The Basement Tapes Complete: 2014's Best Classic Album

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This is hot property.
This is hot property.

Long considered the single-most revered recordings ever made, Bob Dylan and the Band's Basement Tapes still retains its legendary status nearly 50 years after the sessions concluded in the basement of a rented house in upstate New York.

This year's release of The Basement Tapes Complete by Columbia Records/Legacy Recordings caused quite a stir for Dylan lovers who would agree with us that it was one of the most exciting releases of 2014.

Originally, the Tapes went public through the circulation of the so-called Great White Wonder, bootleg recordings which only heightened curiosity about the sessions. These took place while Dylan was still in seclusion following a motorcycle accident in the summer of 1966.

Rumors and speculation added to the mystique, as did the fact that these collaborations yielded songs that would later become seminal standards and minted material for outside acts like the Byrds, Manfred Mann, Fairport Convention and McGuiness Flint.

The public got its first authorized listen in 1975 when Columbia officially released an album bearing sixteen tracks from the original sessions and eight added songs later recorded by the Band.

However, considering the fact that there rumored to be over 100 unreleased tracks, collectors and completists naturally clamored for more. So now, some four decades later, their wishes have been fulfilled with this latest entry in the Dylan Bootleg series of archival recordings. The Basement Tapes Complete is a six-disc set that offers every salvageable song from the basement of Big Pink, all newly restored from the original tapes. The quality is still relatively primitive -- these were mostly impromptu home recordings after all -- and those weened on today's technology may be disappointed at the lack of fidelity and the unembellished sound.

So too, anyone under the impression that this was strictly a laboratory for hatching new material may be somewhat befuddled by the predominance of cover songs, many of them traditional standards and county classics.

Still, the historical connection to Dylan's efforts that would soon follow -- John Wesley Harding, Nashville Skyline and Self Portrait, in particular -- is readily apparent and foreshadows Dylan's humble yet heady attempts to redefine Americana.

Likewise, the first sketches of songs that would later buttress both Dylan and the Band's songbook -- "Tears of Rage," "Nothing Was Delivered," "I Shall Be Released," You Ain't Goin' Nowhere," Don't Ya Tell Henry," "Quinn the Eskimo," "Million Dollar Bash," "Lo and Behold!" and the like -- offer a treasure trove of revelation, making the anticipation for acquisition well worth the wait.

The relatively steep cost for the entire set might discourage some and perhaps persuade them to opt for the condensed two disc version, which culls highlights and eliminates the excess. Yet given the benefit of an accompanying book of photos and the lavish packaging that's tossed into the mix, the "complete" package is still the optimum buy.

Besides: Why wonder about what went on in those secretive sessions when the answers are now fully and finally unearthed?


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