I have all Dylan’s official records except his 2009 Christmas album (I own no one’s Christmas album and am never likely to) and his even more ghastly collection of Sinatra covers, last year’s Shadows in the Night. I also have a shelf-ful of what we used to call bootlegs until the issue became clouded with the growing collection of so-called “official bootlegs”, which is surely a contradiction in terms.
Never mind. Though at 74 Dylan goes on touring as hard as ever, and still writes the odd good song, his best releases of the 21st century have all been in the Bootleg Series.
The latest, The Cutting Edge, is the best yet. It is drawn from the sessions – all in Dylan’s annus mirabilis from January 1965 to February 1966 – for the albums Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde. Dylan’s three best albums and therefore three of the best by anyone. (Dylan's closest contenders, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, Blood on the Tracks, and Time Out of Mind, have some great songs but also some relative weak spots.)
I’ve known most of these songs nearly all my life. Several of them – Visions of Johanna, Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream, Subterranean Homesick Blues, Highway 61, Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues – have taken turns at being my favourite song. And all of them gain something from being heard in versions no worse than the familiar ones, and in a few cases better. Now go away while I give Desolation Row another spin.