As I’ve written, this new box set of songs from Dylan’s vaults is a grab-bag of curiosities interspersed with some genuine treasures.
“Went To See the Gypsy” is a curiosity — a demo of a song that appeared eventually on New Morning with sharpened lyrics and a more committed vocal. It’s interesting to hear Dylan working his way into the song here but the demo offers no revelations.
“Little Sadie” is another curiosity — the basic track of a song that appeared on Self Portrait with overdubs. Again, interesting but not revelatory.
“Pretty Saro”, a track that didn’t make it onto Self Portrait, is a treasure — an old folk ballad sweetly sung in Dylan’s Nashville Skyline croon but with deeper emotion than he mustered for anything on that earlier album. Dylan’s melodic embellishments here seem motivated by genuine feeling. It’s a lovely performance of a very sad song.
“Alberta #3” is an alternate take of a song on Self Portrait, not noticeably better but solid and enjoyable. A curiosity.
“Spanish Is The Loving Tongue”, with Dylan accompanying himself on piano, is a lesser version of the track he released as the B-side of “Watching the River Flow”, which is one of my all-time favorite Dylan performances. Hearing him work his way towards that later, definitive version ranks as another curiosity.
“Annie’s Going To Sing Her Song’ is a treasure — a strong and respectful cover of a wonderful, wry Tom Paxton song.
“Time Passes Slowly #1” is a startlingly ill-considered arrangement of one of the finest, simplest, most touching songs on New Morning. For some reason Dylan punches it out here as though he’s trying to hide its delicate lyricism. A curiosity.
“Only A Hobo” is a treasure — an impassioned 1971 performance of an impassioned song written by Dylan at the beginning of his career in his purest “homage to Woody Guthrie” mode.
“Minstral Boy” is another treasure, from an earlier period than most of the songs on this collection, relevant because it represents a crude version in progress of a song that was played at the Isle Of Wight concert with The Band, issued as part of the deluxe edition of Another Self Portrait. Dylan is singing temp or dummy lyrics in this recording, made as part of The Basement Tapes in 1967 or thereabouts. We know from other songs laid down in the basement of Big Pink that Dylan often worked up songs this way, going for the sound of the overall song, the sound of the lyrics before wrestling them into a semblance of coherence (a process he hadn’t quite completed when he sang the song at the Isle Of Wight.) This violates the image many have of Dylan as a poet who sets texts to music. He is, rather, first and foremost, a songwriter — his lyrics follow his music as often as his music follows his words.