Thursday, January 10, 2013

Bob Dylan - The 50th Anniversary Collection: An Instant Rarity

News in the Bob Dylan fan camp has been a-buzzing lately.  Seems that Sony, Dylan's parent record company, released a VERY limited edition 4 CD box set in Europe only just after Christmas 2012.  Entitled "The 50th Anniversary Collection" it also has the subtitle "The Copyright Extention Collection, Vol. 1".   Why the oblique title?  Well, in Europe, copyrighted recordings made after 50 years can enter the public domain.  Which means anyone can use songs on CD's, tapes, albums and any other form of media WITHOUT permission of the original copyright holder.

"Public Domain" CD's are everywhere.  Take a look in any Wal-Mart bargain bin and you'll see tons of European manufactured titles of old music pre-1960.  The basic exercise for this particular Dylan release is for Sony to extend (or exploit) its copyright on the material, which on this issue are 2 CD's worth of out-takes of the seminal and groundbreaking "Freewheelin' Bob Dylan" recording sessions, and 2 CD's of 1962-era live material.  This recorded material was "in danger" of being put into public domain (and then free for any record company to issue) so Sony took  this action to re-copywrite and protect this material.  Very few alternate takes from the "Freewheelin'" sessions have seen official issue over the years.  This is the first time such an exhaustive collection of outtakes and alternate versions have been compiled.  86 tracks in total.  In regards to public domain, Dylan's debut album from 1962 has already entered the PD and anyone in the European Union can now use the album and its material without paying Sony or Mr. Dylan a dime.   

(The following paragraph from UK newspaper The Guardian gives a clear and concise reason for the release...)  According to sources at Sony Music, this compilation isn't really meant for mass consumption. It's essentially an attempt to keep these tracks from entering the public domain. Although the European Union has extended copyright terms from 50 years to 70 years, the extension only applies to recordings that have been released during the 50 years after they were made. Sony was therefore forced to release these songs – albeit in limited form – before the end of 2012, when their half-century was up [From The Guardian,]  But if Sony thought that they could circumvent "unauthorized" copies from being available online, they are surely wrong.  This release has been heavily circulated on the file sharing circuit. So in a way it HAS entered the "public" domain. 

According to published reports sifted through from the 'net, the set was pressed as 4 CD-R's and came in nondescript packaging, with no liner notes.  Some documents have leaked out that contain some minor recording informaton, such as take number, where the song was recorded, and the master take matrix number.  The cover packaging itself looks like a bootleg!   Little is known about the actual production of the set. This set was distributed throughout Europe and was also available as an MP3 download through some European websites.  (Many US fans did try to purchase the MP3's online but were unable to.)  Unfortunately, many counterfeits of the material are already on the market and are being pawned off on sites such as Ebay and are going for bat-shit crazy prices, upwards of $1000.00 in some cases.  I wouldn't know how to distinguish an original Sony-manufactured CDR and a copy version put out by a bootlegger.  So, I guess its buyer beware. 

I obtained an mp3 copy through certain avenues and I am simply stunned at the material and the sound.  The Columbia studio outtakes are beautiful, crystal clear mono.  (Sony could have just as easy mixed these tracks to stereo,  but this may have been rushed to release and simply running mixes to mono could've been easier.)  Because the instrumentation is basically minimal, Columbia's sound engineers did well in capturing Dylan's sound (both solo and with band).  You can understand why some of these takes were not used.  Dylan cracking up mid verse and occasional microphone pops (from Bob getting too close to the mic, resulting in an audible low frequency thump) are some of the wonderful highlights.  While this does not cover EVERY thing recorded by Dylan and Columbia during this time, this basically seems to be the best of the lot.  Not included are the takes which are breakdowns and may be only a few seconds long.  Every track on this set is a fully realized take.  Each take does have its differences, and while you may see multiple takes of "Mixed Up Confusion", you can track the song's progress through its takes.  Amazing stuff.  Also there are STUNNING takes of "That's All Right, Mama".  There's enough quality material on these 2 CD's to compile a strong 1 CD version that will easily stand up with Dylan's exhaustive catalog!!!  The stuff is THAT GOOD!

The privately recorded live material is also captured in overall great quality.  Remember these are PRIVATELY recorded tapes and are of not the same quality as the first 2 CD's.   Some of this stuff has seen light on bootleg, but this is probably the first time many of these tracks have appeared off the best available extant tapes.   The live stuff finds Dylan a young but confident performer in fine voice and form.   The live material comes from the famous Mackenzie home tapes (aka "The Minnesota Hotel Tapes" as they've erroneously been called), the celebrated live set from Montreal's Finjan club in 1962, Gerdes' Folk City, The Gaslight Cafe and the Carnegie Hall Hootenanny.   The Gerdes' material sounds like it was dubbed from an many-generations-from-master source so this may be the only extant source for this stuff. The Hootenanny stuff is an audience recording, and is very distant sounding, having been recorded from the back of the hall.  "Hootenanny" isn't an easy listen, but the magic here is the audience reaction, especially during the infamous "John Birch Society Blues."  Close your eyes and it does put you there in the Carnegie Hall and in the moment.

If you are so inclined, seek out this material at your own risk and peril.  I did and I'm not ashamed I did.  It did take some digging, and was well worth the many "dead end roads" I encountered.   I love this stuff and although we already all know Dylan is a genius, this early stuff shows that Dylan was a genius & at the top of his game, even in the early days.  Young, fresh and confident.  Will Sony and Dylan use this material in the future?  Only time will tell.  But in my opinion, this early Columbia studio stuff is essential and a good lesson in music education, appreciation and a wonderful window into the past, those long sessions that culminated into one of the most influential popular music albums of the last century. 

-Post prepared by Keltie Harding

PS:  If you wanna find out more about this release, there's all kinds of stuff out there.  Google is your friend!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.