‘I Got Lost On The River . . .’

High on my want list these days is a CD titled Lost On The River: The New Basement Tapes. I spent a couple pleasant hours the other week watching a Showtime documentary about the creation of the album, and here’s how it came to be:

Sometime in the past few years, someone associated with Bob Dylan – his publisher, I would imagine – came across some lyrics that Dylan had written in 1967, during the time he spent in Woodstock, New York, playing frequently with the musicians who became The Band and recording the music that became known as the Basement Tapes.

(Dylan has recently released a collection of the Basement Tapes that supplants or complements – I’m not sure which verb to use – the 1975 collection curated by Robbie Robertson of The Band. The newly released collection comes in two versions: a six-CD marathon of everything the musicians recorded during those days in Woodstock, and a two-CD distillation. I have yet to hear either, but I’m thinking that when I do my shopping, I’ll settle for the two-CD set.)

Dylan’s publisher got in touch with producer T-Bone Burnett and asked if the producer could find folks who could turn the lyrics into songs. Burnett made certain Dylan approved of the project, according to Wikipedia, and then recruited musicians to create and record songs for the lyrics: Elvis Costello, Jim James from My Morning Jacket, Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons, Taylor Goldsmith from Dawes, and Rhiannon Giddens from the Carolina Chocolate Drops.

The Showtime film – titled Lost Songs: The Basement Tapes Continued – shows the process of writing and recording the new/old songs. There were multiple melodies for some of the lyrics, and the documentary gives some insight through observation and interviews into the creative process of each of the five musicians.

I enjoy music by all five of the folks recruited (though I’m less acquainted with Goldsmith and Dawes than I am with the others), but my favorite among them is likely Giddens and her string band, the Carolina Chocolate Drops. And it was Giddens who, to me, was most interesting in the film as she opened up about her writing process and about the pressure of working with the high-level talent that was in the studio during the project.

I’ve heard a few things from the album beyond what was in the documentary – there are some videos (some official, some not) at YouTube – and I’m looking forward to hearing more. (I’m currently No. 10 on the local library’s waiting list.) I’m pretty sure, though, that even after absorbing all the new/old tunes, my favorite is going to be Giddens’ ethereal take on the title tune, “Lost On The River.”


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