Bob Dylan, who celebrates his 80th birthday today, is so mindbogglingly prolific that he’s recorded songs that would have made a lesser musician’s career — yet he left them off his albums because they didn’t fit or because, well, he’s Dylan and who knows what he was thinking?
Among his greatest: “Up to Me,” an outtake from 1973’s “Blood on the Tracks” (“In 14 months I’ve only smiled once and I didn’t do it consciously”), and “Blind Willie McTell” (left off 1983’s “Infidels” even though it would have the best song on the album).
“Red River Shore” (above), an outtake from 1997’s “Time Out of Mind,” isn’t quite in that league. There’s some awkwardness in the lyrics that Dylan hadn’t quite worked out. Maybe that’s why he didn’t release it at the time; instead, it popped up on “Tell Tale Signs,” a collection of odds and ends from his later years. But it might be my favorite Dylan outtake because of the ancient feel. Even with the electric guitar, it sounds like it could have been recorded 100 years ago.
The collaboration between Dylan and producer Daniel Lanois was magic — and here’s further evidence of that.