Travelin' Thru, 1967-1969: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 15 (Sony Legacy)
Reviewed by Scott Jordan, Fri., Dec. 6, 2019
Fresh off Ken Burns' Country Music revisiting a bearded and reverent Bob Dylan sidling next to Johnny Cash for a groundbreaking television appearance performing "Girl From the North Country," a full disc of unreleased Zimmy/Man in Black duets in Tennessee promises a jackpot. Sadly, familiar streams – "Matchbox," "That's All Right, Mama," "Big River" – don't yield any gems. Constant studio chatter and fumbled lyrics frustrate rather than charm, and even when duetting, Dylan and Cash's aw-shucks mutual admiration smothers artistic collaboration. Disc three's bonus content with banjo legend Earl Scruggs fares better behind both men biting down on a bluesy "To Be Alone With You." (Woe to the interviewer who asks Scruggs if he's nervous about playing with Dylan.) The revelation, then, is the first disc's alternate John Wesley Harding tracks, wherein varied tempos illuminate the austere brilliance of "As I Went Out One Morning" and "All Along the Watchtower." It's a powerful reminder of post-motorcycle accident Dylan's deceptively simple parables. He may have just passed through, but with inspired lyrics framed by Nashville sessionistas' spare and empathetic instrumentation, Dylan's Music City creations like "I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine" rank among his best.