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Bob Dylan
Bootleg Series Volume 4
The "Royal Albert Hall" Concert May 1966

Columbia Records / Sony

Yeah, this is an important musical document (see all the words in red-type on the package) in every sense of the word. A true rock legend at the very precipice of his mountainous genius right before the wheel locks and the neck snaps: fade to black. Long suppressed, and bypassed for release by such live crap as After The Flood, this is truly the one.

My best friend had some tape copy of the electric half of the concert years ago, so the surprises for me came on first hearing the acoustic half. With all the notoriety surrounding the 'Judas' set (i.e. electric), it was easy to overlook the fact that there had never been a true release of live solo Dylan from this era either! The first set is kept simple, with only voice, guitar, and harmonica to carry the weight of each song. The intimacy of the recording is amazing, putting you up-front and present. Dylan's 'web-weaving' is in peak form here: the ringing chords provide the foundation that allows the characters and images to blossom and spread out across time and auditorium space, with harmonica solos fluttering out and piercing the fabric of sound itself, the white-heat needle tones drawing blood from tightly-strung tympanum ear-drums.

The second disc is Bob Dylan with amps and the Hawks at full tilt and rock lilt and swagger. The bombastic rock sound lurches and struts, the rhythm expanding with the finger-chewing fills of Robbie Robertson and Richard Manuel, all with Dylan at his nascent best on top of the aural dogpile of "the classics". A very loose and very nasty and ferocious set to be sure, played "fuckin' loud".

Overall, the songs that work the best, and contain the freshest interpretations, are the ones cast into new surroundings. Visions of Johanna, She Belongs to Me, and Just Like A Woman sparkle in the simple, lonesome spaces that guitar and harmonica provide, while reworkings of I Don't Believe You and Baby, Let Me Follow You Down are emotionally recharged in their new electric setting.

The only complaint I have for the package as a whole is that the historical value of the show overrides the musical focus of Dylan and the Hawks, with the producers opting for the crowd sound and jeering instead of clearer recordings of the band itself. The novelty of popular ignorance wears off quickly, and I find myself wishing for greater fidelity and individual clarity. Definitely worth the price of admission though.

Copyright © 1998 Andy Beta e-mail address

You may also want to check out our Bob Dylan articles/reviews: Blonde On Blonde, Live at the Garde Arts Center, January 14th 1998, Modern Times, Pawtucket, McCoy Stadium, Rhode Island, 24.08.2006, Tell Tale Signs : The Bootleg Series Vol. 8, The Best Of The Cutting Edge 1965-1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12.

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