Bob Dylan – How I Spent The Summer (Empress Valley)

Bob Dylan, ‘How I Spent The Summer’ (Empress Valley Supreme Disk)

Highway 61 Revisited / Maggie’s Farm / I and I / All Along The Watchtower / The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carol / Tangled Up In Blue / Desolation Row / It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry / Masters Of War / Ballad Of A Thin Man / Girl From The North Country / Tombstone Blues (62:13)

Tracks 2, 3, 4, 5 and 8 = Nantes, France 30th June 1984 / Tracks 9, 10 and 11 = Madrid, Spain, 26th June 1984 / Track 1 = Grenoble, France, 3rd July 1984/ Track 6 = Rotterdam, Netherlands, 6th June 1984 * / Track 7 = Rome, Italy, 21st June 1984 / Track 12 = Slane, Ireland, 8th July 1984 (All tracks from multi-track, except * from soundboard)-

Released in 1984, “Real Live” is Dylan’s “Still Life”, the sober sounding result of “My Middle Ages”, where most musicians of the 1960’s had now reached their 40’s and were slowing down due to either still having their heads in their 20’s while their bodies had succumbed to gravity or had reached a plateau in their creativity and were stood around their note books wondering where their spark had gone. Dylan’s plans for a South American tour had been scuppered, it was this short European tour that replaced it, the resulting live album may also have made for the loss of revenue. 

The tour band – Mick Taylor, Ian McLagan, Greg Sutton and Colin Allen – were also derided as being a bit stiff, a little too lumber, tested by Dylan who was spiritedly dashing through ideas, re-rendering his past classics, only free to really take off when he was running solo – While that might be true occasionally and the rather sterile sound of the decade seems to have seeped in, it doesn’t cut away necessarily from what Dylan was doing on stage. Dylan rode through a good clutch of artists to support him at the rehearsals and, after the Plugz debacle at the beginning of the year, obviously felt he had a good team surrounding him. 

Here we have a great new single disk release from Empress Valley – apparently taken from a compilation of tracks taken from various shows that weren’t used for the official album and labelled with the legend, “How I Spent The Summer”. The sound is almost uniformly superb – Raw without too much polish but still undeniably taken from what could only be considered for an official release – though certainly less boggy or as heavily “AM’d” than the ‘Real Live’ album. There’s very little audience noise apparent, even between tracks, however, what there is, is gratifyingly enthusiastic. 

The disk starts with two rollicking versions of ‘Highway 61’ and ‘Maggie’s Farm’. All Chuck Berry chords and gaping grins. Their power infectious while it’s stride is wide. The first track preceded by a short flurry of tuning up which befits the just paced on stage motif, it also features a solid, almost parodic crescendo. The circular licks that punctuate ‘Maggie’s Farm’, are mesmeric. 

‘I and I’ (The only track from the later albums, yes, everything else is older than 10 years by this point) and ‘All Along The Watchtower’ follow the same stance. Muscular and broody rubs against spirited and lithe – Especially as Mick is fully prompted to allow his inner Hendrix to bubble up over the top. 

After the propulsion of the first four tracks, the set settles in to a quieter pace for ‘The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carol’, the quality of which is mind blowing – Remember the clarity of the Halloween Show from ‘64 or Hollow Horns ‘Stolen Moments’, that’s the kind of clarity that we’re aiming at. There is an almost imperceptible squeak that comes from Dylan’s guitar through the middle of the track but it’s merely a quibble. 

There’s a detour from clarity with ‘Tangled Up In Blue’, slightly less than polished, the sound becomes a little more muffled, however, the content makes up for that – Dylan starts the song hesitantly as he finds his form but then starts to obliterate the form of the lyrics by dashing them aside and making them up on the spot – There’s so many changes and detours that Dylan goes through it’d be just as easy to write them all out again here – But I won’t, as you’ll just want to listen to this take as it rolls. ‘Desolation Row’ is turned to a brutal folk force – The speed ratcheted up as Dylan strums away more enthusiastically than usual, his delivery a mix between folksinger and arena filler. 

Back to the rock and it’s ‘It Takes A Train To Laugh ..’ that has more sinew to it’s muscles – Some amazing, blocky guitar work by Mick Taylor only helps to give the song it’s stature as the rest of the band fold to close quarters around it. At an almost thrilling pace it whistles past taking no pause to lift. 
‘Masters Of War’ is a stoggy take – Dylan is on form as the spirit of the track but the musicianship is part of the formula, however and doesn’t catch fire for me. 

Then we have an fireside telling of the reoccurring, ‘Girl From The North Country’. Taken from one of Dylan’s extended acoustic solos, there’s a quality that brings Dylan back to his youthful best alongside his steadily maturing voice. It’s 2nd decade of performance, Bob has lost none of the passion for this girl and the harp playing that centers the track is suitably sweet.  

We round off the set with an enthusiastic ‘Tombstone Blues’ – Another track where Mick Taylor is allowed to free flow again. His crunchy noodling working sparks around Dylan’s verses. A splendid closer all said. 

 A splendid set to own, it throws great shade over the official album for sure. The aesthetics are a beautiful deep blue with a very neat little title at the bottom of the front cover, a clear track listing on the rear and a nice mixture of tour paraphernalia inside. A must for collectors and strong consideration for casual collectors alike. 

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