Rolling Thunder

Author: Bruce Jenkins   Date Posted:15 July 2019 

A number of Bob Dylan’s 60s songs have become part of the tapestry of popular culture. He was a lightning rod for the folk revival and the emerging protest movement. As a result, it is tempting to think of Dylan as an introverted singer-songwriter, a strumming folkie who presents his songs in an unassuming way to thoughtful audiences sitting in rapt silence the better to absorb his poetic, personal or political musings. While not exactly wrong, this is a limited view of one of music’s most singular talents. It is a perception quickly dispelled by one listen to “Live 1975” or, to give it its full unwieldy title, “The Bootleg Series Volume 5—Bob Dylan Live 1975—The Rolling Thunder Revue”. This, friends, is Dylan rocking his sox off. And more.

Originally released in 2002 as a two-CD set, this concert material contains a selection of ‘classics’ as well as six songs from the newly recorded “Desire”. It is a set full of passion and energy; the vocals delivered with spitting intensity and the band rattling along like a freight train. So the 2019 re-issue as a 3 LP boxed set is a welcome treat for Dylanophiles as well as an exciting eye-opener for the casual Bob fan.

Whether armed simply with acoustic guitar and harmonica or joined by a full band—here including David Bowie’s long-time guitar slinger Mick Ronson, and Scarlet Rivera, the violinist Dylan sighted strolling the NY streets during the “Desire” sessions—Dylan is a potent performer who considers touring to be ‘in my blood’. He hatched the plan for The Rolling Thunder Revue even as the songs for “Desire” were being written and recorded, and wasted no time in getting the buses trundling through Massachusetts and Connecticut. And more.

Along the way they coalesced as a band, gathering a momentum amply demonstrated by the opening track, “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You”. Part promise, part threat, its position in the setlist is a direct communication with the audience, who let their appreciation be known. But with Bob Dylan, it’s never songs-by-numbers. He alters lyrics, changes tempos and regularly re-arranges his songs. Here, after a bossa nova tinged rendition of “It Ain’t Me Babe” we have a wonderfully loose bar-room boogie version of “A Hard Rain’s A-gonna Fall” immediately followed by a waltz-time arrangement of “The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll”. And more.

One remarkable aspect of the Rolling Thunder tour was Dylan’s invitation for artists from the current town to contribute to each performance. Gordon Lightfoot, Arlo Guthrie and Joni Mitchell all made appearances, to the delight of local audiences. Although these “guest artists” do not appear on “Live 1975”, a spirit of collaboration infuses the album, embodied in the four songs where Dylan is joined by Joan Baez and topped off by the final track. “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” is a fitting closer, enhanced by the presence of ex-Byrd Roger McGuinn.

The “Live 1975” set is a beauty, ranging from from the intimacy of “Sara” to the righteous rage of “Hurricane”. And more.

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