Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Semi-Precious Memories: Best Dylan Comp Ever?

I recently discovered, through the generosity of its creator Marcel, an unbelievable compilation of live Bob Dylan recordings. Many lists and discs have been made of 'one-offs', songs Bob has only played live once in his career. But what about songs almost, but not quite as rare? The average Dylan fan may not have many of them, as they don't appear in many concerts (obviously), but also not as desirable to the newbie as one-time-only numbers.
Enter Semi-Precious Memories, a compilation of songs Bob has performed between two and ten times live. As if that wasn't enough, however, there are two versions of each song, chosen in terms of (I assume) quality and difference. I find the best part of this set to be a song that was only performed a few times, but some of those times may have been years apart, as these are clearly songs that mean a lot to Bob and last with him through the years. The cover songs, those which Dylan may have had a brief interest in before moving on, are great too. So, without further ado, the first four discs of this incredible 10-disc set, with a little about each song (the other six will come soon). The links to mp3's are at the end of each disc's notes.


Disc 1
1. In the Pines (11/4/61 New York) - A classic Southern Appalachian folk song dating back at least to the 1870's, it has also been called Black Girl and Where Did You Sleep Last Night, covered by everyone from Dolly Parton to Nirvana. Leadbelly's is the earliest recorded version. For a lot more on it, see the NY Times article A Simple Song That Lives Beyond Time at . The Dylantree Database ( lists five Dylan performances of the song, though there may have been others during his coffeehouse days.
2. Quinn the Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn) (8/31/69 Isle of Wight, UK) - Recorded by Dylan with the Band in Big Pink, the only version that had been officially released was Manfred Mann's, a huge hit in '68. Perhaps inspired by that, Dylan busted it out for his big come-back concert (little did they know they'd actually have to wait five more years), and released this recording of it on Self Portrait in 1970.
3. Let It Be Me (6/23/81 Colombes, France) - Originally a French song, an English translation was recorded for the TV series Climax in 1957, and three years later turned into a top ten hit for the Everly Brothers. Dylan has come back to it several times over the years, first recording it for Self Portrait, then playing it during sessions for 1980's Shot of Love, before playing it three times live in '81.
4. Enough is Enough (6/21/84 Rome, Italy) - A Dylan original written during '84, it was never officially released. Only surviving in these live recordings, it was played nine times this year, usually during the 14th slot.
5. House of the Risin' Sun (2/11/86 Sydney, Australia) - Another folk standard, it's not hard to see why this one has stayed with Bob for forty years. His recording on 1961's Bob Dylan was where The Animals first heard it, and it's showed up in concert in '61, '86, '87, and '00, as well as in 78's movie Renaldo and Clara. This is a particularly rocking version.
6. Dark Eyes (2/25/86 Sydney, Australia) - Off of 85's Empire Burlesque, it is the one to not feature heavy production, but rather just simple guitar and voice. Many call it the stand-out track from the album, though I think it's one of the worst. The '95 duets with Patti Smith are well known, but here is the one version performed earlier. It's pretty obvious why he didn't try again for nine years.
7. We Three (My Ech, My Shadow and Me) (3/10/86 Tokyo, Japan) - First recorded by The Inkspots in the late 30's or early 40's, this is one of my favorites of this volume. Gorgeous.
8. Let the Good Times Roll (6/11/86 Reno, NV) - A song perfomed by The Animals, Hendrix, Joblin, Barbara Streisand and many others, I don't know it's origins. Bob seems to be having a blast with it, even though I don't think he's saying actual words in the second verse.
9. Red Cadillac and a Black Moustache (6/27/86) - You may know this obscure Warren Smith tune from the version Dylan released on Good Rocking Tonight: The Legacy of Sun Records in 2000, but he was covering it years before that. A far more rocking version that the studio recording, it's less nuanced, but no less fun.
10. Give My Love to Rose (6/28/88 Canandaigua, NY) - A classic Johnny Cash song recorded in the early 70's, Cash rerecorded it for American IV and won a Grammy for the performance. Dylan covered it three times in '88 and '89.
11. I'm in the Mood for Love (8/3/88 Los Angeles, CA) - Dylan nails this Frank Sinatra number, showing that he can sing standards with the best of 'em.
12. Big River (8/7/88 Santa Barbara, CA) - Back to Johnny Cash for one of 88's best performances, faithful to the original but inspired nonetheless.
13. Bob Dylan's 115th Dream (10/17/88 New York, NY) - One of Dylan's funniest songs, it's great to hear a few live outings. While it doesn't seem like a song that would work too well in concert, when he puts the energy into getting each word right, it does. And the delivery of the last line is great.
14. Early Morning Rain (7/3/89 Milwaukee, WI) - Another Self Portrait track that didn't get a live outing until years later, this Gordon Lightfoot hit had also been covered by Ian & Sylvia and Elvis. Apparently a huge Lightfoot fan, Dylan had inducted him into the Canadian Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame a few years earlier.
15. Precious Memories (10/13/89 New York) - A traditional Gospel song from 1925 (though it may have been from as early as 1877), Dylan had released a syrupy version of 86's Knocked Out Loaded. This is somewhat better.
16. You Angel You (10/14/90 State College, PA) - Off of 74's Planet Waves, it has only been performed twice, which is a shame cause it's a pretty nice love song.
17. No More One More Time (7/3/90 Hamburg, Germany) - Another one of the killer tracks in this volume, I can't find out much about this song. I do know Bob also performed it in fall of 2004, after this comp was made.
18. My Head's In Mississippi (10/25/90 Oxford, MI) - Never thought you'd head Bob cover a ZZ Top song, did ya? Well, he did, three times in 1990. This concert is especially special because it is the same show as Oxford Town got its only performance.

Disc 2
1. People Puttin' People Down (6/6/91 Rome, Italy) - This John Prine song seems like a very children's-lesson choice for Bob, but having just released Under the Red Sky the previous year, not to mention This Old Man, maybe that shouldn't be too surprising. He makes it sound pretty good, at any rate.
2. It's Too Late (8/10/91 Buenos Aires, Argentina) - Can't find much about this one, it was performed three times in 91. Nice harp solo at the end.
3. Answer Me (11/4/91 Evanston) - Originally a German song, it was translated in the early 50's and became a Nat King Cole hit. Another gem of a performance from Bob.
4. Golden Vanity (4/7/92 Melbourne, Australia) - A Child Ballad, the earliest version appeared in 1635 as being about Sir Walter Raleigh. Of the many covers of this year, this has to be one of the best, Dylan blasting it out solo acoustic, putting 350 years of passion behind the delivery. Perhaps the fact that Peter, Paul, and Mary had recorded it two years before led to Dylan (re)discovering it.
5. 2 X 2 (7/7/92 Merano, Italy) - Not the most profound song, perhaps, but kind of catchy. Off of Under the Red Sky, its nursery rhyme repetition doesn't lend itself too well to concert performances, but it's kind of fun anyway. TV Talking Song, another monologey one off the same album, has better live performances though.
6. Dear Landlord (10/25/92 Providence, RI) - Off of John Wesley Harding, it's hard to figure why this hasn't been performed more often. The JWH songs seem to lend themselves well to oft-played rocking versions (Drifter's Escape, Down Along the Cove and, of course, Watchtower), but perhaps this one was too topical, about his relationship with manager Al Grossman. However, as he shows here, it adds a lot to the live show and would make a fine staple.
7. I Can't Be Satisfied (11/9/92 Sarasota, FL) - A blues song covered by Muddy Waters and the Rolling Stones, the band does a rollicking version, which some great rise-and-fall vocals to match.
8. Shake Sugaree (8/3/96 Atlanta, GA) - One of Dylan's best covers of the mid-90's, this Elizabeth Cotton song had some very nice performances (with excellent backing vocals) in '96. Elizabeth Cotton, a North Carolina, has a very interesting story, and you should check it out at
9. Long Black Veil (4/28/97 Wheeling, WV) - A heartbreaking country ballad made famous by recordings by Johnny Cash and the Band, Dylan played it only once this year before doing four more performances in 2000. Too bad he didn't play it more this year, cause he nailed it.
10. I'm Not Supposed to Care (5/13/98 Vancouver, BC) - Another Gordon Lightfoot number, Dylan provides some very thought-out vocals over what Eyolf Ă˜strem describes as " A beautiful tune! Much of the effect lies in the hypnotically ever-descending bass line, with subtly changing chords above it. Also, the ornaments in the band turn a quite simple country(ish) ballad into something quite complex."
11. Honky Tonk Blues (2/1/99 Tallahassee, FL) - An old Hank Williams tune, Dylan stays pretty faithful to the country swagger of the original, as does the band, keeping it short and sweet.
12. Highlands (3/16/00 Santa Cruz, CA) - For such a long and involved song, it's not surprising that Dylan hasn't performed this more often. What is surprising, though, is how well he does it, keeping it quiet to match the backing most of the time to occasionally build up a little. I suppose cutting out quite a few verses helps him remember the words at least.
13. Delia (5/6/00 Zurich, Switzerland) - Though he released a cover of this on his 1993 album, he only performed it once that year before bringing it back in 2000. As with about every song of this year, it's got a very tight performance, band and vocals tied together to only build on each other. Listening to this, you really do believe all the friends he ever had are gone. You can read a little more about the story behind the song at .
14. Carrying a Torch (11/5/02 Indianapolis) - Though Bob has covered One Irish Rover and Crazy Love numerous times, this lesser-known Van Morrison song gets the best treatment of them all, an incredible, and unexpected, highlight of the disc. 2002 had some great covers, of songs like Brown Sugar and Old Man, but this may be the best.
15. Yea! Heavy and a Bottle of Bread (11/25/03 London) - Talk about songs no one ever expected Bob to break out, he did. Twice. The first time in '02 is on the other disc, but what seemed to be a one-off turned out to be, well, a two-off when he slammed out this version on the incredible London 03 stand (which, of course, also featured Romance in Durango, Quinn the Eskimo, Jokerman, and Dear Landlord). Bob's clearly having a blast shouting out the nonsensical lyrics.


Disc 1
1. Let It Be Me (10/30/81 Montreal QC)
2. Enough Is Enough (7/1/84 Paris France)
3. Let The Good Times Roll (6/26/86 Minneapolis MN)
4. Red Cadillac and Black Moustache (7/2/86 Akron OH)
5. We Three (My Echo, My Shadow and Me) (7/17/86 New York NY)
6. Bob Dylan's 115th Dream (10/13/88 Upper Darby PA)
7. Give My Love to Rose (5/27/89 Christinehof Sweden)
8. In the Pines (7/3/89 Milwaukee WI)
9. I'm in The Mood For Love (8/8/89 Toledo OH)
10. Precious Memories (10/17/89 Washington DC)
11. You Angel You (2/8/90 London UK)
12. No More One More Time (6/17/90 Winnipeg MB)
13. My Head's In Mississippi (11/6/90 De Kalb IL)
14. People Puttin People Down (8/17/91 Sao Paolo Brazil)
15. Answer Me (11/1/91 Kansas City MO)
16. Golden Vanity (11/4/91 Evanston IL)
17. Early Morning Rain (11/6/91 South Bend IN)
18. 2X2 (8/18/92 Toronto ON)

Disc 2
1. I Can't Be Satisfied (10/25/92 Providence RI)
2. It's Too Late (11/11/95 Las Vegas NV)
3. Dark Eyes (12/10/95 Boston MA)
4. Shake Sugaree (7/27/96 Stockholm Sweden)
5. I'm Not Supposed to Care (5/23/98 Anaheim CA)
6. Honky Tonk Blues (2/15/99 Grand Rapids MI)
7. Big River (3/16/00 Santa Cruz CA)
8. House of the Risin' Sun (6/18/00 George WA)
9. Long Black Veil (6/25/00 Reno NV)
10. Delia (9/19/00 Newcastle UK)
11. Highlands (4/24/01 Columbia MO)
12. Carrying A Torch (11/9/02 Elmira NY)
13. Yea! Heavy & A Bottle of Bread (11/11/02 New York NY)
14. Quinn the Eskimo (11/23/03 London UK)
15. Dear Landlord (11/24/03 London UK)