Album Reviews

Bob Dylan

The 1966 Live Recordings

Artist:     Bob Dylan

Album:     The 1966 Live Recordings

Label:     Columbia/Legacy

Release Date:     11/11/2016

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1966 was a watershed year for Bob Dylan—a great year for the music, but less so for the master himself. He was celebrating the release of three seminal masterpieces, Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde, but he was still being reviled by the folk purists for having dared to integrate electric instrumentation and the attendant rhythms of rock ‘n’ roll into his singular stance. Indignant audiences greeted him at every turn, a continuation of the anger first thrust at him at Newport a couple of years before. And yet, Dylan remained assured, cocky and confident, revved up even further while in confrontational mode. The year would end with him supposedly careening off his motorcycle in Woodstock, prompting rumor of his demise, but the next year would start anew with the sessions that became The Basement Tapes and lead to further glories down the road.

Consequently, Dylan’s 1966 world tour became a landmark chapter in his still burgeoning career. With the essence of the group that what would later become the Band in tow, he took to the stage in Australia, Britain, the U.S. and Scandinavia, sharing his latest anthems with a resolve and defiance that redefined his persona and ushered in an era that found him pushing the parameters of his own music and popular music as a whole. The sound, as captured on the 36 CDs that make up The 1966 Live Recordings is tough, tenacious, dire and dramatic, given license by some of the most incestuous anthems of his career: “Desolation Row,” “Fourth Time Around,” “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” “Ballad of a Thin Man” and “I Don’t Believe You” among them. On disc 20, once can hear the heckler shout “Judas,” and Dylan respond by saying, “I don’t believe you. You’re a liar!” before launching into a triumphant “Like a Rolling Stone.” It’s like listening to history unfold, and it makes these recordings all the more mesmerizing.

Taken from a variety of sources—mostly soundboard, some from the CBS vaults and a handful of audience recordings—these 36 discs make for an essential historical document, and a remarkable one as well. A compact two-CD set and a double LP encompassing the Royal Albert Hall recordings are also due for imminent release, but the fact that most of these performances have never been available except on bootlegs, makes each individual CD an extraordinary experience in and of itself. Dylan’s never been as explosive, as combative or as controversial, and given the remarkable breadth of his career, that in itself is remarkable. Perhaps the most stunning set of concert recordings ever released, The 1966 Live Recordings is a telling document about one of the most revelatory eras in modern music history.

—Lee Zimmerman

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