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Monday, Nov. 8, 2010

Bob Dylan

The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964 (Columbia)

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The revolution has begun again in earnest. Going back even before the first Dylan album to recordings that are as noticeable for their profound invisibility as The Basement Tapes, we find hidden authenticity that defies all of the easily found “Facebook Music” that has endlessly befriended us because we need truer personal authority for our rock music today. We get it in this astounding Bootleg Series collection titled The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964.

This music does not “friend” you. It is the stuff that killed Tin Pan Alley. One is in awe of its enemy stance, reeling with renewed significance to the varied possibility of narrative when “Mr. Tambourine Man” comes out from the underworld with gospel-driven piano. “Only a Hobo” was later covered by Rod Stewart and still sounded like a story never told before.

Hearing how inventive Dylan was when freed from putting together an album or sorting out songs that he would never officially record himself, this collection possesses shocking originality that exceeds anything officially released by anyone, even Dylan himself. So much more than Neil Young’s massive Archives carton or Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town box, The Witmark Demos portray what was, what could have been and now what will be: We have songs below the basement level to which 21st-century rock ’n’ roll music must descend. Once more, this music we call rock has become too lofty, pretentious and user-friendly. It has to return to the demo stage to begin again, not to reissues and revisions. Constantly on tour, Dylan proposes reinvention off the stage, off the record, and remains forever young.

These demos are the alternative to what is no longer an alternative sound. It will bring it all back home, revisited, for a generation that needs to be reminded of the potential power of vernacular music to shape the imagination of the world.