Slowly but surely we’re getting an idea of what the album that T Bone Burnett made using a sheaf of lyrics that Bob Dylan wrote during the summer of 1967, while the infamous “Basement Tapes” sessions took place, will be like.
A ‘deluxe’ version of the album, titled Lost On The River: the New Basement Tapes, will include 20 songs and be released on November 20, 2014.
The project began when T Bone Burnett got those lyrics from a Dylan representative.
Burnett wrote an article about it that ran in England’s The Guardian.
Last autumn, I received a message from Bob Dylan’s publisher telling me a box of lyrics had been found, all handwritten by Dylan in 1967, during the time of the original Basement Tapes recordings. The question to me was: “Would you like to do something with these?”
Shocked, I asked if Dylan was into this. Having been told he was, I asked no more questions, but set out to come up with something that would do justice to Dylan and be true to the spirit in which the lyrics were originally written.
“These are not B-level Dylan lyrics,” Burnett told the L.A.Times in March of this year while still recording of the album. “They’re lyrics he just never got around to finishing.”
Burnett invited Elvis Costello, Rhiannon Giddens (Carolina Chocolate Drops), Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes), Jim James (My Morning Jacket) and Marcus Mumford to be involved in writing music for the lyrics and recording the completed songs.
We sent 16 lyrics to each artist ahead of time, and they all showed up at Capitol Studios in the basement of the Capitol Records building in Hollywood in March of this year. Some had written a melody or two, others had written a dozen, but a couple of days before the sessions started, an additional eight lyrics from that same period showed up. Those lyrics, which no one had time to think about, led to some of the freest recordings.
Elvis Costello played a bunch of the recordings to the British writer, Richard Williams who wrote about it for The Guardian.
Elvis Costello leaned forward in his chair to address the small gathering in a West London recording studio on the subject of a bunch of hitherto unknown Bob Dylan lyrics dating from 1967. “One of them,” he said, “has a line that goes ‘A thousand doors couldn’t hold me back from you.’ If you wrote a line like that, you wouldn’t keep it in a drawer for 47 years – unless you were Bob Dylan.”
After listening to 11 songs once (the deluxe version of the album includes 20 songs) Williams wrote:
At this stage, even the most optimistic Dylanologist would not expect their hero to have a bunch of forgotten “Desolation Rows” or “I Shall Be Releaseds” mouldering in the attic, and the lyrics he passed on to Burnett are unlikely to provoke a radical reconsideration of his artistic development. There are indeed some nice lines, like these from the title track, which Costello set to a tune featuring a very un-Dylanish chromatic melody, teamed with a country-soul chorus that would not be out of place on a James Carr or Percy Sledge record: “Tears of loneliness hidden within/ As he goes from one woman to the next … Then falls in love with one/ It’s hard but true/ But it’s so much harder when the woman is you.”
Songs that stuck in the memory after a single listening included James’s “Down on the Bottom,” whose howling slow-motion rockabilly guitars and sepulchral echo cry out for the appearance of Roy Orbison; the sitting-on-a-barbed-wire-fence mood of Costello’s “Married to My Hack”; Giddens’s “Spanish Mary” and “Duncan and Jimmy,” with their banjo and fiddle and keening lead vocals; and Mumford’s sweet, ardent “Kansas City.”
We’ll all have a chance to hear the songs on November 20, and maybe sooner, if some or all are previewed.
For now, check out Jim James singing “Nothing To It” with help from Elvis Costello and Marcus Mumford.
You can pre-order the album here.
1. Down On The Bottom
2. Married To My Hack
3. Kansas City
4. Spanish Mary
5. Liberty Street
6. Nothing To It
7. Golden Tom – Silver Judas
8. When I Get My Hands On You
9. Duncan and Jimmy
10. Florida Key
11. Hidee Hidee Ho #11
12. Lost On The River #12
14. Card Shark
15. Quick Like A Flash
16. Hidee Hidee Ho #16
17. Diamond Ring
18. The Whistle Is Blowing
19. Six Months In Kansas City (Liberty Street)
20. Lost On The River #20
— A Days Of The Crazy-Wild blog post —