What a pleasant gift it is to hear there is enough Bob Dylan music out there, officially released or otherwise, to keep us busy over the autumn and winter months. Spuriously Seventeen Windows, one of many complete and dedicated efforts from bennyboy, is a neat collection of these so-called unfinished masterpieces. Anything Dylan touched, to some, can be a masterpiece. Those with cooler heads and calmer hearts look at large periods and turn their nose. Empire Burlesque is a tough period to swallow, after all. But this is a broad brush to paint with on Spuriously Seventeen Windows. Nothing better than pouring what is left of the possibly out-of-date wine, kicking back in a chair which needs replacing and listening in, through tinnitus and all, to more Dylan tracks.
Opener Dirty Lie is – as most of these tracks are – a moment to consider how they did not receive a proper release. The electric guitar interlude is nothing shy of perfect, as are the lyrics. Dylan is in top form for this piece, and it is a crying shame it never saw the light of day. Other bits and pieces, hearing the clink of glasses and the crackle of old tapes on On A Rainy Day – presumably a way of listening back to test material – is a real treat. Dylan is not the only artist to have a backlog of unreleased material, but it speaks to how much he has to deliver when Spuriously Seventeen Windows is the slim tip of a massive iceberg. Snippets like I Can’t Make It Alone and I Can’t Leave Her Behind are easy little half-ballads to lose yourself to.
More complete tracks are available to those who wish for more than firm trimmings. I Can’t Leave Her Behind of course offers up a five-minute delicacy – a true delight of a track which hears Dylan plucking away at his acoustic guitar. Forgotten bits from hotel recordings, warm-ups and green room boredom come together with such a surprising theme to them. Covers and collected bits scrubbed with the usual Dylan quality. It highlights, more than anything, that there was still quality in this darker 1980s period – even if it was not on show in the recorded and released efforts. I Once Knew a Man shows this well enough. Genuinely tender at times, Spuriously Seventeen Windows does well to pace its collected tracks. If I Was a King is one of the finest unreleased tracks of any artist, let alone Dylan.
Collections and compilations of this variety are far more important than the usual Best-of-pieces released. Elvis Costello had a compilation of hits and still made time for some of his deeper cuts, as did Richard Hawley more recently. Spuriously Seventeen Windows is a compilation work for deep cut enthusiasts – those who want to hear the likes of I’m Not There and Is It Worth It in a state far from finished. It is all still listenable, that is the Dylan guarantee, but much of it gives away the magic of how these songs are constructed and pieced together. From slick basslines jutting out a little more to the intense electric instrumentals scattered throughout. This is a stellar piece to learn of Dylan’s craft, the bennyboy package here is a listen on par with the official Bootleg Tapes.