Given its massive size and scope, the Bob Dylan bootleg catalog represents one of the most daunting challenges in popular music scholarship. While rabid enthusiasts with deep pockets may be able to acquire everything, most consumers must limit themselves to landmark sessions and particularly transcendent live shows capturing the absolute peaks of Dylan's long and winding career. Listeners seeking a crash course in Dylan's traditional folk roots are recommended to seek out Golden Vanity, a vivid overview of the time-honored ballads he summons on rare occasions. Sifting through five years of live performances spanning from 1988 to 1992, the 18-song disc is the perfect panacea for anyone hoping to hear something different from just another rendition of "All Along the Watchtower" or "Like a Rolling Stone." What's remarkable about Dylan is how he can transform an age-old tune like "Man of Constant Sorrow," "Two Soldiers," or "Barbara Allen" into something fresh and exciting. Moreover, he makes the songs his own, investing them with the idiosyncratic yet potent phrasing that is his hallmark. The sound quality ebbs and flows from track to track, but Golden Vanity is nevertheless mandatory listening.
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