JONATHAN HODGERS, REVIEW OF BOB DYLAN'S MORE BLOOD, MORE TRACKS

 

[PDF version here]

The Bootleg Series Vol. 14: More Blood, More Tracks [Deluxe]
 

REVIEW BY Jonathan Hodgers, Trinity College Dublin
 

More Blood, More Tracks (2019) fulfills many fans’ wishes for broad access to the recording of one of Dylan’s most revered albums. The set’s pleasures are many, not least the complete New York sessions recorded in September 1974 (even those takes Dylan wanted to erase), but also remixes of the versions familiar to us from Blood on the Tracks (1975). The five tracks recut by Dylan in Minnesota that December are also present, but outtakes and demos from these sessions are lost. Nonetheless, More Blood, More Tracks is a cornucopia from the more fabled September stint that was represented by five songs on Blood on the Tracks. The New York recordings approximate chronological order on discs 1–6, with the Minnesota remakes closing the set on disc 6.

More Blood, More Tracks affords us an ideal forum to pore over Dylan’s choices. Looking at the New York takes, it is perhaps surprising that changes to most of the songs were relatively subtle between 16–19 September. The approach to “Buckets of Rain”, although revisited quite often, remains consistent. Others, such as “Lily, Rosemary and The Jack of Hearts” and “Shelter from the Storm” are achieved in remarkably few takes. Dylan revisits the songs to find the right performance, rather than explore their harmonic or melodic possibilities.


The set makes clear that Dylan had the songs’ musical scaffolding more or less set down in New York and carried it with him to Minnesota. Even the songs more radically altered in Minnesota retain their harmonic blueprints. Kevin Odegard has attested to this, barring Chris Weber’s input on the Minnesota “Idiot Wind” and the key change for “Tangled Up in Blue.”[1] That said, Dylan does take the opportunity in December to tweak some of the chord progressions, and in turn, alter the songs’ overall effect. Part of the pleasure of More Blood, More Tracks is the chance to compare all of Dylan’s options.


The set traces Dylan’s development of the songs from solo acoustic numbers to full band renditions, before his settling on a more spartan accompaniment featuring Tony Brown on bass, Paul Griffin on keys, and Buddy Cage on steel guitar. The sojourn on the 16th into full band renditions is noteworthy. This material on the second disc brings into focus how Blood on the Tracks evolved from contemporaneous Dylan albums. Although the links have always been there, it’s obvious from disc 2 that Blood on the Tracks initially had qualities in common with Planet Waves (1974), and even Nashville Skyline (1969). The guitar on early takes of “Simple Twist of Fate” recalls Robbie Robertson’s contributions to Planet Waves. In the second disc’s outtakes of “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go”, Dylan allowed country to color the arrangements. Country reappears in the final Blood on the Tracks, particularly on the Minneapolis “Lily.” But from the sessions, we can hear how the musical language of country had always been present.


More Blood, More Tracks makes it clear that the album’s initial musical palette moved from a Greenwich Village template into a country rock style not dissimilar to its immediate studio predecessor. Dylan fast abandoned this style on the second day of recording, but clearly was game to give it another go after some months had passed. The decision to re-record certain tracks in Minnesota resulted in five new takes to replace their New York equivalents originally chosen for the album’s running order. The most significant changes then occur between New York (NY) and Minnesota (MN), and a great deal of the set’s interest lies in the contrasts (and similarities) between them. Lyrical adjustments notwithstanding, Dylan made some structural changes to the songs in MN that bear comparison with their NY predecessors. What follows is a consideration of this musical evolution, followed by a brief reflection on the More Blood remixes and The Bootleg Series more generally. For convenience, the NY versions refer to
the “test pressing” takes[2] originally earmarked for the album but shelved in favor of their MN namesakes.


Harmonically, “Tangled Up in Blue” is a touch more nuanced in NY, with more changes occurring in the fourth, eighth, tenth, and twelfth lines (“If her hair…”; “Papa’s bank book…”; “Rain fallin’…” and “Lord knows…” respectively). Dylan streamlined these in MN, dropping either one or two chords. Yet, the harmonic conceit of the song remains consistent, with six of the first nine lines see-sawing between the tonic and an anomalous chord (D in NY, G in MN). In initially avoiding chords with any conventional harmonic relationship, Dylan affords us conditions which contrast with one another, yet that establish a connection within a field of tension. It’s easy to see this dichotomy as representative of the fated romance found in the lyrics. As each line expands on the couple’s deepening connection, the mysterious chord eventually vanishes in NY, replaced with chords endemic to the song’s key. The process repeats for each verse.


The NY and MN versions diverge subtly in this regard, however. In NY, Dylan doesn’t revisit the mystery chord when the verse comes to an end. The words “Tangled up in blue” are accented with an Emaj7 (an embellishment of the E major chord), the dominant (a B11 here, technically conflating the dominant and the subdominant) and finally the basic root chord on “Tangled.” In an interesting quirk, Dylan makes one final revisit to the mystery chord in MN, on the ideal word: “tangled.” There’s nothing especially noteworthy in Dylan’s (straightforward) use of an A and G together in MN; it’s interesting, however, that Dylan retained the same tonal distance found in the NY take where he moves from E to D. Dylan clearly intends this chordal relationship.


Curiously, Dylan may have intended an even more streamlined version of the song in MN. In his chord chart,[3] the last line reverses the dichotomous pattern found at the start of the verse (with the song originally in G, the last line initially progressed from F to G). Keyboard player Gregg Inhofer transposed these to the key of A for the band’s benefit. Dylan initially used an Em that Inhofer transposed to Fm; in the take that made the album, the band play F#m to conform to the vi of the A scale. Inhofer also deviates from Dylan’s template in the last two lines. It’s here we see written the familiar progression for the verse’s final line. In the key of A, the line moves from the anomalous G to the subdominant D, and finally the tonic A. It’s possible Dylan initially considered a starker transition for the line “tangled up in blue.” In the key of G, the move from F to G would have afforded an interesting counterbalance to how the verse opens (G to F). Conceptually, it mirrors the chords’ earlier relationship, feeding into the album’s Escher-like quality. This is something of an intellectual conceit, however, and it’s difficult to argue with the musical appeal of the finished product, whose chord changes complement the trochaic thrust of the line (“Tangled up in blue”). This preserves the approach found in the last line of the NY version, and also offers a more pleasing, poppier progression than Dylan’s mooted F to G ending.


Other features add interest once Dylan relocated to MN. In NY, bassist Tony Brown cleaves to the roots of Dylan’s chords, resulting in a folkier sound altogether in keeping with the neo-coffee house approach taken throughout the initial sessions. In contrast, Billy Peterson in MN plays against Dylan’s chords. He often plays an A bass note against a G chord. This was a purposeful decision made by Peterson,[4] and it meshes well with the tension established by Dylan’s alternating between A and G. Enhancing this is Dylan’s use of suspended chords in MN. After opening with an A major, he alternates it with an Asus4, indicative of travel and instability. He repeats this at the end of the verses, enlivening the lyrics’ frequent evocations of restlessness and movement.


The key change similarly has an impact. All of the NY sessions found Dylan using open E tuning. In MN, Dylan had originally wanted the song in G, before being persuaded by guitarist Kevin Odegard to try it instead in A. This energised the song’s performance; in Odegard’s words, “we went from Appalachia to Mississippi in changing that key from G to A”,[5] capturing the transition from folk to folk blues between NY and MN.
 

This adjustment to the album’s musical language indicates a broader shift in the Blood on the Tracks sessions from a Freewheelin’ (1963) bent to a more multi-colored sound suggestive of a number of Dylan eras. Odegard viewed the MN “Idiot Wind” as Dylan reconnecting with his “Like a Rolling Stone” or “Positively 4th Street” persona.[6] Once again, the broader sound palette of the MN sessions suggests a range of pasts co-mingling and overlapping, furthering the lyrics’ themes at an album-wide level.


The NY “You’re a Big Girl Now” switches initially back and forth between the I and V, until the third and fourth line, where Dylan introduces the IV. He uses an Emaj7 on the first two lines and transitions to a straight E major for lines 3 and 4. In MN, the first two lines alternate between the ii and iii, before transitioning to the I and IV in lines 3 and 4. This is an instance of Dylan making a sizeable change to the harmonic logic from the NY to the MN version. In NY, there’s something propulsive between the opening Emaj7 and the B11. With its blend of dominant and subdominant notes, the B11 asks for resolution more urgently and compels the returning tonic more emphatically. In MN, Dylan eases this by opening with two minor chords (Bm and Am), creating an unsettled quality, but without the same drive. As with “Tangled Up in Blue”, Dylan also sands away a few chord changes, streamlining the progressions.


In both NY and MN, Dylan lands on the tonic on the word “back” (for the phrase “back in the rain”), creating a pleasing synergy between the narrator’s return to the rain-drenched outside that somehow constitutes for him a home. He repeats the trick in the next line, returning to the tonic on “land.” It’s a neat gesture, demonstrating musically that the natural states for these two people are very different.


“Idiot Wind” is the most harmonically restless of the songs, befitting its mood. The song follows a sequence of two musically identical verses, followed by the chorus. Dylan herds the minor chords into the verses, mostly saving the majors for the chorus. The irony is palpable, with the confident movement between the I, IV and V in the latter sounding resolutely triumphant and assertive next to the minor chord shifts in the preceding verse. The directness of the lyrics in the chorus befits the approach, while circling around the ii, iii and vi in the verses encapsulates the lyrics’ confusion and indignation.


While Dylan ameliorates the chorus with IVs, each verse in both NY and MN opens with a sour minor chord and an unstable V before finding the tonic—capturing something of the song’s overall drive towards self-realization that characterizes the song’s progression as a whole. The NY features an additional gesture in this direction by including a suspended chord before the V. The song thereafter sticks mostly to the template laid down in NY, save for substituting a iii–IV progression for a iii–ii progression in the third and fourth lines, mirroring the MN opening of “You’re a Big Girl Now.”


In an amusing decision, More Blood, More Tracks does not exactly provide us with the test pressing’s “Idiot Wind.” The same take is included, but with a different organ overdub than the one originally mooted for the album. One hopes someone at the Dylan office was purposely trolling us trainspotters (“It’s still not complete!”)


In MN, “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts” is in D, but in NY, the song is in open E like the others. Harmonically, the song remains almost identical, with a mostly similar progression around I, IV and V. The big changes are in tempo and instrumentation. Most seem to approve of the MN version, adding as it does some dynamism and momentum. More Blood, More Tracks also affords us with the excised NY verse long teased in lyric collections.


“If You See Her, Say Hello” from NY keeps to traditional E major chords. Dylan reshuffles a few of them and embellishes them in MN. With the song now in D major, Dylan includes a striking C for the long “hear” that ends the second line. C, not featured in the key of D, is conspicuous. It shares two notes with both the ii and vii° of the scale, giving it an unsettled quality. It works effectively to convey the sudden disquiet in Dylan’s voice. After a quick reorientation towards the V, he shifts to the vi chord (Bm). This chord opens the two subsequent lines (the pained “Say for me that I’m…” and “She might think I’ve forgotten…”). In tandem with Dylan’s vocals arching upwards, this vi chord lends much poignancy to the lyrics’ understatement.


In NY, Dylan uses the B11 for the “hear” pivot. Functioning as part dominant, part subdominant, it’s a notable voicing, found frequently in the NY versions. Dylan clips the “hear” in NY, however, whereas in MN, the word and its sequels (“chill”, “free”, “town” and “fast” in verses 2, 3, 4 and 5 respectively) are purposely elongated. The slightly ambiguous C in MN offers more of a twist on these words, before the shift back to A.


Unavoidably, the release is an occasion to further consider the relative merits of the two sets of sessions. Far from attenuating NY’s innovation, it’s apparent that the trip to MN found Dylan still alert to the possibilities of the songs. He continues to develop ways of exploring the songs’ central conceits and finds new ways to enrich the lyrics.


The Bootleg Series has increasingly become a space to experiment with Dylan’s mixes, and in a manner of speaking to de-historicize them and present the music in something approaching a natural state. Producer Phil Ramone’s reverb has been stripped from the songs, and the multitracks (where available) mixed into a new master. More Blood, More Tracks co-producers Steve Berkowitz and Jeff Rosen deliberated over this and ultimately decided on presenting the music sans various production decisions made at the time, including speeding up the songs by approximately 2– 3%.[7] Previous Bootleg Series releases have taken a similar approach (including 2008’s Tell Tale Signs and 2015’s The Cutting Edge), attenuating the producer’s original stamp and aiming at a new presentation of the music. As with much of the series, an ideology of purity, “access”, closeness and naturalness coalesces around the material.


The Bootleg 14 takes then sound unlike any of their previous releases. The remix, for all the debate it inspires, is more than welcome. In hindsight, the sporadic releases of the NY takes on various collections have been of less-than-ideal quality; the Jerry Maguire “Shelter From the Storm” (1996) now sounds a generation or two away from what More Blood, More Tracks gives us. On this set, Dylan’s vocals are startlingly present from the very first track. The music overall perhaps has greater warmth and intimacy than the original Blood on the Tracks. Ramone’s reverb has a spacious, nocturnal ambience of its own, and has been an integral part of Blood on the Tracks since its release. It’s a delight nonetheless to hear how bright some of the songs sound in their new iteration. The MN “Tangled Up in Blue”, long since internalized by Dylan fans, has taken on a sweeter quality, with the guitars now mixed higher and clearer.
 

Making no claims on being definitive, these remixes that conclude the set are yet another series of possibilities—further pieces of a shifting puzzle. Part of the set’s coherence stems from the relevance of alternatives to Blood on the Tracks, and how much their presence feeds into the album’s world. Much as the album seems to be both flashforward and flashback all at once, More Blood’s alternatives and remixes offer flashsideways—parallel, simultaneous permutations—wholly fitting for an album concerned with time, cycles, eternal return and predeterminism, but also whose release history has always elicited doubleness and alterity.


Given the expectations around the set, it’s edifying that More Blood, More Tracks has a narrative that satisfies in its own ways apart from simply being a compendium of ingredients for the eventual Blood on the Tracks. This is down to both Dylan’s working process and the compilers’ faith in its appeal; the latter’s decision to show the sessions’ linear progression happily offers a pleasing sense of journey and a satisfying dénouement in the MN remakes. Yet, the material’s release in this form was not inevitable, and the set’s “completist” mentality is itself worth pausing over in closing.


One gets the impression that the Dylan office is moving towards more comprehensive overviews of entire sessions that led to epochal albums. With something of a trilogy in place (2014’s The Basement Tapes Complete, The Cutting Edge, and now More Blood, More Tracks), and more if one counts the 50th Anniversary collections (2012–14), Dylan’s studio chronicles are being made to parallel and offer alternative experiences to the albums that finally emerged from them. In tandem with the insight to be garnered from Tulsa’s Dylan Archive, process is taking a place alongside the finished product. Having proved itself both commercially and artistically viable, it is sure to be given further exposure.


With greater access also comes greater volition on the part of the listener. However cogent the process documented on More Blood, More Tracks is, one is not constrained by the tracklisting, and re-assemblage and playlists are inevitable with this set. For music taken to have such personal resonance with the artist, the set facilitates the listener’s capacity to personalize it, and in effect compile their own version of the album. Once up to me, Blood on the Tracks looks increasingly up to us.

 


Acknowledgments


The author would like to express his gratitude to Mark A. Davidson and Gavin Wynne for their many helpful comments during the drafting of this work. Special thanks go to Kevin Odegard for sharing his experience of the Blood on the Tracks sessions and for his invaluable contributions to “Tangled Up in Blue.”

 


References

Dylan, Bob. The 50th Anniversary Collection: The Copyright Extension Collection, Volume 1. Sony Music – no catalogue number, 2012, CD-R.

Dylan, Bob. The 50th Anniversary Collection 1963. Columbia – 88883799701, 2013, vinyl.

 

Dylan, Bob. 50th Anniversary Collection 1964. Columbia – 88875040861, 2014, vinyl.

 

Dylan, Bob. Blood on the Tracks. Columbia – 512350 2, 2003, compact disc. Originally released in 1975.


Dylan, Bob. The Bootleg Series Vol. 8: Tell Tale Signs: Rare and Unreleased 1989–2006. Deluxe Edition. Columbia – 88697 35797 2, 2008, compact disc.

 

Dylan, Bob. The Bootleg Series Vol. 12: The Cutting Edge 1965–1966. Deluxe Edition. Columbia – 88875124412, 2015, compact disc.

 

Dylan, Bob. The Bootleg Series Vol. 14: More Blood, More Tracks. Deluxe Edition. Columbia – 19075858962, 2018, compact disc.

 

Dylan, Bob. The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Columbia – 512348 2, 2003, compact disc. Originally released in 1963.

 

Dylan, Bob. Nashville Skyline. Columbia – 512346 2, 2003, compact disc. Originally released in 1969.

 

Dylan, Bob. Planet Waves. Columbia – 512356 2, 2003, compact disc. Originally released in 1974.

Dylan, Bob, and The Band. The Bootleg Series Vol. 11: The Basement Tapes Complete. Columbia – 88875016122, 2014, compact disc.

Fremer, Michael. “Bob Dylan’s ‘More Blood, More Tracks The Bootleg Series Vol. 14’ Review + Exclusive Interview With Co-Producer Steve Berkowitz.” Analog Planet. November 2, 2018. https://www.analogplanet.com/content/bob-dylans-more-blood-more-tracks-bootleg-series-vol-14-review-exclusive-interview-co.

 

Gill, Andy, and Kevin Odegard. Simple Twist of Fate: Bob Dylan and the Making of Blood on the Tracks. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2005.

 

Odegard, Kevin. Interviewed by Jason Verlinde, Fretboard Journal. Podcast audio. February 2019. https://www.fretboardjournal.com/podcasts/podcast-237-kevin-odegard/.

 

Odegard, Kevin. Conversation with the author, May 2019.

 

Various. Jerry Maguire: Music from the Motion Picture. Epic Soundtrax – 486981 2, 1996, CD.

 

Wosahla, Steve. “Interview: More Blood, More Tracks…More Bob Dylan Stories.” Americana Highways. November 20, 2018. https://americanahighways.org/2018/11/20/interview-more-blood-more-tracks-more-bob-dylan-stories/.

Footnotes

[1] Kevin Odegard, in conversation with the author, May 2019.

[2] Please see appendix below for the track numbers of these takes on More Blood, More Tracks.


[3] Steve Wosahla, “Interview: More Blood, More Tracks…More Bob Dylan Stories”, Americana Highways, November 20, 2018, https://americanahighways.org/2018/11/20/interview-more-blood-more-tracks-more-bob-dylan-stories/.

[4] Andy Gill and Kevin Odegard, Simple Twist of Fate: Bob Dylan and The Making of Blood on the Tracks (Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2005), 128.

[5] Kevin Odegard interviewed by Jason Verlinde, Fretboard Journal, podcast audio, February 2019, https://www.fretboardjournal.com/podcasts/podcast-237-kevin-odegard/, 00:39:54.


[6] Kevin Odegard, in conversation with the author, May 2019.

[7] Michael Fremer, “Bob Dylan’s ‘More Blood, More Tracks The Bootleg Series Vol. 14’ Review + Exclusive Interview With Co-Producer Steve Berkowitz”, Analog Planet, November 2, 2018, https://www.analogplanet.com/content/bob-dylans-more-blood-more-tracks-bootleg-series-vol-14-review-exclusive-interview-co.

Appendix

 

The test pressing takes on More Blood, More Tracks.

 

Disc 1, track 11: "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts"

 

Included on the test pressing, and the single disc edition of More Blood, More Tracks.

 

9/16/74: Take 2

 

Disc 2, track 5: "Meet Me in the Morning"

 

Edited version included on the test pressing, and previously released on Blood on the Tracks.

 

9/16/74: Take 1

 

Disc 3, track 3: "You’re a Big Girl Now’"

 

Included on the test pressing, and previously released on Biograph.

 

9/17/74: Take 2, Remake

 

Disc 5, track 3: "Tangled Up in Blue"

 

Included on the test pressing, and previously released on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991.

 

9/19/74: Take 3, Remake 2

 

Disc 5, track 10: "Idiot Wind"


Included on the test pressing, with caveats.


9/19/74: Take 4, Remake (with organ overdub)

The editors welcome feedback at editors@dylanreview.org