It's been said that Bob Dylan has the largest and most comprehensive bootleg catalog in all of music history. More importantly, it's been argued his bootleg output rivals his actual official output in terms of excellence and greatness. A bulk of his diehard following obsesses over the availability of his bootlegs -- live renditions, studio outtakes, and rare one-offs. Like most involved with the bootleg market, Dylan's completist admirers scour, search, persuade, and share the uncovered, newly-discovered, and recently-captured material with one another.
It's expected for bootlegs to have inferior sound quality. The audio flaws, no matter how severe, are typically accepted. That said, bootleg collectors rejoice when Columbia decides to release a new volume in the Dylan Bootleg Series. The fans consider a proper release of a landmark performance a blessing. Aside from the first three volumes of The Bootleg Series, all the releases have been documents of live milestones. With No Direction Home, volume seven of the series, Columbia gives it treatment similar to volumes 1-3 -- a grab bag of early recordings, studio outtakes, alternate versions, and significant live performances. These selections focus on Dylan's career from its Minnesota-bred onset in 1956 up until the motorcycle spill in 1966.
Volume 7 acts as the soundtrack to Martin Scorsese's soon-to-be-revealed film documentary, No Direction Home. With that in mind, this volume turns out to be much so a companion piece to the film project (a collectible scrapbook is also being released). All this attention dedicated to Dylan's first masterful period, the rapid and relentless transformation from coonskin cap-wearing troubadour to bleary-eyed, drug-thin bones in a polka-dot suit-wearing electricity-fueled maniac reminds us just how fast he changed everything.
This volume in the series has one major drawback, and it hurts the diehard bootleg collector fans. Many of the tracks on the first disc of this compilation have been discovered already -- they've been circulating on the Dylan black-market for years now. There aren't many surprises. Columbia is giving the fans a gift, only it's already been had. Embarrassment ensues. The fans blush, lie, and say they haven't heard any of the songs before, when in reality they've been playing them off of fancied-up CD-Rs for a minute now. On the second disc, anxiety is expelled. Alternate takes from the Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde sessions make the wary collector grin. To examine the growth of these songs is worth the purchase alone.
Regardless of what's been heard or not been heard, as the case always is with official releases of bootlegs, the audio is improved. It's also nice to have these extraordinary moments on one disc. It maps out Dylan's rapid progression for anyone who may have forgotten. Still, Volume 7's chronological study approach doesn't resonate as well as a single milestone performance would.
1. When I Got Troubles
2. Rambler, Gambler
3. This Land Is Your Land
4. Song to Woody
5. Dink's Song
6. I Was Young When I Left Home
7. Sally Gal
8. Don't Think Twice, It's All Right
9. Man of Constant Sorrow
10. Blowin' in the Wind
11. Masters of War
12. A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall
13. When the Ship Comes In
14. Mr. Tambourine Man
15. Chimes of Freedom
16. It's All Over Now, Baby Blue
17. She Belongs to Me
18. Maggie's Farm
19. It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry
20. Tombstone Blues
21. Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues
22. Desolation Row
23. Highway 61 Revisited
24. Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
25. Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again
26. Visions of Johanna
27. Ballad of a Thin Man
28. Like a Rolling Stone