On this 15th volume, Bob Dylan’s Bootleg Series contains a treasure which, until now, only listeners of pirated CDs were privy to. With 50 tracks, Travelin’ Thru 1967-1969: The Bootleg Series vol. 15 gives an inside look on the different stops Dylan made in Nashville, the Mecca of country music, between 1967 and 1969, and especially on the legendary recording sessions done with Johnny Cash as well as those for his albums John Wesley Harding, Nashville Skyline and Self Portrait.
The meeting of these two figureheads of twentieth century music happens at a key moment. Rock’n’roll reigned supreme all over the world during the late 60s, as everyone tried to outdo each other’s decibel levels over a backdrop of the Vietnam War which had been raging since 1965. After his flamboyant trilogy Bringing It All Back Home/Highway 61 Revisited/Blonde On Blonde, Bob Dylan takes things down a notch with simpler sounds accompanied by a smaller ensemble.
Here, he is celebrating classic rock’n’roll and country music by emphasising its singularity and reminding us of its links to the roots of North American pop music. Ever the elusive icon of counterculture, a label he always hated, Dylan tackles an almost historical repertoire, distancing himself from any hippie connotations which were so in style at the time. His voice is fundamentally opposite to Johnny Cash’s, yet here they both engage in a pulsing, no-frills paso doble which is as symbolic as it is forthright.
The first disc of Travelin’ Thru 1967-1969: The Bootleg Series vol. 15 focuses on alternative versions of songs taken from John Wesley Harding which he recorded alongside Charlie McCoy on the bass and Kenneth Buttrey on the drums at the end of 1967, having just recovered from his terrible motorcycle accident the previous year. This selection contains an energetic version of All Along the Watch Tower, famously covered by Hendrix, as well as other originals from Nashville Skyline, notably Lay Lady Lay and the previously unpublished Western Road.
The real treasures lay in discs 2 and 3, which feature the legendary 1969 recordings with the Man in Black, from the Columbia Studios on the 18th of February and on stage at the Ryman on the 1st of May for the taping of The Johnny Cash Show, broadcast on ABC the following month.
Cash classics including Ring of Fire and Folsom Prison Blues and Elvis’ hits That’s Alright, Mama and Mystery Train are among some of the thrilling highlights of this box set, as well as the tracks with god of the bluegrass banjo Earl Scruggs for his show Earl Scruggs: His Family and Friends... All in all, the judgement is unquestionable: a historical moment of simplicity, sincerity, and most of all, of music.