Bob Dylan’s legacy revived
Hannah Eckstein | Wednesday, January 21, 2015
It was a holy-grail discovery of the musical world: Tucked away in the basement of American singer and songwriter Bob Dylan’s New York home lay pages of unrecorded song lyrics, written by the legendary folk artist himself.
For nearly five decades, these pages lay hidden, silently gathering dust. Silent, that is, until one fateful discovery by Dylan’s producer and two weeks of intensive jam sessions brought these lyrical time capsules to life.
In the mid-1960s, Bob Dylan and The Band were at the peaks of their careers. With incredibly popular songs such as “Like a Rolling Stone,” this American rock-folk band was in high demand and thus constantly on tour. This life, however, was taking its toll on Dylan, who reported heavy drug use and exhaustion.
In what some refer to as a blessing in disguise, Dylan’s life took an unexpected turn. In 1966, he was involved in a devastating motorcycle crash and forced to take time off from touring. Dylan retreated to his home in upstate New York, disappearing almost altogether from the public eye.
During this time, fortunately, Dylan continued recording music. Working with The Band in the basement of his New York home, Dylan privately recorded songs, providing major hits for many popular artists.
Luckily for the public, the product of all these secret music sessions began to leak into mainstream music, appearing in several bootlegged recordings. Finally, Dylan’s work was brought to light on the “Genuine Basement Tapes,” a set of five CDs containing 107 songs created during these basement sessions. Despite the immensity of these tapes, pieces of Dylan’s music still remained hidden and unrecorded.
Forty-seven years later, new lyrics from this basement session were discovered and finally brought to life. While exploring this now-famous basement, Dylan’s producer discovered pages of never-before-recorded lyrics.
He handed them down to T Bone Burnett, who jumped at the opportunity to work with these lyrics. Burnett put together a musical “super-group,” calling on Marcus Mumford of Mumford and Sons, Elvis Costello, Jim James, Rhiannon Giddens of the Carolina Chocolate Drops and Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes. Their daunting task: to revive these lyrics with new music, while evoking the unique sounds that made Dylan so legendary.
The group took on the task, collaborating for two weeks in a basement, simulating the original basement tape recordings that began nearly five decades earlier.
A documentary called “The Long Lost Basement Tapes,” shows just how difficult it was for these writers to recreate what Bob Dylan had done with those lyrics so many years ago.
After two weeks of tediously putting music to these lyrics, and a surprise musical appearance by Johnny Depp, the band finally finished the album, a project that began 47 years ago. The result, “Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes,” is an incredible collaboration of past and present musical genius.
Like a time capsule of Dylan’s music, the lyrics on the “New Basement Tapes” are haunting and timeless, a testament to Dylan’s gift for songwriting and story-telling. The musical accompaniment highlights the creative talent of musicians like Marcus Mumford and Rhiannon Giddens.
Tracks like “Kansas City,” recorded by Mumford, sound like they could have come straight off a Mumford and Sons’ album but still reproduce sounds that emulate Dylan’s Folk legacy.
Other noteworthy songs on the album include “Spanish Mary,” “Florida Key” and “The Whistle Blowing.”
Although the album caught some flack for sounding too contemporary, there is no denying that this collaboration is a testament to the artistic creativity and talent of these new artists — and the incredible legacy that Dylan left behind.