Sydney Morning Herald, November 24, 2014

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New Basement Tapes' Lost on the River
brings Bob Dylan's lyrics to life


Bernard Zuel

It started with a package arriving in the mail for producer/musician T Bone Burnett last year. The sender? One B. Dylan.

In the Dylan archives had been found reams of lyrics, handwritten ones at that, put down on paper in upstate New York during the mid 1960s. Most likely – the man himself isn't talking even if he did know for sure – these lyrics were written by the 26/27-year-old Dylan in the year or so between a motorbike accident that gave him a reason/excuse to get out of the public eye after five revolutionary years and the start of casual recordings he made with a bunch of musicians who had toured with him and had set up home nearby.

Those recordings soon became the Basement Tapes, the most famous bootlegs of all time as versions appeared everywhere, and the basis of songs (such as "The Mighty Quinn" and "I Shall Be Released") which were plucked by artists around the world. That bunch of musicians soon became the Band, who would become the vanguard of a back-to-roots style thatwould sweep up artists around the world, from the Beatles down to corners of Brazil and Australia.

So, anyway, this box of lyrics were in need of music and Mr Dylan was wondering would Mr Burnett – with whom he had worked during the rambling Rolling Thunder Revue tours of the '70s – be interested in doing just that? Well ... hell yeah.

"It was a box of lyrics of Bob's. And in order to figure out what to do with it, it became clear that I should bring in some hired guns you know," Burnett chuckles. "Some great singers, and great writers and great musicians. I didn't want to try and tackle it myself. The Band wasn't around and Bob didn't want to do it."

But who? The obvious but obviously wrong answer would have been to call on any of the score of Dylan disciples out there, the ones who could reproduce his every move. As it turned out, the answer was sitting right next to Burnett who at the time was in the midst of putting together a disparate group of musicians for a concert based on the Coen brothers' film, Inside Llewyn Davis, celebrating the music of the early 1960s folk scene just before the aforementioned B. Dylan exploded it.

In the ever-expanding group of musicians he called in for the show was musical polymath Elvis Costello, Marcus Mumford of British folk rock superstars Mumford & Sons and the frontwoman of hitherto little-known string band revivalists, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Rhiannon Giddens (who would go on to be the breakout star of the astonishingly vibrant and stirring concert). There already was the core of what would become the New Basement Tapes.

"This project was an extension of that. It grew out of that community and that camaraderie," says Burnett. "If we get are going to go into a basement for a few weeks and record, the chemistry has to be right. So it was about that. And it just worked with Marcus and Elvis and Rhiannon, I knew that chemistry was good."

Adding Taylor Goldsmith of the Jackson Browne-approved country rock band Dawes and Jim James of Southern psychedelic rock band My Morning Jacket, Burnett had the writers and singers who would write separately – sometimes more than one song coming from a set of lyrics – but combine in the studio for the album Lost on the River.

The results were quick to come and hard to stop, with 45 songs ("Yes, it's ridiculous," laughs Burnett) completed in under two weeks. Those extra songs may come out soon or may have to wait for history, like the original Basement Tapes, which have recently been reissued with now more than 150 songs from those Dylan and the Band sessions.

In a sense this fecundity didn't surprise Burnett. With a couple of decades now as a music supervisor/coordinator in films, including Inside Llewyn Davis and O Brother, Where Art Thou?, he's familiar with the notion that as a director, if you cast well everything else flows. Consequently, this project's "director", didn't have to give too many instructions to this crew.

"I didn't give them any more instructions than Bob gave me," Burnett says, leaving a strategic pause. "Bob gave me no instructions."

Lost on the River is out now.

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Sydney Morning Herald, November 24, 2014


Bernard Zuel reviews Lost On The River: The New Basement Tapes.

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