In 1970, Bob Dylan was unquestionably prolific but seemingly coasting. That year’s two knockabout albums – the covers-swamped Self Portrait and the self-written New Morning – were a conscious step away from the ground-breaking intensity of Blonde On Blonde.
So comfortable was he as New Bob that not until Blood On The Tracks, five years and a marital collapse later, would that intensity be re-kindled. Yet like all Dylan’s coasting periods to come, under the surface there was another tale to be told.
The 74 previously unreleased tracks on this clumsily titled collection spread over three CDs include out-takes from both the Self Portrait and New Morning sessions, and nine tracks recorded with George Harrison.
Unsurprisingly, Harrison is a subtle presence, adding mostly background vocals and acoustic guitar. The Everly Brothers would have slept soundly on hearing Bob and George’s harmonies on All I Have To Do Is Dream, but their ramshackle amble through Gates Of Eden (one of several older Dylan tracks revisited here) is unalloyed joy.
Not everything warrants exhumation but, as the Bootleg Series tells us, Dylan was always a flawed judge of his own work.
This treasure trove finds him at his most mischievous and most relaxed, whether countrifying If Not For You or almost breaking into La Bamba on Come A Little Bit Closer.
Along the way, he slurs his way through The Beatles’ Yesterday, tackles traditional fare (a wry Come All You Fair & Tender Ladies), rock’n’roll (a rollicking Matchbox) and curve-balls, most notably a gorgeous, organ-led Can’t Help Falling In Love, and I Met Him On A Sunday (Ronde-Ronde), a delightfully daft take on Da Doo Ron Ron.
It’s tempting to see this incarnation of Dylan as throwaway, but as ever there’s grit in the candy floss. A brooding, six-minute Long Black Veil is as wizened as anything on Rough & Rowdy Ways, there’s real pain on I Threw It All Away, and It Ain’t Me Babe swings, but ruefully.
For half a century, 1970 has seemed like a less-essential Dylan year. Now we’ve been allowed to hear what really happened, that judgement seems harsh. But the key to Dylan remains unchanged: things are never quite what they seem.