Possum Belly Overalls (Gold Standard – Nash 105)
Ghost Riders In The Sky / Cupid / All I Have To Do Is Dream / Gates Of Eden / I Threw It All Away / I Don’t Believe You ( She Acts Like We Never Have Met ) / Matchbox / True Love, Your Love / Wonder When My Swamps Gonna Catch Fire / I’m Goin’ Fishing / Honey Just Allow Me One More Chance / Rainy Day Women 12 & 35 / Song To Woody / Mama, You Been On My Mind / Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright / Yesterday / Just Like Tom Thumbs Blues / Da Doo Ron Ron / One Too Many Mornings / Folsom Prison Blues / Ring Of Fire.
“I said ‘Well fuck it. I wish these people would just forget about me. I wanna do something they can’t possibly like, they can’t relate to” – Bob Dylan on Self Portrait. Having become a family man plus tied with the constraints of expectation of where he should go next Bob Dylan was in a bind. Go where the road was taking him and follow his rabid fans expectations or settle down and leave everything he knew behind? A natural born composer he couldn’t just drop it all and knew he’d have to keep working even at the expense of putting a few noses out of joint but after Bob the Folkie, Bob the Activist, Bob the Hidden, where to next?
Obviously the backlash had given his spiteful attitude something to kick back at and Bob The Country, the raconteur, troubadour and restful lover emerged with the sanguine and gentle “John Wesley Harding”. With this change came New – Dylan’s voice. A syrupy, soulful croon as opposed to the harsh, whiny rasp that had split opinions since his launch in to the public eye. Following this was “Nashville Skyline” recorded in Nashville partly dueting with the all American hero Johnny Cash. Still restless and unconvinced that people were getting the message that Protest Bob was a shed facet of a past Dylan he decided to move to New York to avoid the hippies that were congregating outside of his house at Woodstock, still looking for an answer to the country’s problems.
To add to their blow Dylan assembled a group of studio scraps, live liberties and basement blunders that were meant to throw people off of the scent, to dissuade people from buying his records and to get them to leave him the hell alone. Mainly it worked, Griel Marcus famously asked “What Is This Shit?” of “Self Portrait”. It alienated a huge cross section of his previous fans and all but puzzled the dyed in the wool faithful who would listen to and absorb Dylan’s every word & note. Regardless, once this was out of his system then it was back to serious work.
Dylan was still the restless, creative soul of soul of old but with a new agenda. Having had moved to New York he was in working distance of CBS studios and was only too pleased to work together with his contemporaries and get another album prepared. One of the first acts to turn up and want to jam was George Harrison. Having arrived in New York on the 29th of April 1970, he was straight on the phone to Bobby asking to hook up with him to swap war stories & get together some music. They jammed together at Dylan’s apartment that night but it was obvious they had to get something a little more concrete down together so went to CBS studios the next day for some studio time. The first part of the CD is part of a session that was recorded in Nashville on May 3rd 1969 when Dylan worked with Harrison for the first time & the second part of the CD is the section that was recorded in New York on May 1st 1970 for the album New Morning.
The Studio tape doesn’t include any astonishing discoveries ( maybe a working tape of “If Not For You” rehearsals would be nice instead of the very rough acetate that we have on other boots .. ) but features a happy & relaxed Dylan, Harrison & a studio band ( Inc. ) taking some time out to show off they encyclopedic musical knowledge to each other. They’re joined in the studio by Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, and Billy Wotten (guitars) Marshall Grant (bass) & W.S. Holland (drums).
The tape fades up quickly as the band are busking through “Ghost Riders In The Sky” – a Johnny Cash original – Dylan must have instigated this one as it’s him that’s singing & laughing throughout the track. Harrison is barely audible harmonizing, as indeed he’s hardly heard through out the session baring a few snippets of studio chatter & guitar work, but the track is brisk, very close to the original & played with gusto here.
As the song ends someone asks Bob if he remembers “Could You Please Crawl Out Of Your Window?”, his 1965 single, he replies that he remembers the songs but not the chords. The same voice asks him if it was the same album sessions as “Tom Thumbs Blues” to which Dylan replays to the negative. Dylan then is trying to think of another song that he wants to play. The same voice again asks if he wants to play “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” but Bob says it’s not that he wants to play, he has a song in mind but simply can’t think. If Bob can tell the voice what album it was on the voice might be able to remember.
Asked if he can remember “Percy(‘s song)” then Bob replies that it’s too long & decides to fall instead in to Sam Cooke’s “Cupid” which he remembers perfectly. It’s after a few moments of this song then George’s guitar becomes audible as he strings through a guitar line at accompanies the track along rather than pushing it anywhere. As the song finishes George clears his throat & sings a half remembered lyric from Elvis Presley’s “One Night With You” but Bobby seems reticent to play along as he’s just got another idea & breaks in to the Everly Brothers “All I Have To Do Is Dream”.
Again George is audible when he plays but as he isn’t miked up then his harmonies are really picked up. Once “..Dream” finishes George comments that it it ends well then the band try to think of a short song but Dylan immediately plunges in to a surprising choice in “Gates of Eden” but it’s not the fast paced polemic of the past but more a laid back country meander. Bobby struggles with the words until he warms up & then he’s out all guns blazing. It’s strange to hear him sing this song with the new lilt in his voice but it works & with George’s staccato, clicky guitar lines working away in the back ground. Bob then slips in to a recent lyric namely “I Threw It All Away” – essentially just like the album version but with George’s Carl Perkins style licks aiding the track along in the back ground.
The back catalogue mining continues almost immediately with a full band “I Don’t Believe You” & while the harmonic isn’t present then George’s solo certainly is. He sounds a little unsure but obviously knows Dylan’s work too well to falter & pulls out an excellent pass straight out from there. Dylan jokes afterwards that he doesn’t want any requests throwing at him he’s just happy to work with what drops from out of his mind. Obviously influenced by how George is playing, Dylan escapes from his own songs for a bit & pulls out “Matchbox” a tune that George & the band will recognise & as soon as they do they fall in with glee grooving through a spirited take on the 50’s classic.
Around half way through Bobby looses his way & starts ad-libbing around one of the pivotal lines with the means of working to get to an end once they do find a way out then it’s obvious that the band are enjoying this & launch straight in to a third Perkins song abeit briefly “True Love, Your Love” lasts all of 1:20 & rounds off the Perkins portion. Dylan then jams an improvised ditty entitled “Wonder When My Swamps Gonna Catch On Fire” the phrasing follows the measure of “Matchbox” but the groove is an altogether swampier, lazy mood.
Dylan wonders if they should listen to the playbacks but someone is thinking of an Doc Watson track “I’m Going Fishing” which he half remembers & plays a few bars of but which, in turn, reminds him of “Honey, Just Allow me one More Chance” the Henry Thomas track Dylan recorded for his first album this again leads in to a version of “Rainy Day Women” rendered in pretty much the same style. Dylan then just want’s to play one more track just to get it out of his system before he listens to the rushes of the days work.
We never get to hear that track as the tape picks up on a different session from 1970 featuring Charlie Daniels (bass & backing vocals), Billy Mundi (drums) & Bob Johnson (piano)& as we return Bobby’s got his harmonica & starts to lead the band through a very country & western version of “Song For Woody”, his own tribute to Woody Gutherie. As the song ends it’s obvious Bob has requested it as he confirms this over the studio talk back. Dylan asks Bob then to come out from the control room & help him add piano to another of his own, older compositions “Mama, You’ve Been On My Mind”.
The piano is very bar room styled, George’s guitar picking is still styled in the Perkins way & this time it sounds like he’s miked up as towards the end he starts to harmonise with Dylan. The tape cuts again & we’re left with a few seconds of guitar tuning before the band gallop in to an almost instrumental version of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”. As George is miked up now he’s much more audible & starts singing lines from “Corinna, Corinna” before jokingly calling for “Yesterday” to which Dylan responds by playing the ‘Help’ album track in his own imitable way.
Obviously it’s just a rough studio run through but it involves a solo & Bob Johnson joins in on piano towards the end. George quips if that they could just dub some cello’s on & they’re good to go. Dylan then wants to trip back to his own back catalogue & leads the band in to a bouncy version of “Just Like Tom Thumbs Blues” a version that almost trumps the original – if only for it’s difference from being turned from a jangly bar room swish with Dylan’s trademark nasally wheeze to a spare, acoustic waltz with Dylan’s new heavier wheeze.
George suggests an oldie but goldie & the band fashion out a cover of the Crystals “Da Doo Ron Ron” but as Dylan doesn’t quite know the lyrics he just creates some of his own using the days of the week & the title lyrics they keep this going for around 3 minutes before the joke wears thin & then Bob Johnson leads them straight in to a version of “One Too Many Mornings” from “The Times They Are A Changin'” this rolls out instrumentally for a couple of minutes before Bob finds his space in which to come in & even then he’s not directly at the mike so his vocal can’t be heard too clearly. At around 2:20 Dylan stops the track & restarts it by playing guitar, getting closer to the microphone & repeating the lyrics verbatim. George is still here harmonizing at points and they manage to drag out the rendition to 6 minutes finishing the track
The Following two tracks come from the same session as the first but in far worse quality & in mono. “Folsom Prison Blues” is one of the heaviest, rocking tracks i’ve heard utilizing a big, brash rolling barroom piano, thundering bass & Bobby really laying on his new singing voice. The tempo increases towards the end becoming almost messy but never out of control. “Ring of Fire” follows & is roughly the same as the preceding – a dark, heavy, bass led jam but this time with a touch more harmonica. It would have been fun to hear a few more of these Cash covers played in this way on this disk though Johnny Cash is, vocally, nowhere to be heard.
The cover of “Possum Belly Overalls” features a period portrait of Dylan by Nov Yabuki that was used for the Japanese single of “A Fool Such As I” & the back cover features an image of Dylan in the studio & the track listing in white on a brown background.
It’s a superb title to own showcasing a really intimate & friendly studio session & will appeal to Dylan & Beatles fans old & new.If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)