing these lyrics with us in the first place. More than 40 recordings were created, the first 20 of which will be released this fall.” More details can be found on the official website.