Review: “Lost on the River” by The New Basement Tapes is damn fine listening

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Basement tapesDecember 1, 2014- By Steven E. Greer, MD

I am a simple man. Most material things are of little interest to me. What gives me great pleasure is genuine music with good lyrics, vocals, and guitars.

Well, that has been in short supply for decades, given the demise of the music industry. When a good new album does come out, I am as happy as a kid getting birthday presents.

I saw the Showtime documentary about the making of “Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes”, and it sounded good enough to buy the album. This is one of the rare new additions to my collection.

In 1967, Bob Dylan was getting sick of fame and literally ran away to hide from the press in a farm house in Woodstock (before the concert Woodstock happened). A motorcycle accident was the catalyst. In the pink basement of his rented home, other musicians, such as Robbie Robertson, joined him in secret they began to make informal recordings of new songs, never expecting any of them to be published. CBS Records eventually released them as “The basement tapes”. Many of the songs also became hits covered by other bands.

However, there was a shoebox full of paper with lyrics scribbled on them, that were never turned into songs. 47-years later, producer T Bone Burnett assembled a team of the best musicians and assigned them the task of putting music to the Dylan lyrics. They were allowed to change the lyrics as they saw fit. They had two weeks to use the recording studio of the iconic Capitol Record building in Los Angeles.

The musical team compiled by T Bone for The New Basement Tapes was comprised of Elvis Costello, Rhiannon Giddens, Taylor Goldsmith, Jim James and Marcus Mumford. Johnny Depp played guitar for the track “Kansas City”.

Marcus’ band “Mumford and Sons” made the Grammy winning Album of the Year, “Babel”, in 2012. Jim James leads his band, “My Morning Jacket”. Ms. Giddens is a soul and blues singer with an unreal voice. Mr. Goldsmith is an up and comer chosen for his great voice and song writing, and the veteran of the group was Mr. Costello.

All of the musicians are genuinely talented, writing their own songs, playing their own instruments, and filling stadiums. T Bone chose the perfect group with synergistic talents.

Some of the songs, such as “Lost on the River”, were recorded in multiple versions with each musician giving the lyrics their own interpretation. The track “Kansas City” is breaking out as one the bigger hits.

Bob Dylan is not to everyone’s liking. That is why The New Basement Tapes is such a great idea. It takes the best voices and guitarists of the day and combines them with classic Dylan lyrics. Bob might well be a bit jealous hearing what this group did with his songs. The New Basement Tapes is the best new music I have heard in many years.

Coincidentally, Bob Dylan is play several shows at the Beacon Theater right now through December 3.

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