It's been a while since we've had an officially released Dylan collector's item. Sony Japan has done a limited-edition run of a stellar Dylan live retrospective. It features six songs which have never been released, five that have never been issued on any of Dylan's albums, one from a promo only album, one that is a cassette-only B-side, and assorted others. Many of the tunes are familiar, some aren't, but the selection is eclectic and wonderfully compiled. The set opens with a bluegrass version of the old gospel tune "Somebody Touched Me," recorded in 2000, followed immediately by a reading of "Wade in the Water" from 1961. Many of these tracks are recorded as solo acoustic performances and some feature full bands, and, for Yankees at least, there are problems with this: all the musical credits are only in Japanese -- though the lyrics are printed bilingually. Each location and year, thankfully, are in English in the front of the booklet. There are a bunch of neat photos, too. Some of the cool things include a live performance of "Things Have Changed" (that Dylan song you never heard before in the movie Wonder Boys); a killer outtake of "To Ramona" from the Don't Look Back film; a burning version of "I Don't Believe You" from 1966 in England (and yes, you can tell who this band is); a non-bootleg, quality version of "It Ain't Me Babe" from the Renaldo and Clara film; and a scary, forlorn, almost hopeless version of "Dead Man, Dead Man," from 1981. The finest things, though, are "Cold Irons Bound" from L.A. in 1997, Basement Tapes version of "Grand Coulee Dam" that was released on the Tribute to Woody Guthrie, Vol. 1, and a rousing version of "Born in Time" recorded in Jersey in 1998. Beyond the point collector's vanity, however, this material, and the careful way it was assembled, is another picture of what a riveting performer Dylan has been and can be. There were some rough years in the '80s, to be sure, but through the '90s he was every bit as energetic and soulful as he was in 1961, better, actually, because there is so much more at stake. Maybe that's why those first two songs are sequenced that way, in reverse and from last to first. The rest of the disk zigs and zags across his career and in each selection, a different side of the man appears, like when he wore whiteface makeup (a reverse Al Jolson?) in 1975, ever mercurial, ever the showman, ever the greatest interpreter of his own songs. While it's true that none of these things are rarities to bootleg collectors, for the rest of us this is an awesome document, assembled with care and vision.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek