Bob Dylan and The Band • The Basement Tapes

Columbia/Mobile Fidelity MFSL 2-382
Two 180-gram LPs
1975/2012

Music

Sound

by Marc Mickelson | June 11, 2012

obile Fidelity picked The Basement Tapes to lead off its six-pack of Bob Dylan "Original Master Recordings" on LP and SACD. The story of this double-record set is well known. Following a 1966 motorcycle accident that changed his music and, history reveals, his personality, Dylan retreated to a rented house in West Saugerties, New York -- the famous "Big Pink" -- to record a number of demos with The Band. None of these recordings was meant to be released, but Dylan's music publisher distributed copies of the tapes, and they were used to create bootlegs, which were circulating by the end of the 1960s. Portions of the tapes were officially released in 1975 as The Basement Tapes.

As its title announces, the album literally comes from a collection of tapes made in the basement, and the sound reflects those origins. It's ragged and remote -- perfect for this made-for-the-hell-of-it music, replete with personal allusions, gaffs, laughs and a dominating air of informality that seemed just plain odd in the mid-1970s, when studios were more often guilty of overproduction. Here the lack of production becomes a new kind of production, and it's successful because of Dylan's immense magnetism and The Band's loosey-goosey backing.

Thus, in terms of the Dylan albums Mobile Fidelity will be releasing, The Basement Tapes was a shrewd first choice. Sonically, things can only get better, although this fact doesn't undercut the results here. Compared to both analog and digital originals, there is across-the-spectrum improvement, vocals sounding less murky and more intelligible, instrumentation being better delineated, and the combination making each cut more meaningful. There is also newfound space and proportion; the music spreads out in ways it hasn't previously. This Basement Tapes lets you distinguish more from within the muddy waters of the recording than ever before.

Most of Bob Dylan's catalog falls neatly into two categories: masterpieces (Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde, Blood on the Tracks) and near masterpieces (much of what's left, including The Basement Tapes). Nowadays we're used to this kind of organic country-folk rock, but it started here, while members of so many bands it would influence were still children. Add to the music Mobile Fidelity's skillful remastering job, and you have an auspicious beginning to that Dylan six-pack.

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