If you’re a hardcore fan of Bob Dylan, you’re probably insatiable in terms of finding “new” Dylan music. There’s no shame in listening to those old favorites over and over, but it’s also really exciting to find revitalized versions of deep cuts and less popular songs for your enjoyment. More Blood, More Tracks, the latest album in the Bootleg Series honoring just this kind of fan is a package deal that includes the album and a collectible guide. The following review offers some track-by-track thoughts on the recently released recordings which can also be sampled on Spotify.
Sound engineers have taken these old tracks and touched them up for our renewed interest. Upon the first encounter, you’ll once again notice Dylan’s amazing narrative sense— something this particular collection reveals especially well. The clarity of the recording only makes that more evident; by cutting away the cracks and pops, Dylan’s inspiring lyricism is allowed to cut through the air, whether it’s a hit like “Tangled up in Blue” and “Shelter From the Storm” or a lesser-known tune like “Up to Me.”
The improvements are immediately apparent. On “Tangled up in Blue,” the discerning ear will immediately notice greater clarity with the guitars and when Dylan’s vocal enters the track, he feels much closer, even more familiar than in past versions. The overall crispness heightens the hopeless romanticism of the lyrics, more typical of ancient mythology than ‘70s rock ‘n roll.
The second track, “If You See Her, Say Hello” is full of some wonderful harmonica playing and some absolutely heart-wrenching storytelling as the protagonist reflects on a relationship that didn’t pan out and wishes her a good future. There’s a rich mining of heartache here to be sure.
“Up to Me” has some of the most intriguing, seeking lyrics you’ll ever hear. As the guitar keeps things moving with a rapid strum pattern, Dylan’s characteristic vocal and melody lines stay predictable even as he rides his own lyricism. This specific version spotlights some interesting noises that sound like the pick hitting the guitar or maybe equipment hitting a microphone. That’s an important point about this collection: Polish is not the point. The Bootleg Series celebrates Dylan’s craft, not his perfection.
The next composition, “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” is an easygoing love song. With a few moments that feel out of time, you feel as though you’re hearing your favorite artist try out new things. You don’t mind, exactly, but it catches you off guard. But with Dylan, you never doubt his integrity in searching for the emotion. It’s clear whomever he wrote this about had a serious impact on him.
“Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts” is an intricate folk tune weaving together a few different themes. Ostensibly about a game of cards, this song is also about corruption on a larger scale. The imagery is vivid and engaging and this specific recording is almost hypnotic in its consistency. Dylan’s approach to strumming guides the listener to focus on the repeated phrase about the “Jack of Hearts.” Riveting.
But the subsequent “You’re a Big Girl Now” is perhaps this release’s most philosophical offering. Disguised as a love song, the tune teases you with statements like “time is a jet plane” and “what’s the sense of changing horses midstream” thereby pushing you into abstraction and a more poetic realm. If that sounds a bit heady, there’s also some great harmonica work for added texture.
The feisty “Shelter from the Storm” will you pull you back down to earth. This specific take features Dylan’s lead guitar and vocal but has a sweet accent piano in the background that adds a layer of nostalgia. The lyrics are multifaceted and leave listeners to come up with their own theories as to who the female protagonist is. This version is certainly simpler than the more popular recordings, but as with other tracks, it only accentuates Dylan’s skills in all departments.
Both “Call Letter Blues” and “Simple Twist of Fate” feel like familiar Dylan tunes. “Simple Twist of Fate” is particularly interesting in its use of a two-step slow dance rhythm plus the backing of a full band makes this number stand out in a good way on this collection.
The final track “Idiot Wind” has a bit of a different pacing with chords and lyrics that are both quite abrasive. Essentially a lover’s spat expressed in song, this closer possesses an unsettling style that feels like an odd place to end an album — except this is Dylan. And when did he ever conform to expectations?
Photo Credit: Bob DYLAN; performing live onstage at the benefit for ousted Chileans: Felt Forum, New York (Photo by Steve Morley/Redferns/Getty Images)