The Band

Crossing the Great Divide 1961-1991 (The Genuine Bootleg Series, Vol. 4)

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Even if you own every legitimate retrospective, compilation, and collection devoted to the Band, Crossing the Great Divide is still essential listening, and as important as Capitol's box devoted to the group, and a hell of a lot more far-reaching as well. As a bootleg, after all, its programmers were able to go where no compilers of any legitimate released could even ponder venturing -- even its subtitle is a dig at Sony Music's efforts to beat the bootleggers at their own game where Dylan's catalog is concerned. So disc one's 66 minutes open with a brace of tracks cut in Texas in 1964, with Levon Helm singing lead, doing a vocal that Muddy Waters would have admired on "She's Nineteen Years Old," and follows these with the Bo Diddley-styled Canadian Squires track "Leave Me Alone," plus the much more soul-oriented "He Don't Love You" and "The Stones I Throw," credited to Levon & the Hawks. It's easy to see, listening to all of these cuts, why Bob Dylan was so drawn to the group as a potential backup band on-stage, and it's a short jump from "The Stones I Throw" to "Number One," an instrumental product of a Dylan/Band session in November of 1965. From there, "Baby Let Me Follow You Down" leads into more than a dozen tracks from various 1967-vintage Dylan/Band sessions, all outtakes with varying degrees of completeness and a wonderful lack of polish, ranging from "I'm Your Teenage Prayer" to the blues instrumental "Ruben Remus," the blues-soul shouter "Yazoo Street Scandal," and haunting "You Say You Love Me." Disc two opens with the last of the Big Pink sides, including the gorgeous "Katie's Been Gone," plus a vocal version of "Ruben Remus." After that, you're into the "official" history of the Band and jewels such as "Get Up Jake" from the 1969 Bearsville sessions, "Don't You Tell Henry" and "Tears of Rage" from Woodstock, "Highway 61 Revisited" with Dylan & the Band from the Isle of Wight in 1969, and a brace of live cuts from 1970 and 1971, among them almost a dozen outtakes from Rock of Ages. Disc three is comprised on more Rock of Ages outtakes, among other concert recordings, most notably "Share Your Love" from Roosevelt Stadium in New Jersey in 1973, and similar unusued tracks from the Dylan/Band Planet Waves sessions, plus then-unissued tracks from The Last Waltz. The disc finishes out with highlights from the various later incarnations and appearances, alas with only one track ("Long Black Veil") from the 1983 reunion. Dylan and Helm are heard together from the Lone Star Cafe in 1988 on "The Weight," and a quartet of demos from the 1991 Jericho album close out the set. Apart from very good sound on most of this (only the Lone Star track leaves something seriously to be desired, in terms of volume), the annotation is as good as it gets, the booklet including Rob Bowman's awesome and overpowering 1991 article from Goldmine magazine, about as fine a history of the group as has ever been written at less than book length.