In light of the fact that The Basement Tapes Complete
is due out soon, we might ask what the point of this release will be in the future.
As noted at length in some of the better reviews on this page and in various other sources, this album was an attempt to clean up and present material from already widely-bootlegged sessions in a "professional" manner. To that end, some tracks were "sweetened" and others were re-recorded. A few of the Band's tracks seem, in retrospect, to have no connection with the Basement Tapes at all ("Bessie Smith" for example) whereas others ("Ain't No More Cane" and "Don't Ya Tell Henry") are re-recordings of tracks that were at least played at the time.
The material from these sessions is essential for Dylan fans - some of his best songwriting and singing. Unfortunately, this original presentation of the material to the public unaccountably leaves out some of the better songs ("I Shall Be Released") along with some of the more compelling (if idiosyncratic) performances ("I'm Not There (1956)") making the newer Bootleg Series sets preferable in terms of the Dylan content.
By and large, the "sweetening" on this original release is, at this point, little more than a curiosity. I don't think the overdubs actually enhance the music significantly and they're overdubbed on less-than-optimal transfers of the original sources. Though perhaps some might prefer them.
On the other hand, the re-recordings and the Band-only tracks are really quite good for the most part. "Cane", "Henry", "Katie", "Reuben" and "Bessie" are all great - and until/unless they all end up on a Band album somewhere (I believe there are versions of one or two included as extras on the Ban's first two albums, but not all of the tracks), this is where you'll find them.
My view is that this album still makes a valuable supplement to the Complete Basement Tapes (or the smaller 2-disc set The Basement Tapes Raw
) and to the first Band albums, but that the release of the newer sets downgrades this from "essential" to "nice to have" - but one should consider The Basement Tapes Raw
to be essential for all serious Dylan fans.