- 24 Jan 03
Rolling Thunder finds Dylan and his travelling minstrel band reveling in novelty, comradeship, a sense of the mischievous and, most tellingly, the freshness of the then newly released Desire album.
The real bootleggers may have been leagues ahead of them but credit is still due to Columbia for the consistently high quality of the material they have belatedly released under the Bob Dylan ‘Bootleg’ imprint. First, there was that richly rewarding and occasionally staggering three CD studio set, then the incendiary and historic so-called ‘Royal Albert Hall’ live show and, now, we have another wonderful stage outing in the shape of this ‘Rolling Thunder’ package from 1975.
An earlier, comparatively light-hearted companion to the much more corrosive Hard Rain album that hails from the end of the same tour, Rolling Thunder finds Dylan and his travelling minstrel band reveling in novelty, comradeship, a sense of the mischievous and, most tellingly, the freshness of the then newly released Desire album.
Prematurely dismissed at the time as an altogether too lightweight follow-up to the acknowledged masterpiece that was Blood On The Tracks, the deceptively easy on the ear Desire has since earned a place in the affections of Dylan fans… and many more, who, up until its release, would never have claimed to be any such thing.
Imprinted with Rob Stoner’s spidering bass and the flaming violin splashes of Scarlet Rivera, the already staggering ‘Isis’ is reinterpreted here as a dervish whirl, while ‘Hurricane’ is delivered with all the drama and urgency of a news flash. But it’s ‘Sara’, hitherto remarkable only for the naked autobiography of the writing, which gains the most in its transition to stage. Substantially rewritten, it now boasts the vivid, touching intimacy of a home movie as well as a wonderful Dylan vocal which could leave no-one in any doubt that this ode to his “mystical wife” really did come from the heart. At least, at that moment in time. Sadly, by the time the tour reached its bitter conclusion a year further on down the line, the Dylan marriage was on the rocks, as the sneeringly dismissive ‘Lay Lady Lay’ on Hard Rain clearly testifies.
With its resonant solo songs, terrific band performances, a nostalgic duet with Joan Baez on ‘Blowing In The Wind’ and a pre-Live Aid all-hands-on-deck finale of ‘Knocking On Heaven’s Door’, Live 1975 works as great music in its own right – and as a one-off template for a mix of style and attitude that Mike Scott would draw from the Waterboys many years later. But if there’s one artist who inadvertently got right to the heart of the travelling roadshow that was Dylan and friends in the mid-’70s, it was Van Morrison on ‘Caravan’. Flesh the generous, freewheeling spirit of that song into a full throttle rock ’n’ roll ’n’ country ’n’ folk collective and the results would be very close to the many splendours of the Rolling Thunder Revue.
As the man says: turn it up!