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NEAR TRUTHS: YEAR-END WRAP-UP, PART 3
Bye-bye Burbank, hello DTLA. (12/12a)
2019 TOP 50 SONGS
What comes after X? (12/12a)
TASK FORCE TACKLES INDUSTRY TROUBLES
A wider view of the issues (12/12a)
A TASTE OF RAINMAKERS II:
SCOOTER BRAUN
A very intriguing dude (12/12a)
HARVEY IN THE MIX
Mason Jr. discusses his senior role at the Academy. (12/12a)
EGGNOG!
Ours is mostly bourbon.
MISTLETOE!
Delicious in salads.
CHESTNUTS!
Ours are roasting, but it could be these slim-fit jeans.
WEED!
An entire Christmas tree made of it. Is what we want. for Christmas.
Critics' Choice
THE DIRECTION HOME: DIGGING DEEP INTO DYLAN'S '60S MASTERWORKS
11/4/15

By Phil Galllo

Photo by Jerry Schatzberg

Unlike the first 11 volumes of the Bob Dylan Bootleg Series, The Cutting Edge 1965-66 turns a deaf ear to the listening experience in exchange for an archivist's overview of how Dylan recorded music in of the most fertile 14-month periods in pop music history. There's an assumption, rightfully so, that anyone plunking down 120 bucks for these 100-plus tracks already has Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde etched in memory. And if there is one overriding point Cutting Edge makes, it's one that Vol. 7: No Direction Home hinted at: Dylan used the studio to test ideas, but had a Midas touch when it came to picking the right versions for release.

The six-CD set—there are also two-disc and 18-CD versions for newbies and completists, respectively—unfolds like an academic exercise, with multiple versions of each song placed back to back for the listener to hear how song gets from the starting line to the finish. Rehearsal tapes and alternate takes find Dylan playing with lyrics, tempo and instrumentation; the opening set of four different takes of “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” encapsulates Cutting Edge's mission, per the liner notes: “illuminate what happens in the studio on the way to making a record.” One thing seems evident —Michael Bloomfield knew exactly what he was going to play on guitar when the “record” light went on.

“Love Minus Zero” goes from a solo acoustic number to a trio to a quartet to a sextet that more closely resembles the finished version that lands in the middle of side one of Bringing It All Back Home. Hearing these evolutions can be intensely striking—rumbling rock versions of “Visions of Johanna” (take 5 is one of the hottest tracks in the set); a bass heavy, boogie blues version of “Highway 61 Revisited” (Take 5); and the laconic approach at the Aug. 2, 1965, session toward “Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues” and “Queen Jane Approximately,” that elevates them to prime examples of Dylan's fusion of blues, country, rock and folk.


The Cutting Edge is a reminder that the greatest blues, folk and rock albums are rooted in capturing singular performances of musicians working together as a unit, even with a single-minded leader speeding map-free through unexplored territory.


Twenty versions of “Like a Rolling Stone” occupy Disc 3, all recorded on June 15 and 16, 1965, that see the song evolve from waltz time sleepiness to a rock & roll landmark. Many of the takes offered are versions recorded after they nailed the tune on the fourth take.

On the flip side of this method, Dylan had a few songs in his satchel that he showed up with ready to go, “Positively 4th Street” and “Ballad of a Thin Man,” with its three-keyboard approach, key among them. “Pledging My Time” was only recorded twice: Take 1, done in a bumpy roadhouse style, appears on Cutting Edge; Take 2, a slow urban blues, is the version that made it onto Blonde on Blonde

The Cutting Edge, beyond showcasing the creation of a brilliant body of work, is a primer in record-making in the mid-1960s, when producers had only three or four tracks at their disposal. It's a reminder that the greatest blues, folk and rock albums are rooted in capturing singular performances of musicians working together as a unit, even with a single-minded leader speeding map-free through unexplored territory.

The packaging is A-plus, with historical essays and detailed notes on each session from noted Dylan historian Sean Wilentz, Bill Flanagan and Ben Rollins. The set also includes a collection of photos from the era, titled “Mixing Up the Medicine.”