Album Review: Bob Dylan (Featuring Johnny Cash) – Travelin’ Through, 1967-1969: The Bootleg Series Vol. 15

To have been a fly on the wall for these recordings...

Written by Bob Paxman
Album Review: Bob Dylan (Featuring Johnny Cash) – Travelin’ Through, 1967-1969: The Bootleg Series Vol. 15
Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and Bob Johnston; Photo credit: Al Clayton/Sony Music Archives

Bob Dylan’s well-chronicled forays to Nashville during the 1960s still hold a rapturous fascination for music fans in general as well as die-hard Dylan buffs. Those yearning for more musical treasures from that period will happily uncover them in the latest chapter in the Bob Dylan Bootleg Series from Columbia/Legacy, Bob Dylan (Featuring Johnny Cash) – Travelin’ Thru, 1967-1969: The Bootleg Series Vol 15. The three-CD set is available November 1.

Travelin’ Thru has everything the serious collector desires: unreleased tracks from Dylan’s John Wesley Harding, Nashville Skyline and Self Portrait sessions in Nashville, impromptu studio banter and previously unavailable recordings. It’s no ragtag compilation, to be sure. Each disc carries its own theme and profiles a distinct point in Dylan’s recording career, lending even greater insight into the icon’s musical philosophy.

Bob Dylan; Photo credit: Al Clayton/Sony Music Archives
Bob Dylan; Photo credit: Al Clayton/Sony Music Archives

Mostly, we get a better idea of the musical rapport between Dylan and his friend Johnny Cash. There was an inkling of it on Nashville Skyline, though only “Girl From the North Country” made it to the final cut. Here, on the second and third discs, fans can hear a variety of collaborations between the two. Both were longtime admirers of the legendary Jimmie Rodgers, and they actually recorded a couple of Rodgers medleys in Nashville, one featuring “Blue Yodel No. 1 (T for Texas),” “The Brakeman’s Blues (Yodeling the Blues Away)” and “Blue Yodel No. 5 (It’s Raining Here).” Cash and Dylan also team up on the Carl Perkins rockabilly classic “Matchbox,” done to a nice shuffle beat.

The bonus treat of these Dylan-Cash sessions comes with the chance to be the veritable fly on the wall. The two share some fun and laughter that are happily captured on the discs, such as when Cash tries to remember the words on “Wanted Man” or when the two sing over each other on Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” and Cash’s “Understand Your Man.” Here’s an additional gem: this is the first known version of “Wanted Man” and the only version of the song ever sung by Dylan.

Practically worth the price of admission is hearing Dylan’s rendition of “Ring of Fire,” which serves as one of the outtake tracks. It’s totally redefined in a different tempo and Dylan’s roadhouse/blues delivery. What a shame that was never made available to the public (before now, that is). Dylan and Cash also give “Ring of Fire” a duet treatment – listen closely to Dylan’s pronunciation of the word “fire” for a true Dylan-esque experience.

Travelin’ Thrudelves further into Dylan’s musical transformation, particularly on disc one. Dylan’s excursions to record in Nashville brought him closer to his country roots. He turned to a leaner production style on 1967’s John Wesley Harding album, and there’s further evidence of that on the alternate versions of “All Along the Watchtower,” “I Pity the Poor Immigrant,” “Drifter’s Escape” and others from those Nashville sessions.

In 1969, Dylan returned to Nashville to record Nashville Skyline. This time around, Dylan delivered a bona fide country record, with prominent steel guitars and more straightforward songs. It proved a bold move but it was further evidence of Dylan’s ever-evolving style. Disc one of Travelin’ Thru showcases alternate versions of several selections from the Nashville Skyline sessions. Pay special note to “Lay Lady Lay,” which begins as an even sparser rendition of the famed single, with merely an acoustic guitar to accompany Dylan. His phrasing is also a shade different. Other alternate versions appearing on the disc include “I Threw It All Away” and the rollicking “Country Pie.”

The third disc contains more of the Dylan-Cash sessions along with Dylan’s appearance on Cash’s ABC television show from the Ryman Auditorium, which originally aired in June of 1969. Plus, you’ll hear outtakes from the Self Portrait album sessions and recordings done in New York with banjo great Earl Scruggs and his sons Randy and Gary.

With its wonderful combination of formerly hidden treasures and remarkable sound clarity, Travelin’ Thru is a must-have.