“Let’s just put this one down for kicks,” Bob Dylan says as he strums “All Over You,” and that sums up the spirit of the fabled Witmark Demos. It’s the latest in his astounding Bootleg Series — the 1962-1964 publishing demos, just Dylan and his guitar trying out songs. Over two discs, you can hear him outgrow folky purity and leap into the wild, madcap menace of rock & roll — which means you can hear him turn into Bob Dylan.
Fifteen of the tracks have never been released, including cult faves like the hobo ramble “Walkin’ Down the Line” and the sex romp “All Over You.” No matter how well you know the definitive versions, the demos offer surprises. “Boots of Spanish Leather” has never sounded so defeated — as if Dylan actually talked that girl into staying and now wishes he’d let her sail off to Barcelona.
As he plays the intro, he announces, “This imposes a real problem. ‘Impose,’ is that the right word? Supposes a real problem.” But like all of Dylan’s greatest work, The Witmark Demos impose and suppose at the same time — that’s why they remain so fresh.
The Original Mono Recordings, which collects Dylan’s first eight albums, is a real shock. In mono, all kinds of details jump out: the bass all over Blonde on Blonde, the piano on “Like a Rolling Stone,” the weird chuckle at the end of “Desolation Row.” Every Dylan freak should hear the mono John Wesley Harding. In “I Am a Lonesome Hobo,” the rhythm section trails the singer down the street, like it’s waiting for him to drop dead so they can steal his boots. Dylan’s scariest album? It now sounds even scarier.