The wait for Bob Dylan to give more “Blood” is over. Fans have patiently clamored for years for the artist’s annual “Bootleg Series” of deluxe archival releases to get around to unearthing unissued outtakes from 1975’s “Blood on the Tracks,” considered by many to be Dylan’s single finest album. Their wish is finally his command Nov. 2 when Sony empties out the vault for “More Blood, More Tracks: The Bootleg Series Vol. 14,” a six-CD set that purportedly contains every take from the ’74 sessions, in chronological order. (A very abridged single-disc version also arrives that day.)
For years, the faithful have wondered if there was even enough unreleased material from the making of “Blood on the Tracks” to even round out a legitimate boxed set. Some speculated that the Dylan camp might need to combine “Blood” outtakes with similar material from the surrounding “Planet Waves” or “Desire” albums to fill it out. As the new set’s 86-track running order indicates, this didn’t turn out to be a problem after all.
Twenty of the tracks have previously been official released in some form or another — 10 of them on the original 1975 album, and the remainder on previous “Bootleg” releases or as B-sides or even on the “Jerry Maguire” soundtrack. That still leaves 66 recordings that have never seen the light of day, the vast majority of them un-bootlegged, even by actual bootleggers. What remained in the vault — and what didn’t — is the stuff of surprises, when Dylanologists thought they knew everything.
First of all, the bad news: What’s not present is any additional material from the Minneapolis sessions that wrapped up the album. Apparently, the only surviving recordings from that final trip to the studio are the five masters that were used on the finished album, which come at the tail end of Disc 6 here. That will be a disappointment to long-curious fans… although the musicians who actually played on those five tracks, which made up half of the official “Blood on the Tracks,” will no doubt be heartened to have their names included on a version of the album for the first time, having been uncredited to previous iterations.
But the good news is enormous and will more than make up for any Minneapolis shortcomings in most fans’ minds. The earlier album sessions that went down in New York City left many more demos and alternate versions on the cutting room than most anyone outside the innermost Dylan camp imagined.
Disc 1 consists entirely of Dylan alone in the studio, accompanying himself on guitar and harmonica, at the very beginning of the process. None of these appeared on the original album. The second disc is made up of Dylan’s initial band sessions with the group Eric Weissberg & Deliverance, whom he quickly grew dissatisfied with and replaced. Only one of those made the finished album. It’s these two discs that may represent the greatest treasure trove for serious fans.
But the remaining four discs are hardly fool’s gold themselves. Disc 3 finds him continuing to work in New York with a mostly different band that was more to his liking and produced more of the eventual album. On Discs 4 and 5 and the first part of Disc 6, he ditches that band and performs the songs solo once again, or with just a bass player, ending the New York portion of the proceedings as intimately as they started, in the creation of what many consider his most intimate album.
The majority of the recordings on “More Blood, More Tracks” are alternative versions of the 10 songs that made the finished record in 1975. But there are also numerous recordings of “Up to Me,” a number that eventually found release on “Biograph” a decade later. The set also includes versions of “Call Letter Blues,” the lyrics of which were abandoned as he opted to use the music for “Meet Me in the Morning” instead. The biggest outlier in the deluxe edition is a previous unknown take on “Spanish is the Loving Tongue,” a traditional Dylan had previously tried out in the studio (as heard on 1973’s “Dylan”) and would again in years to come.
One magnet for bootleggers over the decades has been the “test pressing” version of “Blood on the Tracks,” circulated by Dylan in 1974 when he thought he had finished the album, before he decided to go back in and replace half the New York tracks with new versions he cut in Minneapolis. The versions with the NYC band that were dropped after the test pressing all appear on an official Dylan release for the first time here, and in superior quality on “Bootleg 14” to the actually bootlegged bootlegs.
But all of the recordings from the New York sessions may sound a bit different here, even the familiar ones from the actual 1975 record. According to Jeff Slate’s liner notes: “During the production… Dylan asked [producer Phil] Ramone to speed up many of the masters by 2-3%, a common practice in the 1960s and ’70s, especially for records sent to AM radio. It was thought that doing so would give the songs a little extra bounce to better engage listeners. Most of the songs from the New York sessions that previously circulated, officially and unofficially, are the sped-up versions that Dylan requested. On ‘More Blood, More Tracks,’ for the first time, we’re hearing the songs exactly as Dylan recorded them.”
Sony is previewing the set with a previously unheard solo acoustic version of “If You See Her, Say Hello” (see lyric video, above).