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Bob Dylan’s “Springtime in New York: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 16 / 1980-1985” Reviewed

In late December last year, Bob Dylan released 1970, a set of rehearsal tapes from mostly New Morning and Self Portrait, and not part of the Bootleg Series but of great interest due to the George Harrison rehearsing with Bob on May 3rd of the titular year. There are nine songs, 25 minutes of the Bard and the Beatle, but George is way in the background. Still, I’d rather have it than not have it…

Jump ten years and you are back with the bootleg series, alts, outtakes, rehearsals, and a little live, on Springtime in New York: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 16 / 1980-1985. Considered revelatory and a reassessment of Dylan in the early 80s. He would follow the three albums represented here with:

Knocked Out Loaded (1986) – if all it had was “Brownville Girl” (written with great playwright Sam Shepard) and “Maybe Someday” it would be a must listen, but it has other strong songs as well, botched by an iffy choir – B+

Down in the Groove (1988) – not only is this where you find live favorite “Silvio,” you also find him getting into deep country, and also panoramic western “Shenandoah” – A-

Oh Mercy (1989) – and we all agree about this one…

Now add these three to the beginning

Shot of Love (1981) – considered a set of Christian blah, it was actually Christian anecdotal as opposed to the proselytizing of the first two Christian albums. And it includes “Every Grain Of Sand” and added later B Side “The Groom Still Waiting at the Altar” and the brutal retort “Property Of Jesus” – A

Infidels (1983) – you don’t like this? “Jokerman,” the rabid and lovely sexism of “Sweetheart Like You,” and the Israel apologist “Neighborhood Bully” -and that’s just the first three songs – A

Empire Burlesque (1985) – disco Bob? If so a bonafida greatest disco-funk band ever, The O’Jays, thought enough of it to cover “Emotionally Yours”. However,the album is so close, he chose the wrong take of “The Night Came Falling From The Sky” and if he’d added Infidels outtake “Foot Of Pride” it would have been there – A-

But we knew the early 80s were missing a few parts from the outtakes on Bootleg Series, Volume 1 – 3, which has better versions of “Foot Of Pride” and “When The Night Comes Falling From The Sky” than on Volume 16. Having said that, he sure reinforces the concept on the five CD, 57 song, four hours plus box set. Disc One is Dylan getting the rust off as he circles Shot Of Love, he starts with two of his own songs, “Senor (Tales Of Yankee Power)” is off an album I don’t like as much as anything he recorded in the 1980s, Street Legal, and a real Dylan oldie “To Ramona,” he follows it with two hymns, a SOL track, and then an outtake that I know from Bonnie Raitt’s version, and then a fistful of covers, “Sweet Caroline” sung as a dirge, Dr. Hook’s classic rock waltz “A Couple More Years,” and a really great take on Dave Mason’s pop classic tale of romantic dischord, “We Just Disagree” among others.

On Side Two, none of the Shot Of Love outtakes are specifically missed opportunities except for the gorgeous “Don’t Ever Take Yourself Away” and while the claim is these versions are less arrangedly problematic (you can’t throw a brick without hitting his wife and to Christianity converter back-up singer Carol Dennis-Dylan) that’s fine, but it is probably the only mediocre side. Side Three are mostly Infidel alternate takes but there is also “Too Late,” an early version of “Foot Of Pride”, “FOP” is also here in a not as strong version as either Lou Reed’s triumphant take during Dylan’s 30th Anniversary Concert, nor Dylan’s on Vol 1 – 3. Side Four have all outtakes from Infidel, and here it truly suggests that there was an album he could have released that would have been better, or might have made a good double. “Julius And Ethel” is a rager rocker – and it is the album with Mark Knopfler and Mick Taylor playing duel guitars and it is on this side you really hear em nail it… on Infidels itself not so much. His “Green Green Grass Of Home” is a must hear. The final side are Empire Burlesque songs without the disco beats, so cleaner and less troubled by fashion. Neither of the “When The Night Comes Falling From The Sky” is as good as the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers outtake we heard in 1991.

So, if this is meant to resurrect Dylan’s 1980s, it doesn’t. Because they don’t need resurrecting. The 80s gave us six new albums, for comparison’s sake, the 2010s gave us one album of new songs. And for a fan, and for not so much a fan, Volume 16 is a complete pleasure

Grade: A

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