Bob Dylan – Clover Studio 1981 (Empress Valley Supreme Disk)

Bob Dylan, ‘Clover Studio 1981’ (Empress Valley Supreme Disk)
Trouble (Take 6) / The Groom’s Still Waiting At The Altar (Correct speed version) / Bolero (Heart Of Mine) (Instrumental take 1) / Heart Of Mine (Outtake) / Property Of Jesus (Original mix) / Caribbean Wind (Outtake) / Magic (Outtake – Full version) / Let It Be Me (Outtake) / Watered Down Love (Outtake) / Trouble – Instrumental Jam / Mystery Train (Rehearsal) / Shot Of Love (Outtake) / Every Grain Of Sand (Original mix) – Bonus Tracks – Bolero / Heart Of Mine (inst. take. 2) / Bolero / Heart Of Mine (Take 3 with distant off mic vocal)
Shot Of Love, as deemed by many listicles, seems to float around the middle of a few of Bob Dylan’s “best of” lists. Appearing as the last of Dylan’s Christian albums, it certainly gets a little more love than ‘Saved’ and sometimes deservedly so. It is a powerful album, Dylan still drawn to drag fire from his religious conversion and, more so than ‘Saved’, he was still reaping the reward of the highs of his bucolic live shows. At the time however, the reviews were insipid – Rolling Stone giving the kindest rating of 3 and a half stars, it’s sister publication, ‘The Rolling Stone Album Guide’ being less keen, awarding it only 2 stars out of 5. To the modern listener, they may take issue with the rather too slick, polished production – Rather stylised and ’80’s’ sounding, it’s not as synth-led as, say, “Empire Burlesque” but lacks the heart of an album that should be more rock than gossamer gospel. 

This import CD features a newly discovered tape made from dubs from outtakes and rehearsals connected to the album (With an additional couple of takes from an alternate source slotted on to the end). Empress Valley have been gentle transferrers of this tape. A stunning grab itself from the masters, rich and with that ‘studio but bootleg’ sound that we’ve become accustomed to over the years, giving you that illicit rush that we’ve become accustomed to. 

Thirteen tracks all in all, here they are in order;

Trouble (Take 4) – The tape starts rolling just as the take starts picking up, losing the guitar overdubs for the top, the track really feels and sounds much more like a jam than the polished affair that we hear on the album. The next thing you notice is it’s played a little faster, the slick soloing in the middle turns amateurish and weedy. The clicking, drumstick percussion is out, replaced by a heavier beat, like someone playing cardboard boxes instead. The track draws to a natural end with Dylan asking, “Did you get any of that?”

The Grooms Still Waiting At The Altar (Correct Speed) – A slower, heavier sound to this track. Only maybe by semitones, the unpolished gruff crunch of the bootleg making this the preferable listening experience. The tape ends with a little spare, organ and disbelieving cries of awe from the control room, alongside harmonies from the gospel choir.  

Bolero / This Heart Of Mine (Instrumental Take 1) – It’s already a beautiful track but what might make you consider ‘This Heart Of Mine’ even more? Try this instrumental for a start. As delicate as rice paper, the track chimes beautifully, the sweet guitar lines nestling gently against each other, this having been named an instrumental, you can hear Dylan’s voice in the very back ground, keeping time.

This Heart Of Mine (Outtake) – Now you’ve heard the backing, we go forward to a more polished take. Preceded by a count in, a fresh Dylan vocal. This take is actually clearer than the finished take, the guitar takes as much of the floor as the piano but we lack the backing harmonies which would be worked on later. 

Property Of Jesus (Original mix) – Beginning with the sound of tape starting up, there is a brief bass and piano warm up prior to the count in. The production itself is a great deal more AM radio than FM.

Caribbean Wind (Outtake) – One of those songs that Dylan battled with, it’s appearances, though lauded by critics when it was played live, was brief as despite various run throughs in the studio, never quite fit with the ideal concept, Dylan took the decision to file the song away.  This is one of only 3 of the completed takes, the same as on the Scorpio set but in much better quality. 

Magic (Outtake – Full Version) – An upbeat rocker with a very rock n’ roll / Buddy Holly edge, it was a serious contender for inclusion on the album though deemed to be too frothy alongside the rest of the content (Not specifically by Dylan), it lost it’s position and was dropped before the final pressing. Maybe I might be the only person who thinks that because of Dylan’s romantic position at this point, he was almost happy to let his mask slip a little by turning out something that more poppy than the serious religious affectations, also, it could just be one of those throwaway pieces that he’d considered for. Running at 5:09, this is the longest version available.
Let It Be Me (Outtake) – A version of the track that the Everly Brothers made famous. (Or otherwise known as ‘Je t’appartiens’, if you’re French and of a certain age.) originally included on the B-side of the single, ‘Heart Of Mine’, this is one of those moments in the Dylan would take to calling out for in the studio – Dylan knows it, his backing singers are familiar with it, his band also know but they drop in a very loose version all the same – As nice as it is to hear, it’s one of those that you wouldn’t bookmark for future listening, unlike the take on ‘Mystery Train’ (See below)

Watered Down Love (Outtake) – Much clearer on here than the mixed album, you can hear various calls at 2:38 by Dylan (“Alright”) that are not audible on the CV.

Trouble (Instrumental Jam) – A run through of the track between takes, if only to get a groove going, there is a very distant (Dylan) vocal underneath but, again, it’s much more of a place keeper as opposed to anything definitive. 

Mystery Train (Outtake) – A full band run through of this oldie, very probably at the behest of Dylan again, the band are full of it, itchy worm guitar lines, baseball stadia organ, full throated backing and a nice warming build to power. It is unfortunately brief for it’s 3:53 length but one of the highlights of this set.

Shot Of Love (Outtake) – A much earlier mix, this omits the harmonies used on the official album, again, it’s clearer than the mixed artefact, Dylan’s vocals a a lot bolder, the piano that was mixed out almost entirely on the CV is much more present bringing more texture to the piece. It also fades out more quickly than the finished version, leaving an extended coda.

Every Grain Of Sand (Original Mix) –  “Try that one more time .. let’s try that one more time” suggests Dylan, whether this means the song or an element within isn’t quite clear. The track doesn’t really differ from the official piece musically but upon mastering, the CV was applied with some heavy compression, listen again and really hear it breathe. 

Bonus tracks; Both bonus tracks are taken from ‘Studio Master Reel #14’. The quality is the same as the tape above with just a little tape wrinkle on the first track.

Bolero / Heart Of Mine (Inst. take 2) – Beginning with the sound of the tape starting up, this take almost immediately begins with a bum note, carries on gamely but Dylan’s solo almost breaks down too – maybe it’s apparent that he shouldn’t be trying too hard on a warm up but there are some particular errors made. It all folds at 2:46 when the band decide that it’s possibly better that they give up.

Bolero / Heart Of Mine (Take 3 w. Distant off mic vocal) – Another near instrumental, much better played instrumentally but in the back ground, very distantly, it sounds like Dylan isn’t taking this seriously at all, calling out his lyrics in an operatic style, make that ‘Pavarotti singing Dylan in a bar style’, and you’re much closer to the point. This only continues half way through when the singing stops and the track continues apace. It ends as the band decide just to wrap it all up.
What can I say? An extraordinary new boot with some serious upgrades and new material from one of Dylan’s more curious directions – Finally, the chance to hear some extra tracks that never made the cut alongside the usual ‘making of ..’ style tracks, along with the fantastically stylish packaging (A wonderful looking picture disk!) makes this an essential boot to get and may very well be the biggest release this year so far.  

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