Bob Dylan: The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964 (The Bootleg Series Vol.9)
Much attention has already been given to Bob Dylan’s Bootleg Series and there’s not a lot to add except to say that the latest release is just as essential as all its predecessors. This double album contains 47 tracks – all of them recorded over a period of just two years. They were made as demos by the young Dylan for his music publishers and were intended as guidelines for possible cover versions. The recordings show his remarkably rapid growth as a songwriter, from the earliest Woody Guthrie influenced songs such as ‘Hard Times in New York Town’ and ‘Talking Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues’ right up to his emergence as a writer of immense lyrical power and imagery on songs such as ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’. Fifteen of these tracks have never previously been released by him in any form and it is some of these which are the most interesting.
It was not until after the last of these demos was recorded that I personally discovered Dylan’s songs in the mid-1960s through his Bringing It All Back Home album. This led me back to his earlier albums and then onwards to his many transformations over the years, and right up to the present – earlier this year I stood in the crowd at his Zepp Osaka concert and listened to him singing ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’ (included here as a demo) almost half a century after its original release. These demos are presented in the order in which Dylan made them and despite the uneven quality of some of the recordings they are all very listenable. The double album is attractively packaged and comes with a lengthy explanatory essay which puts them into context.