Bob Dylan, “After The Empire” (Rattlesnake RS 288)
Baby Coming Back From The Dead / Nothing Here Worth Dying For (I) / Won’t Go Back ‘Till They Call Me Back Again / Let Me Come Baby / Bring It Home To Me / I’m Ready For Love / 26 Storeys High / You Can Have Her (I) / My Sweet Baby (Round and Around) / Nothing Here Worth Dying For (II) / You Can Have Her (II) / Find Me / Nothing Here Worth Dying For (III) / Right Hand Road Blues / That’s All (70:19)
Possible recording location and date; Cherokee Studios, Hollywood, CA May / October, 1985.
Although it has been hinted at, no one really knew what Dylan was really doing in the studio between the sessions for ‘Empire Burlesque’ and ‘Knocked Out Loaded’ and because of the slump his career had taken as fashions changed, practically no-one cared, mainly the critics who were busy panning Dylan’s new output as it was received. He was saved momentarily by ‘Biograph’ but people still moaned about how his outtakes were sometimes better than his established releases, what does a guy have to do to win again?
Keeping within the brief, Dylan who was still bubbling with ideas, re-entered the studio on halloween 1985 at Cherokee Studios – It has been assumed that the players were Bob Dylan (vocal & guitar), Vito San Filippo (bass), Raymond Lee Pounds (drums), Carolyn Dennis, Madelyn Quebec, Elisecia Wright (backup vocals) but that doesn’t make up for the harp playing and electric piano that you hear through these tracks – and, possibly entertained by the idea of Neil Young’s “Everybody’s Rockin'” album, Bob threw around a few ideas that seemed to be based around rock and roll, the sessions still have the nuance of a little 80’s production, and like “Empire Burlesque”, these sessions can be a lot of fun. These recordings are a heck of a lot of feeling, Dylan’s muse, while not burning like it had or would again, directs him to dismissing any worries of seriousness and instead let him and his band have a bit of fun.
As it suggests in the small print of my review, these ideas are not generally, fully fleshed out, a little built maybe but certainly nothing like they might be presented for a full album – Jams possibly – You’ll notice a few begin to sound like their previous counterparts, Dylan has the lyrics but the tunes round along on each other. There are blunders as you’ll read but there are also sharp moments of clarity that you’ll catch and wonder why Dylan never actually got round to pulling them out for use. Just like most of his later output, you’ll wonder where a lot of this stuff went – Blame it on Dylan’s disinterest in looking back or for following his instant decisions but that none of these tracks have appeared again shows a distinct lack of judgment.
‘Baby Back From The Dead’ is a long jam of sorts, starting abruptly as the engineer starts the tape, the phrasing sounds like ‘Honey Don’t’ and includes a couple of pretty apt, if short, guitar solos. Backing vocals by some of the Queens of Rhythm, call and answer responses. Sounds like Dylan is having a LOT of fun. Funky drumming with plodding bassline, the middle quietens before coming screaming back, the electronic piano is much more audible in the second part of the track too. They end with a clattering full stop.
‘Nothing Here Worth Dying For (I)’ starts strongly, Dylan on his own on guitar, bringing in the rest of the band at the track blossoms but seems to come apart at the end of the last verse, it’s all strangely reminiscent of ‘Baby Stop Crying’ (Dylan’s repost to a relationship possibly or is this all about mortality?) An attempt at a solo towards the final section seems to fail quite badly before the song ends abruptly.
‘Won’t Go Back ‘Till They Call Me Back Again’. One of the catchier songs of the album with a really memorable refrain, it slows the pace down, sounding like a wet Saturday afternoon, the feeling is deeply reflective. much more ‘classically’ Dylan for it’s time, another lousy solo rears it’s head before the Queens wisely move things along again.
‘Let Me Come Baby’ sounds like it has been formed from the bones of “Won’t Go Back ..”. The same pace, mood and plaintive feel. It is very brief, while a secondary guitar takes on soloing duties this time, avoiding the clunky soloing of last time.
‘Bring It On Home To Me’ features some rather brilliant harp work by Bob, a chugging stomp and even scat singing by Dylan. It sounds like Bob gets carried away half way through as he gets too close to the mike with his harmonica and pushes the speakers to feedback. It ends to a brilliant jam a la, ‘God Knows’, sparing with the rest of the band, they bound together to a fantastic play-about finale.
‘I’m Ready For Love’, Buddy Hollyesque in style, Dylan’s vocals are mixed rather low for the first minute of this rendition, the rest of the song, well, he seems to be making it up on the spot. I’m not entirely sure that he isn’t singing about God at some point but then it begins to turn towards romance. In the end, it’s another studio groove possibly the lightest track on the CD, and at over 8 minutes long, it outstays it’s welcome a good 3 minutes or so. We also hear the notes of ‘Nothing Here Worth Dying For’ again.
’26 Storeys High’ references suicide in a pale spot of slight inspiration for Bob, at first the lyrics seem to take a little while to build but then get deeper – Is this building a ‘Shangri-La’ of sorts, are the inhabitants of this tower block all facing a slim future so have decided that the best way is down or out the door in a bag.
‘You Can Have Her’ is a beautifully dismissive track, Dylan disowning and disavowing a previous love, the frame work for the track is jittery, restless drumming, low bass notes and the very blush of an electric piano sound underneath. I’d almost suggest that you might find this on any of Keith Richards’ solo albums such is the sound. It ends at the right moment however.
‘My Sweet Baby (Round And Around)’ is ‘I’m Ready For Love’, part deux, Albet a very short version. Seriously catchy, it’s a very ‘pop’ song for Dylan, lasting a shade over two minutes, this track makes you long for just a little bit more.
‘Nothing Here Worth Dying For (II)’, seems to come from a different session, there is more hiss on this version making the whole piece a little quieter – Obviously this is still fleshing out work on the track, a near 9 minute running time throws it open for a lot more improvisation. Dylan this time is accompanied by the second guitarist, a gentle piano and the queens lilting harmonies – There is a long instrumental break towards the middle while Dylan gently noodles in the background.
‘You Can Have Her II’ The hiss disappears again, the tracks begins with a little studio noise and one of the queens saying, ‘That was nice ..’before the tracks begins. This time, Dylan is not alone and the girls harmonising starts pretty much immediately with Dylan’s vocals. Full of funky drum work, gnarled guitars.
‘Find Me’ begins with a choppy call and response guitar and piano duet, the lyrics seem to be about someone who Dylan already knows but who doesn’t quite know him yet.
‘Nothing Here Worth Dying For III’ – The most embellished of the versions found here, we found Dylan accompanied with second guitar at first then, after a few lines, with the organ and the Queen’s harmonies – This is the closest it gets to sounding like a finished article. Obviously Bob wasn’t over enthused by it however or lost his patience and left it alone after – Maybe we might hear a different version on ‘Biograph 2’ some day as after the track ends, we hear Dylan resume the piece again before the tape cuts out.
‘Right Hand Road Bues’ Fading in slowly, this much more standardised-for-the-era Dylan track is a fast blues, piano high in the mix, another of the tracks where it sounds like Dylan is having fun again. Full of whimsy, giddiness and rhythm.
‘That’s All’ A rest for Dylan’s pen, a rendition of Brandt and Haymes’ original, it’s just Bob, the second guitarist, piano and drummer, maybe it’s an after hours play, the sisters have left while Dylan has given out the rest of his ideas and decided, just as the night winds down to give this a spin. It’s lovely to hear Dylan really singing again as he once did – Were we to know that’s nearly all he would do come 2016?
Do you need this release? A resounding yes. This is one of those tapes that springs up every so often, rubs up against the audience recordings and makes them seem like nothing at all. How often do we get studio outtakes never mind a whole disk of them! Wonderfully presented by the Rattlesnake label with a bunch of rare photos from the era and easy to read text all around. A winner – Go get it!