Music Monday: The New Basement Tapes’ “Lost on the River”

Throughout the six decades we’ve admired and loved him, Bob Dylan has stood at the forefront of music culture and has continued to be a primary influence on the way artists create music. On November 11, a collection of uncovered Dylan-lyrics were released, presented via the vocals and music from some of the more archetypal artists on today’s scene. I will now introduce to you… Lost on the River from the New Basement Tapes.

After narrowly surviving a motorcycle accident in 1966, our wounded and recovering Dylan holed himself away in the basement of a rural New York home with his touring band. At the time, said band performed under the moniker the Hawks, but would subsequently be re-titled the Band and would grow to be one of the greatest groups in rock and roll history — arguably due in part to these basement recording sessions. Over the next several months, Dylan and his troupe recorded over a hundred songs, from playful ditties to cover songs to impromptu performances. Amongst the most coveted of manifestations from these recordings was, of course, Dylan’s original content. The tracks weren’t initially intended for mass distribution, but gradually started to turn up on mysterious and secretly titled albums in the late-’60s and early-’70s. Eventually, in 1975, Columbia Records released an album of the summertime sessions, featuring only sixteen of the recorded tracks and aptly titled The Basement Tapes.

At some point in recent years, Dylan’s publisher contacted producer T Bone Burnett about some uncovered lyrics that had never been put to use. Burnett took the brilliant next step of hand-picking a band composed of some of his friends, who all happen to be some of the greatest musicians of our time. Elvis Costello, Jim James (My Morning Jacket), Marcus Mumford (Mumford & Sons), Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes), and Rhiannon Giddens (Carolina Chocolate Drops) made up the pack and the New Basement Tapes was born.

Each artist in the band wrote their own music to accompany Dylan’s lyrics, taking their own interpretive creativity in tone and inflection. It was a risky endeavor, especially considering that there never will be another like Bobby D and even attempting to recreate something he’s already provided runs the risk of crashing and burning. Because Dylan wrote the lyrics during a time when he was feeling particularly indifferent and was making music for the hell of it, Lost on the River isn’t a cohesive and fluid transition of tracks — but it’s not meant to be. The twenty song record profiles each artist individually and allows them to bask in their own technique, and it truly is beautiful. Dylan’s signature wit and sharpened tongue are in no way lost alongside the eclectic tracking. So much of his iconic flavor for making poignant songs is further emphasized in hearing his words flowing out of someone else’s mouth. Lost on the River is a bold undertaking, but would T Bone Burnett have pursued something he doubted would become iconic? No, Burney wouldn’t have.

Lost on the River is streaming on Spotify and is available for purchase in its many impressive formats on iTunesAmazon, or via the New Basement Tapes website.

Have a listen now!

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