Shortly after a stark, solo version of “If You See Her, Say Hello” introduces a new Bob Dylan compendium of “Blood on the Tracks” recording sessions, a voice whispers from the studio.
“That’s really nice.”
Yes it is. Very much so.
The collection, aptly titled “More Blood, More Tracks,” was released last weekend. That makes it the main talking point among fans as Dylan heads back to Central Kentucky for the first time since 2006 for a sold out concert Sunday at the EKU Center for the Arts in Richmond.
Does this detailed look into the construction of what easily stands as Dylan’s greatest album of the 1970s figure into the performances he has been giving on his current tour?
Of course not.
While Dylan setlists always abound with numerous classics from decades gone by through today — or, more specifically, from 1963’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” to 2012’s “Pay in Blood” — his near-annual series of archival collections unashamedly dubbed the Bootleg Series, of which “More Blood, More Tracks” is the 14th installment, doesn’t impact his live shows much. Indeed, the only “Blood on the Tracks” era tune of any kind that has been popping up in his concert repertoire lately has been “Simple Twist of Fate.” It’s a good bet, too that even that exists onstage today as a knotted up ball of sagely spontaneity, just as many of his most familiar works do.
The Dylan of 2018 still plays the hits, but he hasn’t been playing those songs the way you remember them since the time they were cut.
While “More Blood, More Tracks” won’t alter whatever purposely wayward course Dylan’s Sunday show is apt to travel, the box set is an adventure unto itself.
Unlike previous sets in the Bootleg Series set entirely in the recording studio, “More Blood” does not trace songs in various stages of construction. Most of these versions are remarkably complete, though quite subject to change, cut with modest instrumentation (bassist Tony Brown and pianist/organist Paul Griffin are the primary accompanists) in a manner that updates the acoustic folk foundation of Dylan’s earliest records.
There are, however, fascinating exceptions, including a handful of band takes of “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” with Dylan in varying stages of stylistic restlessness and frustration before settling on the sparser, warmer guitar and bass arrangement that draped the final “Blood on the Tracks” version. He reportedly booted the band, led by “Dueling Banjos” instrumentalist Eric Weissberg, after these takes.
Cut primarily during a whirlwind set of New York sessions in September 1974, just after a high profile summer tour with The Band, these songs revealed a Dylan turned inward. Gone, for the most part, were the social observations that caught the fascination of a generation. This was a Dylan in anguish.
The tunes have long been interpreted as snapshots of the songwriter’s collapsing marriage. Dylan refuted those claims in his 2004 memoir “Chronicles: Volume One,” stating the music was instead inspired by the short stories of Anton Chekhov.
But there is an intimacy within these New York sessions that provide even Dylan’s most strident works (“Idiot Wind,” for one) with a more conversational accessibility. Indeed, such simple, even delicate immediacy makes “More Blood, More Tracks” one of the most listenable entries in the Bootleg Series.
Curiously, it’s that very quality that derailed the completion of “Blood on the Tracks.”
With the album set for a pre-Christmas release, Dylan balked and re-recorded half of its songs with local musicians in his native Minneapolis. Those recordings, cut in late December, also conclude “More Blood, More Tracks.” The resulting pastiche version of “Blood on the Tracks” was released in late January 1975. It became Dylan’s second No. 1 charting album (after, curiously, “Planet Waves” a year earlier) as well as one of the most critical lauded works of his career.
In the end, be it through the six discs that make up the deluxe edition of “More Blood, More Tracks,” a single disc distillation for more modest budgets and the cumulative splendor of the original “Blood on the Tracks,” this music triggers the same emotive impact. Seldom has Dylan created songs so personal in their vision, painful in their candor or poetic in their lyrical design.
For proof, just examine this closing verse to what will likely be the only song from the era Dylan will perform tonight in Richmond.
People tell me it’s a sin
To know and feel too much within.
I still believe she was my twin
But I lost the ring
She was born in spring
But I was born too late
Blame it on a simple twist of fate.
Sure, Bob. Chekhov.
IF YOU GO
Bob Dylan and his Band
When: 8 p.m. Nov. 11
Where: EKU Center for the Arts, 1 Hall Dr., Richmond
Tickets: Sold Out