Bob Dylan's Bootleg Series pretty much gave up on the casual fan about five years ago when it explored, in depth and on two CDs, the mostly maligned 1969-71 period that yielded Self Portrait, an album that proved the voice of a generation was fallible.

Since then, the series has gone deep with six discs of The Basement Tapes, 18 CDs of the celebrated 1965-66 period and a nine-disc look at the born-again era that comes close to Self Portrait for its hatred among Dylanphiles. (All of these sets are also available in abridged, and less-expensive, editions.)

For its 14th volume, The Bootleg Series returns to more commercial territory with one of Dylan's all-time greatest albums: 1975's Blood on the Tracks. The six discs are probably still too many for listeners who know only the record's legend and maybe "Tangled Up in Blue," but there's widespread appeal to the set for anyone interested in rock history.

Dylan has insisted for years that Blood on the Tracks wasn't an autobiographical work, but it's hard not to read some of his personal turmoil in the songs, particularly the marriage problems he was having at the time. The sad regret of "Simple Twist of Fate" and the savage "Idiot Wind" are just too intimate, and are sung too passionately, to be dismissed as mere fiction.

Whatever the case, the album hit No. 1 and has become one of Dylan's most popular and celebrated LPs in the four decades since its release. Its history has always been part of its appeal: Dylan recorded the album in New York City in September 1974, and it was all ready for release that December when he scrapped some of the recordings, returned to Minneapolis, the state he was born in, and rushed through new takes of the same songs with a band put together by his brother. The 10-track album – split right down the middle with five songs recorded in New York and five from Minneapolis – finally came out in mid-January 1975.

More Blood, More Tracks: The Bootleg Series Vol. 14 collects every surviving song recorded at the sessions and, like The Cutting Edge: 1965-1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12, offers an inside peek into the working habits of one of contemporary music's greatest figures as he pieces together one of his greatest albums.

The sessions are pretty much differentiated by the somber, stripped-down takes recorded over four days in September (with basically a bassist and organist accompanying Dylan) compared to two days in December with a more traditional band playing mostly revved-up and spontaneous versions. Throughout these 87 tracks, Dylan plays around with arrangements, lyrics and moods as he tries to wrangle some of his most personal songs.

The results are often as tedious as they are revealing. The official version of Blood on the Tracks can't really be perfected, so what More Blood, More Tracks does is show you how Dylan got to that point – whether it's an early version of "Shelter From the Storm" used on the LP or a version of "You're a Big Girl Now" from the second batch of sessions. Some songs work better in the relatively acoustic settings; some need the electric intensity to thrive.

Compare the different versions of the sprawling "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts," or the various ways he tests out "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go" before settling on the take that made the album. These progressions – from the first stab at "If You See Her, Say Hello," which starts More Blood, More Tracks and the New York sessions, to the very same song, which ended the Minneapolis sessions three months later – reveal just how committed Dylan was to this specific set of songs.

Earlier Bootleg Series volumes already uncovered this set's biggest surprises – an acoustic "Idiot Wind," "Tangled Up in Blue" with different lyrics, the handful of outtakes. But this glimpse behind the curtain at one of Dylan's most timeless albums is occasionally fascinating, especially given the record's troubled recording history with the original backing musicians fired after just one session and their replacements, in turn, replaced by yet another group. The constant here is Dylan, staging one of music's greatest comebacks on his own stubborn terms. Again.

 

 

Ranking the Rest of Bob Dylan's 'Bootleg Series'