Bob Dylan: Springtime in New York (1980-1985)

Another bootleg release from Dylan’s vault. This one is a treasure. Material is pulled from the sessions that produced three of Dylan’s best albums: Shot of Love, Infidels and Empire Burlesque. Dylans’ early-mid 1970s period was fertile with some of his most inspired work, followed by a few unfocused and weaker works. The period of set, 1980-1985, Dylan is at the top of his game, and that includes the the musicians and productions on those three albums.

I am not a Dylan completist, but I do enjoy combing through his sets of alternate takes, live tracks and demos for gems. The Springtime in New York set also comes in a deluxe set of five discs for the hardcore Dylan fans.

I went for the two disc set. A couple of things I like about this period. Dylan had emerged from his Christian conversion phase, so the lyrics were not soaked in his spiritual beliefs. Dylan was in a rock and roll mood. Dylan recruited some exceptional musicians for these recordings and touring. The tracks on this set are less polish and more grit.

Notes about the musicians

For the Shot of Love sessions, Dylan brings in Steve Ripley, Danny Korchmar (James Taylor, Jackson Browne) and Fred Tackett (Little Feat, many sessions) on guitars; Tim Drummond (Neil Young) on bass, Jim Keltner (George Harrison, everybody in the world) on drums; for keyboards it was Carl Pickhardt, Willie Smith and Benmont Tench (Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers) on keyboards. There were female backup singers including Clydie King (Dylan’s girlfriend). This album has the feel of Dylan’s late 1970s sessions, it was the third of his religious albums. Dylan used Bruce Springsteen’s producer Chuck Plotkin.

The Infidels sessions were produced by Dylan and Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits). Knopfler was joined on guitar by former Rolling Stone lead guitarist Mick Taylor, who would often tour with Dylan. The styles of these two guitarists were quite different, but seemed to fit together well. On keyboards was mostly Alan Clark, who was in Dire Straits. Sly and Robbie, Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, played drums and bass. These guys were popular session players who could lay down a hot groove like no one else. Knopfler brought a slick, digital sound to the sessions, the opposite of Dylan’s usual process. According to the liner notes, when Knopfler departed to tour with Dire Straits, Dylan reworked some of songs and introduced others. The versions here are minus some of Knopfler’s production polish.

Dylan produced the Empire Burlesque sessions himself, using Mike Campbell (guitar), Howie Epstein (bass) and Benmont Tench (keyboards) from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Don Heffington and Anton Figg played drums. Dylan used Arthur Baker to mix the record and make it sound contemporary. The liner notes convey the studio polish as a major weakness of the album, giving the album a dated sound. The songs represented here from that album are remixed or alternate versions.

Disc 1

Angelina – Outtake from Shot of Love. A long story song, a gospel-flavored tale of a woman with quite a colorful life.

Need a Woman – Not released on a studio album, this is a bluesy, pulsating groove song that Dylan might have done with The Band many years before.

Let’s Keep It Between Us – A soulful, bluesy plea to a woman. Never released on a studio album.

Price of Love – Shot of Love outtake. Pulsating groove with horns and backup singers. This could have been a Rolling Stones song. Some blistering electric guitar, dueling solos.

Don’t Ever Take Yourself Away – Shot of Love outtake. Almost a reggae beat.

Fur Slippers – Shot of Love outtake. Hypnotic blues, just two guitars and a piano.

Yes Sir, No Sir – Shot of Love outtake. Heavy electric guitar riff. This takes Dylan in a different direction. Very nice song.

Jokerman – Alternate take from Infidels. Always one of my favorite songs. Not a lot different from the album track.

Lord Protect My Child – Infidels outtake. A yearning song of prayer, with bluesy slide guitar.

Blind Willie McTell – Infidels outtake. This song would surface later, but not a proper studio album. It is blues groove, a story song. Great slide guitar by Mick Taylor.

Don’t Fall Apart on Me Tonight – Alternate take from Infidels. One of Dylan’s great ballads. If it sounds like the album version, it should, except for Dylan’s vocals. Great finger-picking from Mark Knopfler and slide from Taylor.

Neighborhood Bully – Infidels outtake. Riff song. This would fit on the Rolling Stones Some Girls or Tattoo You. What’s missing are any good solos.

Too Late – Infidels outtake. The liner notes reference a Blood on the Tracks feel. I can see that. Aside from the organ and bass, it is a very acoustic song.

Disc 2

Foot of Pride – An outtake from Infidels. Great guitar work. Steady, driving, bluesy.

Sweetheart Like You – Alternative take from Infidels. This is an even better version than the album track. Less polish, the song breathes. Dylan says in the liner notes it is a more intimate version. True.

Someone’s Got a Hold of My Heart – Another outtake from Infidels. It would morph into “Tight Connection to My Heart” for Empire Burlesque. A very good song with some fine guitar riffs. Lacking in polish, but extra groove.

I And I – Alternate take from Infidels. A different speed from the album track and grittier. Notice the Knopfler Dire Straits finger-picking guitar work.

Tell Me – An Infidels outtake. This song sounds like an early 1970s Dylan composition for Hurricane or Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. A Tex-Mex country feel, with slide guitar and harmonica solos.

Enough is Enough – A live track, not included on a studio album, but recorded during this period. A rolling blues song. Ian McLaglan on keyboards and Mick Taylor on blistering electric guitar.

Tight Connection to My Heart (Has Anybody Seen My Love) – Less glossy than the album version from Empire Burlesque.

Seeing the Real You At Last – This is a killer track, the electric guitar work muscles the song along. Alternate take from Empire Burlesque.

Emotionally Yours – A ballad, it reminds me of The Band, the swirling organ and piano are soulful. Also from Empire Burlesque.

Clean Cut Kid – Also from Empire Burlesque. A bluesy, barroom rocker.

New Danville Girl – Nearly 12 minutes long story song. A fine version, but is goes on quite a while. Written by Sam Shepard. Also from Empire Burlesque.

Dark Eyes – A folk song, reminiscent of his early work. Acoustic guitar and harmonica. Also from Empire Burlesque.


4 thoughts on “Bob Dylan: Springtime in New York (1980-1985)

  1. While my knowledge of Dylan’s catalog has large gaps (I’ve mostly listened to his early work up to the mid-70s and don’t know his other bootleg releases), I have to agree “Springtime in New York” is really good. In fact, I have to admit it was pretty eye-opening to me.

    The funny thing is when I wrote about Springtime shortly after it had been released, I read reviews in Rolling Stone and several other music publications that all pretty much said the ’80s were a low point in Dylan’s career. Rolling Stone dug up a quote from Dylan himself, in which he basically said the same.

    When I subsequently listened to Springtime, I kept thinking, ‘gee, Dylan sounded mighty good for supposedly being at his low point!’

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    1. It was a pleasant surprise, but since it represents one of my favorite Dylan periods, I founded it quite rewarding. These original albums had a little too much production gloss for my taste.

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