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By David Werther

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The Bootleg Series Vol. 11, Bob Dylan and the Band, The Basement Tapes Raw (Sony, Columbia Records, 2014)

           The Basement Tapes Raw and The Basement Tapes Complete are volume 11 in the Sony Bob Dylan Bootleg Series. Chronologically, the music on this volume comes immediately after volume 4, Live 66.

           Live 66 concludes with a confrontation over Dylan’s embracing of electric music and departure from protest music. While Dylan and company are getting ready to launch into their closing number, a lone voice calls out “Judas.” There is a long pause and then Dylan replies, “I don’t believe you,” another pause and, “You’re a liar,” and finally, to the band, “Play f#%king loud.” They oblige and Dylan delivers one of his most vindictive songs, “Like a Rolling Stone.”

           Dylan won that confrontation, but by the end of that tour he seemed ready to crash. And he did, on July 29th 1966, riding his Triumph motorcycle in Woodstock, New York. That crash led to cancelled concerts and Dylan “going underground,” recording songs in a basement.

           Dylan’s compatriots at this time were 4/5's of the band that backed him on Live 66: Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel and Robbie Robertson. But Dylan was now bringing his band some fun loving songs like “Clothesline Saga,” his parody of “Ode to Billie Jo,” a first take of “You Ain’t Going Nowhere,” with lines like, “The cats need feedin and you’re the one to do it,” “Lo and Behold,” which Dylan and band have trouble completing, trying to stave off their laughter, and “Quinn the Eskimo.”

           Among the heavier songs on The Basement Tapes Raw are “I Shall be Released,” a composition that belongs on the top of any short list of Dylan masterpieces, and “I’m Not There,” a foreshadowing of what was to come on Blood on Tracks.

           In a class all of its own is the longest song in the collection, “Sign on the Cross.” The song begins seriously with Dylan repeatedly confessing that “it’s that old sign on the cross that worries me,” and then half way through he takes on the persona of a backwoods preacher. Perhaps that hick plays the role of a medieval court jester, mixing a little nonsense into a serious message. Be that as it may, at the core of “Sign on the Cross” is a warning, “later on, you might find a door you might want to enter, but of course the door might be closed.” #

# Lyric quoted from page 234 of Paul Williams’ Bob Dylan Performing Artist I:1960-1973 The Early Years.