KUTX Music Editor Jeff McCord’s take on the box sets to buy this holiday season. Albums are rated on a five-point scale.
Chronicling Dylan’s late sixties Nashville trifecta of John Wesley Harding, Nashville Skyline and Self Portrait, the latest edition of the Bootleg Series rounds up outtakes from these sessions. There aren’t many. So the bulk of Travelin’ is taken up with the loose, affable and oft-bootlegged Dylan and Johnny Cash duets, most of which were recorded at the tail end of the Nashville sessions. Despite the pitchy harmonies and numerous false starts, the pair are clearly enjoying each other’s company, and it’s a delight to be a fly on the wall. For whatever reason, Dylan seems to take to Cash’s material better than vice versa, so Cash’s songs dominate. They do take on Dylan’s “Wanted Man”, a song Dylan wrote for Cash. It’s great to hear Dylan singing the song, but they never quite get around to finishing it. The pair are most at ease when they cover others- Crudup’s “That’s All Right”, a medley of “Mystery Train” and “This Train Is Bound For Glory”, “Matchbox” (featuring its writer Carl Perkins on guitar), “Just A Closer Walk With Thee”, and a spirited Jimmie Rodgers tribute. In contrast, the pair are rehearsed and in top form for the Johnny Cash TV Show taping recorded months later, and Dylan takes the same band in the studio for a couple of more recordings, ostensibly for Self Portrait (they didn’t make it, just as well for a Dylan album best left forgotten). The collection wraps with the only non-Nashville recordings, a quartet of songs from Carmel, New York recorded with Earl Scruggs and his band. They’re fun but mostly a curiosity. (If you ever wanted to hear Dylan singing Bluegrass, here’s your chance.) With the exception of an unheard tune, “Western Road”, the 15 Harding and Skyline tracks are all alternate takes that don’t differ that much from the known versions. The scarcity of outtakes is due to a couple of things. Dylan seriously prepped for Harding, the sessions wrapped in close to nine hours; there wasn’t much experimenting. And Columbia notoriously lost a lot of Skyline outtakes when it forgot to pay a bill on a storage facility, buying them back – at least some of them – decades later on eBay. Clocking in at three CDs/LPs, the collection is much shorter than the weighty volumes of recent years. (The endless live gospel and Rolling Thunder collections were enough to make you long for the shorter and more curated Bootleg Series of old.) Not surprising for what was a transitory era for Dylan, there’s nothing that essential here, but the duets with Cash are a delight, if only for the way they bring these near-mythological figures down to earth for a while.
Review by Jeff McCord