Album Review: Bob Dylan – The Cutting Edge (2015 LP)

The Cutting Edge, the latest release in Bob Dylan’s Bootleg Series, is well named – it covers material recorded in 1965-6, when Dylan was at the forefront of rock and roll, and it also describes his songwriting at the time, which was so sharp and on point as to be cutting.

The Bootleg Series was literally initiated to stop bootlegging – there were a tonne of unauthorised versions of unreleased Dylan outtakes and full songs circling around, and his record label apparently decided that if the music was out there, they may as well make some money from it. The Bootleg Series has chronicled long periods of Dylan’s life, offering high-fidelity outtakes and nuggets of gold for the discerning fan.

This release covers arguably Dylan’s best period – these are outtakes, false songs and unreleased numbers from his great trilogy of albums that moved the idea of rock music itself forward: Bringing it all Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde. I reviewed the best-of version, which contains 2 cds of the best unreleased cuts from the period.

The music is not for everyone. You have to really love “Like a Rolling Stone” to be bothered to listen to not one but two less-good versions of the song. And Dylan’s voice, divisive at the best of times, is not at its best in some tracks, especially the rehearsals of songs like “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”. Someone who isn’t already interested in this period of the artist’s career isn’t going to find much to love.

However, as always there is plenty of material to make the purchase worthwhile – some lesser known songs like “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” and “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” get really interesting alternative versions, while the acoustic version of “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” actually betters the original.

The highlight of the release for many will be the aforementioned “Like a Rolling Stone” outtakes and the early “Visions of Johanna” version – these are two of Dylan’s best songs, and it really is amazing as a fan to hear them come into being. Both versions are slightly different to the album versions, and it’s fascinating to listen to them evolve into the masterpieces they are.

There are also some great unreleased numbers here, most notably “She’s Your Lover Now,” a hilarious kiss-off that Dylan was never quite satisfied with and hence simply tossed aside. If a song that good is deemed surplus to requirements, you know you’re onto a good thing.

This album is great and a must for any Bob Dylan fan, but not just because of the music itself, which is at times throwaway – it’s worth listening to The Cutting Edge because it’s a window into genius, and shows the laborious process Dylan clearly went through to create songs that now seem so effortless and timeless. It shows that being a true great isn’t just a gift, it’s something that has to be worked on. This is one of the best of the Bootleg releases, because it offers the best glimpse into Dylan’s process.

Review Score: 8.3 out of 10.

The Cutting Edge is available now.