Bob Dylan - The Bootleg Series Vol.9: the Witmark Demos 1962-1964

Simon Cowell said he was "boring". If you need an example of Bob Dylan's brilliance and importance on the world music scene there it surely is. What would a megalomaniac puppet master know about great music? It is a sure bet that if a young Robert Zimmerman had auditioned for the X Factor he wouldn't have got past the first round. Yet this man, with his whiny nasal voice and his indifferent approach to the guitar, is without a doubt one of popular music's most influential artists. Ever. If your favourite band or singer wasn't directly influenced by him, it is very probable their favourite artist was. For nearly half a century this man's music has been a part of our lives; The Byrds, Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Springsteen, reaching through to the nu-folk revival of Laura Marling and Mumford & Sons, all have been immeasurably influenced by Bob Dylan.

The Witmark Demos offers the listener a voyeuristic look at the early days of Dylan's career after signing to Columbia by legendary record producer and talent scout John Hammond. Dylan recorded a series of raw demos, for his first publisher Leeds Music in 1962, and then for M. Witmark & Sons between 1962 and 1964. Many of the tunes are now established classics, others are ones that didn't make the final cut - but are still wonderful for all that. For not only is this collection the living, breathing early steps of a visionary genius, but the then nascent history of folk music as we know it today.

Prior to Dylan's accession onto the scene, popular folk was a different beast. Angelic harmonies of performers like Peter, Paul and Mary and The Kingston Trio and pretty songs sung in pretty voices that inspired big feel-good sing-a-longs before the fire. The grittier folk music coming out of the Greenwich Village cafés was still underground and still trying to find its voice - as well as an audience. Dylan's music was folk music in its purest form, distilled from the old troubadours like his idol Woody Guthrie; songs born far away from the smoky New York bars, born from the blues, the Depression and itinerant men riding the rails looking for a better life. For a major label to take on this scruffy youth is a testament to the foresight of the men in suits.

The songs lack form and structure; the words run thick and fast as if Dylan is singing the first thing that comes to mind. They speak of war and peace, of loneliness and alienation, forgiveness and revenge, love and hate. And all without guile or deceit but a bold-faced honesty that adds to their resonance. During the performance you may hear Dylan cough or curse for messing up a verse. He will stop suddenly and ask someone a question. It's as if you are in the room with him as this extraordinary music is being laid down for the first time.

There are the embryonic versions of 'Blowin' In the Wind', 'The Times They Are A-Changin' and 'Mr. Tambourine Man' (both performed on piano), 'Girl From The North Country' and the blistering hatred of 'Masters Of War'. Interwoven with these established pieces are lesser known songs such as 'Only A Hobo', 'Man On The Street', 'Hard Times In New York Town' and 'Poor Boy Blues'. Each song a delight for the heart and the soul. For within these recordings is a very young Bob Dylan finding his voice and ironing out his compositions, some that would eventually become immortalized on album for generations to discover, others lost or forgotten until now.

Simon Cowell called him boring. This man who not only revolutionized folk music, but music in general. Whose influence stretches as far as the eyes can see, transcending genres and outliving fads and trends. This remarkable collection of his early works proves old Simon wrong. Maybe you can't dance to it Mr. Cowell, but boring it most certainly ain't.



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