Lost on the River album displays Dylan’s lyrical prowess

By Caroline Dorey-Stein II Staff Writer

Last month marked the finale of Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes, a music event 47 years in the making. T Bone Burnett, who before becoming a record producer was a touring guitarist in Bob Dylan’s band, is responsible for the production. The album celebrates unearthed Bob Dylan lyrics from that legendary 1967 period with popular artists of today as participants — Burnett, Elvis Costello, Carolina Chocolate Drops’ Rhiannon Giddens, Dawes’ Taylor Goldsmith, My Morning Jacket’s Jim James and Marcus Mumford — who have brought them to life nearly a half century later with their own styles revolutionizing the words of the voice of a generation.

As T Bone Burnett states on the documentation of Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes, “What transpired during those two weeks was amazing for all of us. There was a deep well of generosity and support in the studio at all times, which reflected the tremendous trust and generosity shown by Bob in sharing these lyrics with us in the first place.” The lyrics were written by Bob Dylan in 1967 after his motorcycle accident when he retreated to Big Pink and worked relentlessly on music with five members of the Hawks, who later became the Band.

In March 2014 the group gathered in Capitol Records’ studio where they recorded dozens of songs, trading instrumental and vocal roles on the different album tracks. During the recording sessions, the group was filmed for a documentary for Showtime. Titled “Lost Songs: The Basement Tapes Continued.” The film was directed by Sam Jones with an exclusive interview with Bob Dylan. It goes behind the scenes of the recording process and tells the story of stumbling upon the lost lyrics.

The most popular song on the album is track number three, “Kansas City.” The documentary captures the recording of this piece in a dramatic, reflective light. Marcus Mumford, who is by far the least accustomed to stardom among the group and appears nervous and lacking confidence during his interviews, is given the lead vocals. This is his big test, and he nails it. Johnny Depp is even featured in the recording, stopping by the studio to play guitar. After the final chorus, “Going back to Kansas City,” Mumford smiles and begins to cry as a smile creeps across his face. The color has returned to his flesh and he laughs self consciously, overflowing with relief. Here he is playing with the big guys and he’s officially joined the club.

In the style of the original Basement Tapes, Lost on the River plays rather erratically instead of in a carefully sequenced, unified album. While it is an uneven listen, it is able to highlight the group’s wide range of talents.

In addition to Mumford’s lovelorn “Kansas City” is Giddens’ “Spanish Mary” which displays her soothing voice simmering over percussion and her minstrel banjo. Costello’s throaty voice over a guitar ballad contrasts with Goldsmith’s smooth voice and is paired with the mandolin-accented “Florida Key.”

The New Basement Tapes distinguishes itself from Dylan and The Band with tracks such as James’ “Nothing to It” with a mock horn section and an air of Motown in the soulful chorus. At the end of the documentary, you get the sense Dylan’s true gift to the group wasn’t his lyrics, but the opportunity for these five musicians to birth their own Basement Tapes.

Senior Caroline Dorey-Stein is a staff writer. Her email is caroline.dorey-stein@fandm.edu.

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