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NEW RELEASES: ELTON, LDR AND MO' MONEY
"Lockdown" and Lana. (10/25a)
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ON THE COVER:
OLIVIA RODRIGO
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ADELE ADELE ADELE
Adele; Adele Adele?
ADELE ADELE ADELE ADELE ADELE ADELE
A... dele?
ADELE ADELE
Adele Adele; Adele.
ADELE ADELE ADELE ADELE
(Adele.)
Critics' Choice
DYLAN IN THE '80S REDUX
9/18/21

If there is a consistent element in the bulk of Bob Dylan studio recordings released in the first 15 editions of Columbia/Legacy’s Bootleg Series it’s the sense that had Dylan had an astute command of when a song was finished.

Particularly when one listens to alternate takes of the songs from the mid-1960s when he added electric instrumentation to the mix and his ‘90s material when he was on the brink of churning out a series of brilliant albums, there’s evidence that Dylan was just a hook, a new tempo or an altered chorus or arrangement away from a definitive take.

That’s not the case with Springtime in New York, 1980-1985, released Friday as a five-CD set with a fabulous book of photos and as a two-CD “best of.”

In Vol. 16, Springtime in New York, we’re treated to outtakes that may as well be titled Another Side of Bob Dylan were that title not already taken. Through covers of blues, gospel and folk old songs plus rehearsals and alternate versions of songs that appeared on Shot of Love, Infidels, and Empire Burlesque, the five-CD set provides a thorough reappraisal of an oft-dismissed period that came on the heels of his Christian-themed albums and finds the Bard adapting to recording styles that prevailed at the dawn of the MTV era.

The revelation from the Christian era Bootleg Series was how strong a band Dylan employed for those tours and recordings and it continues on Springtime’s offerings with bands that included Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits, former Rolling Stone Mick Taylor, members of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, Ringo Starr and the reggae masters Sly & Robbie. Similarly, over the five years covered here, Dylan’s voice is remarkably consistent in timbre; he alters the intensity rather than the range to make point, song after song.

Since each recording is a full take, the five CDs feel like complete artistic statements; it’s one of the most listenable editions of the Bootleg series featuring studio recordings. And from start to finish, it’s a great sounding set.

Particularly revelatory are the sparse reading of “Lenny Bruce”; “Tight Connection to My Heart (Has Anyone Seen My Love)” stripped of its au courant 1985 production sheen; a striking reading of The Temptations’ hit “I Wish It Would Rain”; a haunting piano-guitar version of “Blind Willie McTell”  with Knopfler; “Clean Cut Kid” run through the throwback machine that landed at an early Chuck Berry Chess session; and “I and I” sounding like it was pulled from a choir’s hymnal. The truly never-before-released gem “Julius and Ethel,” from 1983, is a post-“Hurricane” romp and precursor for the more recent “Murder Most Foul,” a sign Dylan never lost his story-telling abilities.

The set closes with two of his best songs of the decade, “New Danville Girl” and “Dark Eyes” in versions that resemble the Dylan his fans loved in the ‘60s and again in the 21st century: Raw, urgent, vibrant records that out the songs and the singer at the fore.