Early works and unreleased tracks are the bread and butter of any hardcore fan. Just take a look at your favourite artist, get to grips with what they did not release and why. Pulp has acres of demo recordings that are fit for public consumption but never made it past the studio booth. For Bob Dylan, The Bootleg Series provides hours and hours of unreleased demos, live tapes and little oddities from a decade-spanning, inspired career. The first volume presents 22 tracks of demos, outtakes and live performances. They will spin the head of the hardcore Zimmerman fan, and rightly so. A collection this large is nothing to turn your nose up at.
Even if it is just a collection of tiny pockets of guitars mistuned or misremembered lyrics. The first instalment to The Bootleg Series is a varied and interesting piece. For those hoping to chart the growth of this half-a-century career, these now-released tracks will be a real treasure. Hard Times in New York Town opens the album, an early demo from the turn of the 1960s. It is a track that has polish and finesse, a song that would not sound out of place on the self-titled debut, Bob Dylan. The hard times of the Big Apple are captured tremendously, and it is a sign of quality that most bootleg releases do not have. The Bootleg Series Volume 1 is that mismatched collection that someone deep in the throes of a Bob Dylan binge will want to engage with. There is plenty to sift through, and much of it is thoroughly enjoyable.
Beyond strong tracks like He Was a Friend of Mine, Man On the Street and No More Auction Block are outtakes that provide little quality, but interesting snippets behind the scenes. For those disappointed by Bob Dylan: Odds and Ends, hearing the missteps and the makings of great music. Forming those are a natural ability Dylan has as a songwriter. The sketch marks of pure and refined quality are available within The Bootleg Series Volume 1, and to hear that is a quality treat for fans. Those unacquainted with Dylan surely shouldn’t start here, but where is the harm? Here is a great artist as unrefined and experimental. He toys with his sound, expresses the acoustic variety that would steer him to stardom, and makes the most of his recording experiences. The Bootleg Series Volume 1 is, at the very least, a thoroughly interesting experience.
For a collection of studio outtakes, The Bootleg Series Volume 1 is incredibly strong. There is quality on here that far exceeds some of the genuine releases and offerings Dylan made throughout his career. That should be no surprise, really. The man exuded quality, and it is on the demos that listeners will hear a raw, uncontrollable side. House Carpenter and Let Me Die in My Footsteps are genuine highlights that should be extracted from here and thrown into the live sets, recordings and releases of the man himself. A fun album, the tongue-in-cheek naturalistic stylings of Talkin’ Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues work more here than on a genuine, contemporary release because this is the room to have fun. A place to grow out the unrefined delicacies. Dylan works with that well, and The Bootleg Tapes Volume 1 will be a real treat for those looking for odds and ends.