Thursday, December 5, 2013

Bob Dylan - Hotel '61 Revisited

In December of 1961, exactly one month after completing the sessions for his debut album, and three months before it was released, Bob Dylan stopped in Minnesota and crashed at an apartment occupied by a friend, Bonnie Beecher.  A mutual friend, Tony Glover recorded on tape twenty-six songs Dylan performed from his early repertoire.

Though recorded in 1961 and in a rather impromptu style, the quality is actually very high.  This is also Dylan at some of his most personal and intimate, almost a combination of his titular debut and Blood On The Tracks.  Dylan sings about poverty and struggling on a more personal, less societal level with lovely results.

The recordings have been dubbed "The Minnesota Hotel Tapes" since they were released.  There is also another tape from seven months earlier in much worse quality dubbed "The Minneapolis Party Tape."  In total, this makes for almost three full discs of material, that I have cut down to twelve tracks.  The whole December tape is excellent and worthy of digging up.  But I wanted to make it more user-friendly.

One of my shorter bootlegs, and maybe a pass for people not too partial to Dylan's early work, Hotel '61 Revisited does work as an album in concept.  The themes in the songs selected really compliment each other, and since Dylan is a storyteller as much musician, I wanted to pay respects to that as well.

Bob Dylan - Hotel '61 Revisited

Side A:

1.  Hard Times In New York Town
2.  I Aint Got No Home
3.  Cocaine Blues
4.  Poor Lazarus
5.  Dink's Song
6.  Wade In The Water

Side B:

7.  Sally Gal
8.  It's Hard To Be Blind
9.  VD City
10.  Stealin'
11.  I Was Young When I Left Home

 The reasoning for the "hotel" misnomer is not touched upon much on the internet, though I did find an explanation that Bonnie Beecher's apartment was a common place for traveling artists to stay at and possibly perform.  Thusly, it became the Hotel Tape, and since it was in Minnesota, the Minnesota Hotel Tape was the name commonly given to the recordings.

The album opens with Hart Times In New York Town, a song about class struggle and division using Dylan's original lyrics over a traditional tune.  It sets the mood and reveals many motifs that Dylan will utilize through out.  This is one of Dylan's more popular bootleg tracks.

I Aint Got No Home is a cover of a Woody Guthrie who heavily inspired Dylan at the time.  In fact, many of the songs Dylan performs on The Hotel Tapes are covers of Guthrie.  Furthermore, this seems to be an adaptation of the classic I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore.

In Hotel 61 Revisited, Bob touches upon some more intense themes that go hand-in-hand with class struggles that society was and is still facing.  Poor Lazarus is an African-American "bad man ballad" and also a work song according to wikipedia, which I'm assuming means it was sung often by slaves.  This was in the very early 60's and rather early in the Civil Rights Movement.  Though he focuses on it in many of his official albums, his more blunt, in-your-face songs were left out.  See: Hiding Too Long off Greatest Boots Vol. 2.

Dink's Song is another old folk song that was first heard and recorded being sung by a woman named Dink while she was doing laundry in the early 1900's.  This leads into Wade in the Water, which ends the first side.  Dylan wails on his guitar and bellows a classic southern spiritual, another song common in the black community of the early 20th century.

Sally Gal was later recorded for The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, but left off the album.  This is the earliest rendition of this tune available and is one of the only Dylan-composed tracks on the collection.  It is also one of the lightest and shortest.  It nearly got cut, but it is an original and works well to open side B.

In the opening of It's Hard to Be Blind, Dylan claims that he wrote it, though wikipedia says otherwise.  He also claims that the song is called "It's Hard To Be Poor."  Regardless, this is one of the most cherished tracks from this collection and shows that even with a young, less-experience voice, he can easily spark emotion.

VD City is part of a sort of "VD Suite" on the full tape.  It is the third song with VD Blues and VD Waltz before it, and VD Gunner Blues.  Taking it out of this jocular movement makes it a little more serious and follows suit with the themes of Hotel '61.

Stealin' was originally recorded by Memphis Jug Band in 1928, and is another classic American folk song.  It gives a bit of upbeat before the two final tracks.  The penultimate track, another that Dylan claims to have written, is among the most famous from these tapes.  Dylan says on tape that it isn't necessarily a song about him, but that it's definitely for someone.

And the final track, Black Cross, definitely is the most beloved track from the collection.  It is a tale about racial struggles in literal story form with his guitar acting as a score of some sort.  One of Dylan's most interesting tracks for sure, ending this look into Dylan's mind and abilities prior to his first album's release.

Please enjoy these songs and I hope this can fill your fantasy of Dylan's unreleased first album :)

- blashco

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