The Bootleg Series, Vol. 9: The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964
What really peaked my interest, causing me to jump into this seemingly endless bootlegged series was the song "I'll Keep It With Mine," which Britta Phillips did with intense exquisite passion and grace, on their release 13 Most Beautiful: Songs For Andy Warhol's Screen Tests, and is now doing live during Dean Wareham's Galaxie 500 tour. With this being the first time many of these songs have surfaced, I sat right down and queued up a whole host of interesting numbers, including a very introspective version of "Mama, You've Been On My Mind," and "Mr. Tambourine Man," where his imagery and abstractness seem all the more pointed.
Of course these aren't the most well recorded tracks, even with the remarkable cleansing process they were put through before being released. Never the less, one gets an insightful vision of what was circulating in the head of Bob Dylan, a mere ten or so weeks following the release of his very first album. Many of the tracks are very lo-fi in their nature, often Dylan opts for the piano rather than his guitar, and you can almost visualize him considering and changing these songs as they're coming out of his mouth. A number of the tracks, especially his talking blues forays sound sedated, mere shadows of what they would become. A real pleasure, and idea that I've always supported, was how much Bruce Springsteen's early demo sessions sound remarkably like Dylan in their structure, phrasing and development.
Dylan wasn't trying to prove anything here, these are just his initial takes on a large grouping of material. To be honest I'm surprised that he allowed a tape machine to be running, as these tracks were already cataloged in his head, this was just Bob, perhaps for the first time, allowing these songs to fully see the light of day, before he reworked them. It's important to maintain a sense of perspective here, an open mind, and even a sense of humor, because your gonna' hear some looser material back to back which songs that would become timeless classics.
As with all of this material, it's rather easy to dismiss, holding no lasting value, or repeated play interest. It's all sort of like standing on a wooden crate, rubbing the dirt from a smudged window pane, looking in and discovering that there's really not much to be seen, other than a young man, endlessly typing away, while adding the music to the words in his head. Of course I'm pleased to have had the look-see, but what is there to honestly say, just the dullness of an artist at work ... I'll take the finished product any day of the week.
Review by Jenell Kesler