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Bob Dylan's bootleg, Beatles 1 re-release and Alanis Morissette top this week's new music

By Darryl Sterdan, Special to Postmedia Network

Bob Dylan. (Rui M Leal/<A HREF="http://www.wenn.com" TARGET="newwindow">WENN.COM</a> files)

Bob Dylan. (Rui M Leal/WENN.COM files)


Bob Dylan
The Cutting Edge 1965-1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12 (Deluxe Edition)

To paraphrase the man himself: He’s got no more secrets to conceal. Or at least a few less than he had before. With Bob Dylan, that’s about the best you can hope for. Thankfully, so is The Cutting Edge 1965-1966, the dozenth entry in his revelatory Bootleg Series.
As anyone familiar with Dylan’s story can tell you, the time frame of that title represents one of the most significant creative periods of his vast, inimitable and still-vibrant half-century career. During those days — specifically, the months from January 1965 to February 1966 — he wrote and recorded three of his most important and influential albums: Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde. With those records, Dylan not only reinvented his own music and persona as he evolved from solo acoustic-folk troubadour to electric bandleader, he rewrote the rules for rock ’n’ roll by ignoring limits of song length, subject matter and stylistic variety.
Simply, those days were history in the making. And on The Cutting Edge, you can literally hear it being made. On six CDs and 110-plus tracks that last about seven hours, the Deluxe Edition follows Dylan and his bandmates in the studio as they write, rehearse and construct immortal songs like Subterranean Homesick Blues, Desolation Row, Highway 61 Revisited, Visions of Johanna, Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat and, of course, the game-changer Like a Rolling Stone.

Most of those songs (and dozens more) appear here in multiple previously unreleased (and often incomplete) takes, evolving and changing, growing and shrinking, speeding up and slowing down as the band tinkers and toys with everything from tempo to tuning, trying to hammer them into shape. It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry gear-shifts from a slow-burning shuffle to a tough rocker. Visions of Johanna goes in the opposite direction. Love Minus Zero/No Limit and Desolation Row appear in stripped-down versions. There are rarities like the gender-bender Jet Pilot, the Beatles vamp I Wanna Be Your Lover and the Blonde outtake She’s Your Lover Now. The centrepiece is a disc devoted to nearly 20 takes of Like a Rolling Stone, which begins life as a clumsy country waltz before coalescing into the familiar folk-rock masterpiece — then goes through several more sped-up variations before cooler heads prevail.
For the casual Dylan fan — if there is such a thing — it’s way more than you want (which is why there’s also a two-disc version). But for the devoted Dylanologist, it’s a trip down the rabbit hole of creativity, offering a rare insight into the restless, mercurial artist’s process and work ethic.
Fortunately, there’s also plenty of playtime in the between-song banter. You hear Dylan making up ridiculous placeholder song titles like Black Dally Rue, Alcatraz to the Ninth Power, Phantom Engineer Number Cloudy and Bending Down on My Stomach Looking West. You hear him gushing about guitarist Mike Bloomfield (“You got to put a wall up over him!”). You hear producer Tom Wilson incredulously asking “What are you doing out there?” to Al Kooper, who infamously crashed the sessions and conned his way into playing organ on Like a Rolling Stone. But mostly, you hear the sound of an enigmatic genius and legend giving up his secrets.
And for those who still haven’t heard enough, there’s the mother lode: A limited-edition 18-disc version that goes for $600 and contains every note recorded during the sessions.
Even for Dylan fans, that one might be over the edge.

RATING: 5 (out of 5)

The Beatles

1 was not enough. So, 15 years after the release of that iconic Beatles’ compilation — a 27-track anthology of all their chart-topping hits — here it comes again. But this isn’t just some tossed-off retread with a new cover. In true Fabs fashion, it’s the latest in a series of painstaking technical restorations and artistic upgrades designed to breathe new life into some of the most familiar and influential pop music ever recorded.
All 27 songs have been remastered from the original analogue tapes by Giles Martin (son of original producer George Martin) and Sam Okell at Abbey Road Studios. The difference between these versions and the 2000 incarnations is unmistakable; the bass cuts wider and deeper, the guitars have more bite and grit, the drums and cymbals ring, and everything generally sounds bigger and better.
More significantly — and provocatively — Martin and Okell have also remixed the tracks. Some of the changes are subtle, like moving some handclaps a little to the right or shifting a guitar here and there. Others are far more significant, like shifting the vocals on Day Tripper or the rhythm track of Can’t Buy Me Love to the centre of the mix, for instance, or separating the strings in Eleanor Rigby so the violin is on the left and the cello on the right.
No big deal, you say? Tell that to the Beatle fanatics — they tend to be rather protective and picky about every reissue, nitpicking about even the subtlest of sonic changes.
Something else that will likely divide fans: The video content. Depending on which version you buy, 1 (or 1 , as the deluxe version is known) comes with either 27 or 50 expertly restored clips to go with all those hits. There are early British TV appearances, Sullivan and Shea footage, and classic set pieces like the Apple rooftop performance of Get Back and the sit-in version of All You Need is Love. Restored frame-by-frame over several months by an 18-person team, the visuals are pristine and definitive. And they come with stereo and 5.1 audio mixes for those who enjoy such things.
That’s the good news. The bad? Some cuts substitute the new audio mixes for the original ones — so when you watch Get Back, for example, you don’t actually hear The Beatles playing live. I’m no purist, but that just seems wrong.
Also slightly disappointing: The videos boast introductions by Ringo Starr and commentaries by Paul McCartney, but they only do three or four, and most were clearly done on the fly. Ringo is actually watching the videos on a computer screen as he speaks, so he has to keep turning back and forth to the camera; Paul’s chatter often consists of little more than describing what’s happening on the screen. After going to such extremes on the technical side, you’d think they could have spent a little time getting more relevant contributions out of the guys who were there.
Ah well, they can sort that out on 1 in 2030.

RATING: 4.5 (out of 5)

Alanis Morissette
Jagged Little Pill: Collector’s Edition

How’s this for ironic: The best reason to shell out for the 20th-anniversary edition of Alanis Morissette’s career-making 1995 juggernaut Jagged Little Pill is not the album itself. Oh sure, the remastered version sounds fine. And cuts like You Oughta Know, Hand in My Pocket, Head Over Feet, Ironic and the vitriolic You Oughta Know still deliver a magnificently messy mix of catharsis, angst, sexuality and wide-eyed Zen hippie poetry. And yeah, along with the original album, there’s also the 2005 Jagged Little Pill Acoustic album (which is far more produced and sweetened than its title implies), plus a powerful 1995 live gig with her then-band, anchored by future Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins. But the best motivation to put one hand in your pocket for your wallet is a bonus disc with 10 previously unreleased songs penned by Morissette and producer/co-writer Glen Ballard — many of which are as good as the ones that ended up making the cut. You live, you learn.

RATING: 4 (out of 5)


Elvis Costello
Unfaithful Music & Soundtrack Album

Music and words go together. And to go with his memoir Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink, Costello has released this similarly titled companion compilation, which meanders through two discs of career highlights and rarities — including B-sides, an early live version of Accidents Will Happen and a demo of Veronica — that tie in with the book’s themes and stories. Best of all: Two previously unreleased tracks, including a southern-soul collaboration with Kris Kristofferson and Roseanne Cash, an acoustic demo from 1975 that features some lyrics that would appear in later songs, and some spoken-word anecdotes. Now you can hear the rest of the story.

RATING: 4 (out of 5)

Elvis Presley
If I Can Dream

Elvis has left the building. And gone to the symphony. This inspired compilation sweetens archival Presley tracks with the strings and horns of London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. But it’s not nearly as cheesy as it sounds. Predictably, there are plenty of heartbreak-hotel ballads like Love Me Tender and Can’t Help Falling in Love, plus bombastic anthems like You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling and An American Trilogy. But the set shows some inspiration by also upgrading rockers like Burning Love and Steamroller Blues withs swinging big-band muscle and orchestral oomph. Could have done without the Il Volo and Buble cameos, but all in all, better than anyone might have dreamed.

RATING: 3.5 (out of 5)

Van Morrison
Astral Weeks: Expanded & Remastered/His Band & The Street Choir: Expanded & Remastered

Still reworking the catalogue. This time from the beginning. Morrison’s new reissue campaign kicks off with his first and third major-label solo albums — 1968’s transcendent folk-jazz tapestry Astral Weeks and 1970’s R&B-flavoured His Band & The Street Choir (presumably his essential sophomore set Moondance was skipped because it got the deluxe treatment). Either way, true to their new subtitles, these two classics come freshly remastered and augmented with a tantalizing handful of intriguingly different takes and alternate versions. More of that bonus fare would have been better — Van fans I know would be happy to sit through a box set of outtakes — but as usual, Morrison leaves you wanting more. Like it or not.

RATING (BOTH): 3 (out of 5)


Jeff Lynne’s ELO
Alone in the Universe

Alone, indeed. Lynne sticks to his old-school one-man-band ways on his first Electric Light Orchestra offering since 2001’s Zoom — he penned, played, sang and produced virtually every note on these 10 cuts. Not surprisingly, the 67-year-old studio rat also holds to his classic-rock ways: While light on the layered symphonic strings that drove those ’70s hits, these superbly crafted and sharply hooked songs are unmistakably the work of the same man — though tracks that recall George Harrison or Roy Orbison remind you he was also one of the Traveling Wilburys. Bottom line: He won’t bring you down.

RATING: 3.5 (out of 5)

Def Leppard
Def Leppard

Their last three discs were X, Yeah! and Songs From the Sparkle Lounge. So you can’t fault Def Lep for going the self-titled route for album 11. But it’s also apropos, since these 14 cuts are every bit as generic as the set’s handle, with all the pop-metal swagger, arena-sized choruses and slick production you expect from the British vets — but not quite enough of the adrenaline you crave. That, you can fault them for.

RATING: 3 (out of 5)

Billy Gibbons & The BFGs

Houston and Havana aren’t that far apart. Not for an hombre like Billy. ZZ Top’s guitarist makes the trip handily on his first solo disc, spicing his gritty Texas blues-rock, dusty vocals and fuzz-seared fretwork with ringing Afro-Cuban pianos, hip-swivelling grooves and syncopated Latin percussion. He’s still bad, but now he’s international.

RATING: 3.5 (out of 5)

Fall Out Boy
Make America Psycho Again

Some might say they’re way too late. But that hasn’t deterred FoB, fortunately. The Chicago alt-rockers borrow a title from Trump and recruit a roster of rappers like Wiz Khalifa, Juicy J, Azealia Banks, Big K.R.I.T. and Black Thought for this bottom-heavy hip-hop remix of their American Beauty/American Psycho disc. The Donald might not approve, but you will.

RATING: 3 (out of 5)

Kardinal Offishall
Kardi Gras Vol. 1: The Clash

A new beginning. In more ways than one. After several years of releasing singles and mixtapes, the Canadian hip-hop pioneer returns to albums in a big way. The first instalment of a three-disc set, Kardi Gras Vol. 1 finds Kardinal dishing up a melting pot of boisterous dancehall grooves and carnival cuts, uplifting anthems of hope and protest, dark street-level monologues and a guest list that includes Junior Read and Stephen Marley. Consider the party officially restarted.

RATING: 3.5 (out of 5)

Black Lungs
Pagan Holiday

Sometimes the best things in life really are free. And worth the wait. Alexisonfire/Gallows screamer Wade MacNeil gave away this disc from his Black Lungs quartet on Halloween — reportedly four years after it was cut. But fear not; with 13 riff-heavy metal-punk grenades (including Gun Club’s For the Love of Ivy) that blast past in 27 minutes, it clearly hasn’t mellowed with age. Much like MacNeil.

RATING: 4 (out of 5)


Sunny ways, my friends. They worked for our PM; now Hedley are trying them on for size. Their sixth effort is their most upbeat in every way, with the Vancouverites diving head-first into the warm, buoyant waters of Caribbean-tinged pop, blue-eyed reggae and synth-heavy dance music, and nary a trace of punk, arena-rock or negativity. They may lose their base, but they’ll win the Maroon 5 fans.

RATING: 3 (out of 5)

Drive-By Truckers
It’s Great to Be Alive!

Great live albums make you wish you were there. This one makes you wish it thrice. The southern rockers’ latest and greatest concert recording chronicles a trio of San Francisco gigs — and covers the waterfront with three hours of ruggedly glorious songs and stories from their long and rich career. Great things come in threes.

RATING: 4 (out of 5)

Cradle to the Grave

It’s a comeback. A soundtrack. A throwback. And the first new Squeeze songs in 17 years. Wisely, singer-songwriters Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook pick up where they left off with a dozen slices of typically clever, impeccably crafted pop. It also serves as the companion album to the BBC series Cradle to Grave, but you don’t need to know that to dig the long-overdue return of these cool cats.

RATING: 3 (out of 5)

The Game
The Documentary 2

If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing again. So, L.A. gangsta-rapper Game’s sixth play is not only a double album released in two parts over as many weeks — it’s also a 10th-anniversary sequel to his 2005 debut. So naturally, it returns to the Compton streets where he began, with ghetto tales and ribald skits set to low-riding West Coast G-funk. But it also shows his growth as a lyricist, a songwriter and father. Double down.

RATING: 3.5 (out of 5)

Armin Van Buuren

More of a touch, really. Dutch DJ Van Buuren says his sixth set’s title refers to his desire to incorporate new sounds. To that end, he adds a dash of trumpet here or acoustic guitar there, and favours vocals from lesser-known countrymen over the usual A-listers. But the uplifting melodies and gently insistent thump-thump of his trance tracks remain in a holding pattern.

RATING: 3 (out of 5)

Various Artists

Hip-hop isn’t all about the Benjamins any more. Now it’s about the Hamiltons. Case in point: This acclaimed Broadway musical about U.S. founding father Alexander Hamilton. As bizarre as it sounds but far more engaging, this 133-minute cast recording encompasses rap and R&B, jazz and pop, Tin Pan Alley and the American Songbook — and wraps them into an entertainingly funky history lesson. Revolutionary.

RATING: 4 (out of 5)


Straight No Chaser
The New Old Fashioned

There’s more than one way to get your a cappella on. It depends on whether you prefer originals or oldies. If it’s the former, opt for co-ed Texas quintet Pentatonix’ third album, which applies their pyrotechnic talents to a roster of upbeat R&B, soul, hip-hop and more. If covers are your speed, try the fifth CD from 10-man Indiana vets Straight No Chaser, who cut a hilariously wide swath by harmonizing on everything from Dock of the Bay to Radiohead’s Creep to Weeknd’s Can’t Feel My Face. Yep, really.

RATING (BOTH): 3 (out of 5)

We Like Disney
Various Artists

Hey, everybody likes Disney. But the we in this case is an eclectic slate of chart-toppers revamping Mouse House classics — from Ariana Grande (working out Hercules’ Zero to Hero) and Kacey Musgraves (taking A Spoonful of Sugar to the country) to Fall Out Boy (who go ape on Jungle Book’s I Wan’na Be Like You) and Ne-Yo (who gets in the retro-swing of Aladdin’s Friend Like Me). They’re doin’ it for the kids.

RATING: 3 (out of 5)


Nov. 13

Justin Bieber, Purpose
Eric Clapton, Slowhand at 70: Live At The Royal Albert Hall
CeeLo Green, Heart Blanche
Il Divo, Amor & Pasión
Chris Isaak, First Comes the Night
Little Mix, Get Weird
Kylie Minogue, Kylie Christmas
The Most Serene Republic, Mediac
Mutemath, Vitals
One Direction, Made in the A.M.
Train, Christmas in Tahoe
Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Letters From the Labyrinth
The Wainwright Sisters, Songs in the Dark
Wreckless Eric, amERICa
Neil Young, Bluenote Café

Twitter: @darryl_sterdan