Bob Dylan

The Witmark Years

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Between 1962--64, Bob Dylan recorded several dozen publishing demos for Witmark Music in their New York office, featuring only his acoustic guitar or (on about half a dozen cuts) his piano as accompaniment. This chronologically sequenced two-CD set compiles all 41 of his known Witmark recordings (though two of them, "Eternal Circle" and "Percy's Song" are labeled "possible Witmark demos"). Dylan didn't release many of these songs in any form on his official pre-1965 albums, although there are different versions of some classics ("Blowin' in the Wind," "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," "Girl From the North Country," "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright"), and three of these demos ("Walkin' Down the Line," and the "piano" versions of "The Times They Are A-Changin'," and "When the Ship Comes In,") appeared on Dylan's official The Bootleg Series, Vols. 1-3 compilation. Despite their imperfections -- notably variable sound quality which is definitely below official release standard -- these recordings close a notable gap in his repertoire not covered by his commonly available early albums. Among them are versions of numerous obscurities that didn't make the cut for his early Columbia albums, some of them quite good, like "Seven Curses," "Baby, I'm in the Mood for You," "Tomorrow is a Long Time," "Paths of Victory," "Mama, You Been on My Mind," and "Percy's Song." Especially interesting is a 1964 piano demo of "Mr. Tambourine Man" (not the same as the more famous studio outtake with Dylan on guitar and Ramblin' Jack Elliott on harmony vocals), as well as an early piano demo of "I'll Keep It with Mine" from the same June 1964 session. Not everything here is notable; some of the songs are clearly secondary or derivative throwaways (though even some of the throwaways, like "Walkin' Down the Line" and "Guess I'm Doing Fine," are pretty cool). Too, Dylan's performances, while generally good, usually aren't quite up to the level of his Columbia studio takes; on "Let Me Die in My Footsteps," he amusingly cuts the song off after a minute-and-a-half with the complaint, "You want to put this on? 'Cause it's awful long. . .it's a drag, I sang it so many times." Note that the rendition of "I Shall be Free" here contains a verse not included on the official version on The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan.