As Bob Dylan turns 80, it’s easy to look at his back catalogue of 39 studio albums as a clearly-mapped journey through the man’s life. Early folk recordings give way to protest songs, a turn towards the electric, an amble into country music, back out the other side with a 1970s renaissance and an ill-fated period as a born-again Christian before a period of lesser albums and hidden gems, topped off with a late-career renaissance.

This is all true, but alongside this well-worn path is a parallel discography: the Bootleg Series. The first volumes of this series of B-sides and rarities were released in 1991 to collect songs and outtakes which had long been circulating as bootleg recordings (hence the less than imaginative name). For most musicians, a collection like this would be an interesting diversion for completionists and obsessives, but nothing to write home about for the casual fan. The sheer quality and range of Dylan’s output means that this isn’t the case with the Bootleg Series though, which contains folk staples from his early career, original recordings that never made it onto albums, and alternate versions of album songs which often surpass the chosen take, or at the very least provide an entirely new take on an old favourite.

This being said, there is an awful lot of material to sift through when getting stuck in to the Bootleg Series. This can be part of the charm, but can also be quite off-putting for someone who just wants to press play and enjoy themselves, rather than digging through the…less impressive tracks on offer.

With that in mind, here are five of the best bootleg boxsets to help you hit the ground running…

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Volume 9: The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964

The Witmark Demos are the closest to a ‘traditional’ B-side and rarity collection as you’ll get from Dylan. A lot of them are alternate versions of rarities already released previously, and many tail off as a young Bob Dylan curses himself for forgetting verses or fumbling his parts. It’s not going to interest many casual fans, but it provides a heart-warming feeling of a time when Bob Dylan was just another New York folk musician, rather than a living, breathing, Nobel Prize-winning legend.

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Volume 14: More Blood, More Tracks (1969-1971)

'Blood On The Tracks' is one of Dylan’s more standalone albums, with little either side of it which approaches a similar sound. What this collection does is to bulk that period out with alternate versions and slower, more intimate takes which bring the lyrical storytelling to the forefront.

To add to these parallel recordings, there’s an additional gem that needs to be heard by any fan of 'Blood On The Tracks' – ‘Up To Me’. Left off of the album at the last minute, this is a fully realised addition which is at least as good as the songs which made it onto the final release. A lot of the Bootleg Series have charm because of the rough edges to the songs, but here you don’t even have to work to imagine what the song could be like given the full studio treatment.

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Volume 15: Travelin’ Thru, 1967-1969

While alternate takes of songs from 'John Wesley Harding' and 'Nashville Skyline' are good fun, the real draw here is nearly 20 tracks recorded with Johnny Cash. Most are charmingly shambolic, with both men singing over one another or failing to sing choruses at the same time, but this informality just serves to heighten the feeling of spending an evening sat around the campfire with two of history’s greatest musicians.

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Volume 5: Bob Dylan Live 1975, The Rolling Thunder Revue

One of the more straightforward Bootleg releases, this volume takes recordings from different gigs on Dylan’s 1975 tour to build a rough approximation of a live show from the period. Old classics get the biggest crowd reception, and a jacked-up electric rework of ‘The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll’ feels like a completely different song to the original.

But it’s the show-stopping finale which really elevates this volume, a punchy rendition of the then yet-to-be-released ‘Hurricane’, prefaced with a plea from Dylan for those in the audience to help free Rubin “Hurricane” Carter from jail. It’s a much less restrained version than the one which made it onto record, and all the more powerful for it.

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Volumes 1-3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961-1991

The first three volumes of the Bootleg Series were released together, and are far and away the strongest of the lot. Partly this is because they cover such a wide period that the best demos and alternative takes could be cherry-picked, but it’s also because of the overview of Dylan’s career that this scope gives. Highlights include ‘Talkin’ Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues’, a tongue-in-cheek track inspired by a newspaper article about an overloaded ferry, and ‘Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie’, a heartfelt poem about Dylan’s idol, penned after his death. Social commentary as powerful as any released on his albums is also here, with the gut punch of ‘Who Killed Davey Moore’ lingering in the mind long after the song ends.

This release is frontloaded with tracks from the early days when Dylan was covering folk standards and writing songs at such a pace that classics were routinely left off albums, but ‘Seven Days’, a live recording from the mid 70s, shows that there are still some absolute gems later in Dylan’s career that for whatever reason, he decided didn’t deserve a place on a studio album.

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Words: Jake Hawkes

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Nigeria's preeminence as a launch pad of innovation continues with the arrival of a new rap provocateur: Deto Black has entered the chat. Born in Delaware, US, before moving to Nigeria as a child, the polymath, born Deto Tejuoso, is a next-gen talent rewriting the feminist rule book. A masters graduate (in global governance, might I add) and a trained chartered accountant, Deto is proof the pin-up can have it all; academia and art, two dominant themes running concordantly in her life. 

Emerging last year to fanfare with notable guest features, Deto is ready to make her own mark with her first solo material. Her debut single 'Tesla', produced by regular collaborator and alté pioneer Odunsi, is a maelstrom of sirens, bleeps and the aural equivalent of insectoids descending from the sky. On the track, Deto affirms her autonomy and sexual prowess, a rallying cry to leave parasitic exes behind for the next conquest awaits! 

Don't be misled by Deto's pococurante delivery: her bars bite! Deto's as-yet-untitled debut project, is hardcore titillation wrapped in rainbow-coloured confection. She plays up the role play exhibitionism with a faux California girl inflection that sounds like a cheerleading chanting crossed with a raw hotline snarl. Erotic yet playful, hypersexual but mettlesome, Deto Black channels Lil Kim's brand of debauched salaciousness with a club-honed sound that will come to soundtrack the summer. Foregrounding Deto's protean musical ability, the project moves from the hyperpop digi-drama of EP highlight 'ThreeFiveZero', to the throwback-rap anthemics of 'Betterrr' to the reggaeton fever of 'Fun', a revenge raunchfest. 

Already a fashion muse and iconoclast, Deto Black is challenging conservative wisdom and expectations through liberation. Welcome to her maximalist, material world. 

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Clash spoke to Deto Black ahead of the release of her debut project, as part of our digital #PLTFRM series spotlighting global talent breaking down barriers. 

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You're part of Nigeria's alté scene synonymous with artists like Amaarae, Santi and of course your chief collaborator, Odunsi; which has metastasized and grown into this nonconformist sub genre. What is so special about the alté scene? 

it's just people being themselves and being free to pursue whatever sound we want. It's us saying that this way of living and being in society doesn't work for me, so I'm going to be my authentic self. Nigeria is a place…I don't want to stereotype, but women are expected to conform. My friend told me about the time she was going through the airport, and was told by the person at the desk that she needed to conform. He was saying "why is your hair like this and why are you dressed like this?"  You're expected to fit in and if you're against that you're considered weird. It's about being confident enough to dress the way you want to dress, sing the way you want to sing, doing what feels right to you rather than what you're told. 

You were born in the US, but your formative years were in spent in Lagos, Nigeria. How has your environment fostered your creativity as a child and a teenager? 

I was born in America but went to school In Nigeria. I grew up not using the computer that much. I wasn't one of those kids who played SIMs all day – I was more obsessed with my Bratz Boy barbies! But I was always a visual child and as I grew up I watched a lot of MTV and escaped into film and cinema. I think it played into my creativity because I was having to use my imagination. 

You've lived a nomadic life, between the US, UK and Nigeria. How has that impacted the way you approach your art. For me, your songs carry many different inflections, a kind of borderless sound…

Definitely. From a young age I realized that I had so many cultures to pull inspiration from; there's not one of way of doing things or one way of being someone. By drawing on so many references, I realized I could create something new. At least that's what I'm trying to do. 

Which artists shaped your sense of individualism? If you had to cite a record by an artist that changed your outlook on life – be it a radical record, a pop or rap record – what would it be? 

That's very hard! I feel like the song that blew my mind as a teenager was Lil Wayne's 'Lollipop'. It's so memorable. The video, the sonics, the hook. It felt like a real pop culture moment. I was also a huge Britney fan…

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Music is really drawing from turn-of-the-millenia pop and R&B at the moment…

Definitely. That era is so influential and it absolutely influenced me. I love Kelis, musically of course but even more so her energy and spirit. She very much went against the grain and was fearless in her approach and that really resonates with me. 

If you had to pick three describers of your music for people who have no idea who Deto Black is, what would they be? 

I only have one word and that's 'everything'. 

I first heard you on Odunsi's 'Body Count', which became this underground anthem. This was your first record and feature. Describe that moment…

'Body Count' was the first thing I ever released. Odunsi played the instrumental for me and I immediately loved it and recorded a verse for it. But when I recorded my verse…you just never know if it's going to be used. Thankfully Odunsi loved it and it became my first feature. 

Much of the world was introduced to you on a freestyle with Skepta, Unknown T and Lancey Foux to commemorate World Nigeria day last year. Do you feel you this freestyle was a turning point in your trajectory as a rapper? 

Oh it definitely was. It was amazing to work with all three of these amazing rappers. I loved the Travis Scott instrumental and I'm glad I was able to put my mark on it. I was at my friend's house and she told me Skepta wanted me on the track. I went and recorded really late at night and it became this huge moment.

Your first solo single 'Tesla' is a bold and rambunctious introduction to the world of Deto Black. What are you saying to the world with 'Tesla'? 

'Tesla' is me being completely free; there are no restrictions. I wanted to make something hot and sexy, but also hard and gritty at the same time. 'Tesla' is all about a feeling, an attitude. It's about owning your sexuality. 

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And we must reference the graphic hedonism of the accompanying visual, which felt like an homage to Y2K rap aesthetics…

I worked with Aidan (Zamiri), who created a treatment from me wanting to express my darker side, compared with 'Body Count' which was more playful. 

Your debut EP isn't just rap but a smorgasbord of genres; trap is a prevalent genre on it, but you also delve into hyperpop and there's a punk energy about the project. Guide me through the sound design. Were you involved in the production side? 

Yes! Some of the beats were readymade and I selected which ones I could vocalise or rap over. But for most of the beats me and my producers sat down together, I'd describe the mood or feeling I was going for, the type of song I wanted to make, I'd show visual references. It's a very abstract concept but very collaborative. I think most producers like it this way, otherwise they're just out churning beat after beat. It's nice to create something more personalised and bring out what's in your imagination. 

When you're rapping, is it a loose, improv style your prefer or do you go for something more rehearsed? 

I like freestyle but I prefer to have what I rap written down. I have so many ideas in my head! Sometimes a beat completely changes what I want to rap about and it's about filling in the spaces. 

We have to talk about a track called 'ThreeFiveZero', which sounds like a Gameboy, cyberpunk dream. It's a standout track! 

I had the lyrics in my head immediately when Odunsi played me the instrumental – I think I wrote the lyrics in an hour! At that point, I'd recorded all the other songs on the EP, this was final track I recorded. It was me trying to push myself and try something new. I didn't want to stick to the conventional rap mode because I'm a fan of so much else. 

Lyrically you're talking your shit on this project! You're unapologetic about your sexuality, your femininity and your identity. For some artists, the performance aspect gives them the opportunity to come out of their shells. Does music do that for you? Give you an outlet? 

Definitely, it's a place for me to channel all my emotions and get them out. Growing up as a child I was extremely shy but I was always creative; I'd make songs and perform them only for my cousins. That was my outlet. I liked all forms of art; painting, makeup, fashion. Music is so great because I get to tap into all these creative fields and bring all of these strands together. 

The EP is honestly just me flexing and having fun. It may be my life but it's fun, creative and I'm not working a 9 to 5. I need to keep reminding myself that I have to keep it light-hearted. 

What's your favourite track from the project and why? 

They are all my children! You don't have a favourite child, you know? 'BRAG' is the first track I recorded, so it's special to me. On the other hand, 'Geekd & Gorgeous' I'm told, represents me and my personality. But then 'ThreeFiveZero' is something I made that I never thought about making or thought I could make. But then 'Betterrr'…

'Betterrr' features this female-male interplay that reminded me of the best RnB-Rap collaborations of past, it has that quintessential throwback feel…

Yes! I feel like that’s the one people might understand the most, coming from my ‘rapper’ side.

What's the primary message of this EP? What energy are you transmitting into the world with this project? 

I guess what I'm trying to say as a Nigerian woman, whatever you are, you don't have to follow any rules. You can be whoever you want to be. The energy I'm trying to give off is that if you're confident within yourself and you love yourself, nothing else matters. 

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You have a very pronounced visual identity, not just in your music but also through your forays into the fashion world. What does expression through fashion give you? 

Fashion for me, enhances the full idea of who Deto Black is. it's one thing to hear, but it's another to see. I'm just trying to give you the full picture.

You've embraced the role of a fashion muse and you can see that on your social media. What's your relationship like with digital platforms? 

I embrace it, I enjoy it actually. I think we decry social media as this negative thing but the one thing I realized recently is how easy it is to make genuine friends on instagram. I think for someone like me, who lives in this insular world, it's given me the opportunity to interact with people I usually wouldn't. I would follow people but never actually talk to them, if that makes sense? Initially I didn't use it the way it's supposed to be used, as this social tool that in it's own way can build relationships and community. It is the new world. 

In terms of posting pictures of myself, I show what I want to show. I don't feel pressure about that. 

This last year has been a complete whirlwind for many reasons. How have you kept a measure of stillness and calm in a crazy year? What do you do to keep sane? 

Planning my year with music, really. I started recording this project at the start of quarantine and it became my passion project. It's kept me hopeful and kept me going. I'm the kind of person who has to have something to look forward to. Working on this project gave me focus. I've been so excited about having it out in the world. Honestly, the release date gives me so much anxiety. I have a few videos planned, treatments I'm working on, maybe one for 'ThreeFiveZero'….

What advice would you give to young African female musicians or creatives coming up, calving out an identity for themselves like you did? 

I'd say trust your gut. You'll be surrounded by opinions and some of them will be negative, other people trying to impose an identity on you that isn't authentic to you. Trust yourself, trust your gut. 

I hope my work inspires them to do their best, go hard and go outside the confines of what society tells them they should do. It's so important that nothing stands in the way of that. 

 

Words: Shahzaib Hussain

Photography: Conor Cunningham

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Sparks work with Adam Driver on new song 'So May We Start'.

Sparks are working on two cinematic ventures, with the Edgar Wright documentary The Sparks Brothers to gain general release on June 18th.

Meanwhile, new Sparks helmed film Annette is incoming, a narrative driven musical venture that crosses a studio album, tour, and cinematic venture. 

New song 'So May We Start' is out now, and it features guest vocals from Marion Cotillard, Simon Helberg, and Adam Driver.

Out now, the full release of Annette follows on August 20th.

Check out 'So May We Start Below'.

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American singer BJ Thomas has died.

The songwriter won five Grammy awards over a six decade career, scoring numerous hits in the process.

Perhaps his most iconic moment, however, was his performance of 'Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head', a colossal hit in the late 60s.

Taken from the soundtrack of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, is sparked a lengthy career that skirted on the edges of country and easy listening.

Bowing out with 2013's acoustic set 'The Living Room Sessions', BJ Thomas was diagnosed with lung cancer five years ago.

News of his death was confirmed on social media – he leaves his wife, Gloria, and three daughters.

One more time…

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New York artist Richie Quake has shared his new single 'Never See You'.

A multi-talented artist, Richie moves from sought after DJ sets to creating viral hits.

Laid back new single 'Never See You' is a point of relaxation, with Richie dipping into the R&B songbook while utilising psychedelic textures.

The dimly lit atmosphere is perhaps appropriate, with the final studio session taking place in the middle of the night.

Retro-pop with a glimmering sheen of colour, it's tinted with lysergic effects. He comments:

"Inspired by R&B, pop, psychedelic rock, and jazz, I usually create my work in the early morning hours after sleepless nights – I make music for people who can’t sleep."

Tune in now.

Photo Credit: Mark Shami

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Cork power trio The Love Buzz have shared their new single 'Sainsburys'.

The band's 2019 debut EP 'Candy Flip' marked them out, raw songwriting matched to ever rawer producer.

Sharing their name with the first song Nirvana officially released – a cover of a Shocking Blue single, fact fans – The Love Buzz have just sketched out some future plans.

New EP 'Here Comes The Scum' is incoming, with lead single 'Harp' landing late last year.

New single 'Sainsburys' was penned a few years back, with the trio toying with it in their live shows.

Songwriter Kieran Hurley nailed down the final version, and he explains:

“It’s a tale of romance, jealousy and violence. The dangerous mentality of young lads is something you can miss in Ireland but it’s ever prevalent in British culture, a fish out of water story with a happy ending.”

Tune in now.

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S-X is coming of age.

The Wolverhampton star – real name Sam Gumbley – cut his teeth during MC battles at school, before later coming to prominence as an ultra-flexible collaborator.

Touring with Lily Allen, working alongside Chance the Rapper and J.Cole, he also scored Grammy nominations for his studio work.

His highly anticipated solo album is due later this year, one that finds S-X working with new label partner BMG/RBC Records.

Hit singles 'Dangerous' and 'In Real Life' lit up his path, with new party starter 'Feels So Good' amplifying the hype.

The natural performer takes the lead, something that is exemplified in the ultra-colourful video.

A shoot that finds S-X in his natural element, it looks ahead to live shows later in the year.

Tune in now.

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When I started listening to James Heather’s new EP I really had to think hard. Had it really been four years since his debut, ‘Modulations EP 1’, was released on the Ninja Tune offshoot Ahead Of Our Time? The answer is a resounding yes. It feels like last year that I sat down to listen to that captivating piece of music, along with his debut album ‘Stories From Far Away On Piano’ also from 2017, that for a brief period of time droned out all other music I was listening to. Since then, he’s been quiet. Releasing ‘Reworks’ in 2018. Now with the release of ‘Modulations EP2’ we’re starting to get an idea for the radio silence.

The EP opens with ‘Passing Soul’. This is a tender piece of music. When the higher notes are played, they shoot out of the speakers, and in a way that reminds me of the way light cuts through certain lampshades and chandeliers. As the light passes through the shade it becomes, somehow, brighter and more piercing. This is happening here. ‘Glimmer’ follows on from ‘Passing Soul’, but with an elegance only hinted at in the past.

Throughout ‘Modulations EP 2’ you can hear the change in Heather’s playing. The music is, somehow, grandeur in scope. There is also a fluidity to his playing that wasn’t there on his previous releases. Around the halfway mark of ‘Metal Machina’ Heather launches into one of his most consuming runs to date. As it swoops around you, your life starts to feel more cinematic and epic. And this is the main take away from the EP. Whilst listening to ‘Modulations EP2’ everything starts to feel more profound. Even while I’m typing this review, I have an image in head of a camera slowly revolving around me. Going in graceful 360-degree arcs as I type at a furious pace. I stop to take a sip of tea. Ponder the next sentence and then I’m off again as the music rages about me.

What makes ‘Modulations EP2’ so delightful is just how playful the music is. When you mention classical music, or at least instrumental piano music, you can see a perplexed look on the face as their perception of piano music is something that might be played on the radio whilst cooking Sunday lunch. The music here is as vibrant and exciting as anything released on Ninja Tune. It makes you smile, whilst feeling melancholic, in equal measure. The downside to the EP is that it is over too quickly. It would have been nice to hear Heather elongate some of the songs a bit more. Really drill down into what makes them so captivating and extend those sections a bit more. Of course, this is unfair as ‘Modulations EP2’ is a remarkable piece of music that yields more secrets the more it’s played.

Let’s hope ‘Modulations EP3’ isn’t another four years in the making as James Heather is on to something and we want more of it now.

8/10

Words: Nick Roseblade

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Portico Quartet are among the best bands in Britain. A bold claim we know but through a career which has now reached its sixth album with the release of the splendid 'Terrain' the band have been both dazzlingly creative and remarkably consistent.

Once fairly squarely a ‘jazz’ band, these days Portico Quartet ally their heritage with an increasingly minimalist and ambient tendency which means that Terrain’s three tracks, clocking in at 39 minutes give the band an opportunity to really stretch out and provide a tour de force exemplar of everything which makes them so special.

The band describe themselves as making ‘widescreen instrumental music’ and on this record the screen is as wide as it’s ever been. One of the beauties of Portico Quartet is that pressing ‘play on an album brings a sound so unmistakeable that it can only be them. That comfort is a real strength and a beauty in these uncertain times. The use of the hang as part of the percussion arsenal of the band remains as central as ever and ushers in the first movement of the album ‘I’, closely followed by the foregrounded cymbal work of Duncan Bellamy. The piece unfurls sumptuously with electronics creating a bed of ambience prior to the introduction of a yearning, sorrowful sounding saxophone melody. Giving themselves a more stretched palette compositionally gives the song plenty of room to breathe and brings real joy. Layer upon layer infuses the piece with real depth.

And it continues this way throughout the album. ‘II’ is built on a single, insistent piano figure and rolling drums. It is perhaps the most ‘driving’ of the three movements here, but it maintains the overall feel of calm which pervades the record. Even as the album draws to a close with rolling toms, a caterwauling saxophone melody and pulsing cymbal crashes, a peaceful control is exuded.

'Terrain' gives us a band at the peak of its powers, confident in its ability, willing to take risks but always delivering. This may be Portico Quartet’s finest album yet.

8/10

Words: Haydon Spenceley

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Sweden's Andreas Moe is ready to claim his own identity.

A renowned collaborator and guest vocalist, he first went solo in 2012, and has played a string of international live shows.

New EP 'All Our Worries Are Poem Pt. 1' illustrates his reflective side, a series of Autumnal, introspective odes.

Out now, the EP is Andreas Moe at his best. He comments:

“I’m so excited to be able to release these new songs that were all born in the middle of a pandemic. I’ve always felt proud and connected to the music I put out because each song has its own story and journey but I have to say that never before have I released music that I so genuinely feel reflects who I am and want to be as an artist. I sincerely hope this shines through when listening to the songs. // Love.”

The EP features divine new cut 'Wholeheartedly', and it's a gilded offering with shades of Americana.

A full lyric video has been prepared, and it's perhaps the closest we'll get to an Andreas Moe live show for some time.

Tune in now.

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