Bob Dylan agnostics often scratch their heads when confronted by the completist compulsions of the singer’s fanbase. Yet Dylanophiles’ ardour for previously unheard material shows little indication of dimming, with The Cutting Edge the 12th official collection culled from the archives of unreleased demos and home recordings (the roll-call of unofficial compilations, meanwhile, runs into the thousands).
But of all the entries in the Bootleg series thus far, The Cutting Edge is probably the most approachable from the perspective of the wavering devotee, tracking, as it does, the artist’s transformation from mumbling folkie to plugged-in cultural force. Much of contents was committed to tape over the course of his “notorious” transition from electric to acoustic, which reached its historic catharsis at Newport Jazz Festival 50 years ago.
The Cutting Edge is available in several iterations, including six and 18-disc bundles. For the neophyte the two-disc Best of the Cutting Edge is recommended. Gathered here are excerpts from Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde and Blonde – the Dylan LPs that matter to this day.
Thus, a great deal of the music will be well known to even those with a strictly superficial knowledge of Dylan. There are stripped-down versions of ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’, ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ and ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ – among the most famous songs ever recorded and tolerable even to those generally unmoved by Dylan’s cathartic croak. These are his big pop moments and, even gutted of their studio gloss, are absolutely rollicking.
It’s fascinating to hear these iconic numbers in gestational form. The recordings may suffer from over familiarity yet Dylan’s rumpled personality shines through – equal parts odd-ball and mesmerizing. This is absorbing listen for anyone who can’t have enough of Dylan. For everyone else, it serves as a decent, if sonically rough and ready, “greatest hits” taster.
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