The Cutting Edge 1965-1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12
by David Chiu
Of the 12 volumes in the Bob Dylan Bootleg Series, The Cutting Edge may be the crown jewel of them all. This set captures what is undoubtedly the singer’s greatest creative peak that rivaled that of the Beatles, highlighted by three classic albums released during that period: Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde. It was a time when Dylan electrified his folk sound both literally and figuratively from his earlier albums—a sound that caused an uproar among folk purists but also revolutionized music. Over the course of 6 CDs, The Cutting Edge contains mostly previously unreleased music from those sessions and offer insight on how the beloved songs from those albums evolved in the studio. The most notable highlight of the set is Disc 3 that features the “Like a Rolling Stone” sessions—one could hear how that classic song grew (in one particular take, Dylan said his voice was shot, but continued on until the song is nailed down; there are master takes of just the guitar-voice, organ-drums, and piano-bass to give the listeners an inside view of the recording. It is amazing to hear on this set how the earlier versions of songs differ from the finished ones, like “Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again,” whose earlier incarnation is somewhat slower than the bouncy finished one; the converse of that is “Just Like a Woman,” as an alternate take reveals a more up-tempo swinging rendition than the more familiar ballad version. And of course, there are songs that never ended up on the three studio albums, like the earthy “Sitting on a Barbed Wire Fence,” featuring the late guitarist Mike Bloomfield; the jugband feel of “California”; the funky “Lunatic Princess,” “Jet Pilot” (which was subsequently released on Biograph). It’s cool just to even hear the in-studio chatter between Dylan and producer Tom Wilson. The outtakes don’t feel like throwaways at all—it’s a revelation. For fans of Dylan’s electric period from those the masterpiece album, The Cutting Edge is a must-have for this amazing music.
(On a side note, for those who want a totally interactive experience with Dylan’s music from the period, there’s a microsite, Studio A Revisted, that allows fans to remix “Like a Rolling Stone” as well as provides a timeline from the recording sessions).