Blu-ray Review: Lost Songs: The Basement Tapes Continued

16 unused Bob Dylan lyrics form the basis of a fascinating documentary about the attempt to turn them into songs.
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Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes from 1967 have, rightly, achieved legendary status over the years. His recordings with The Band, never meant for public consumption, eventually did make their way out, both in illegitimate and legitimate forms and have been the subject of much discussion ever since. It's no surprise then that when a box filled with 16 sets of unused lyrics from this period turned up, people took notice. With Dylan's blessing, producer T Bone Burnett and musicians Elvis Costello, Rhiannon Giddens of Carolina Chocolate Drops, Taylor Goldsmith from Dawes, Jim James from My Morning Jacket and Marcus Mumford from Mumford & Sons set out to turn these lyrics into songs. The results were filmed and make up the documentary Lost Songs: The Basement Tapes Continued.

The documentary mixes footage of the musicians writing and recording the new material with archival footage of Dylan and The Band at Big Pink, the house they recorded at. Voiceovers from Robbie Robertson and Rick Danko help to tell the tale of the time spent in the home with Dylan. Dylan for his part says he has never seen the unused lyrics since he wrote them, stating that you can't record everything.

The task at hand was a daunting one for the five musicians. Mumford in particular is stressed out at the prospect of writing songs to these lyrics and would have preferred to open and view them as a fan, rather than have to make a record around them. Mumford also seems to have the most trouble delivering songs, as he is not used to writing songs with the frequency required for the project. Where Costello came in with numerous songs, Mumford had one song and one riff, yet when called upon, he delivers with a rousing "Kansas City."

For her part, Giddens is equally taken aback at how much preparation some of the artists did for the recording, preferring to work in a more spontaneous manner. She finds a champion in Mumford and her vocals on "Lost on the River" are haunting to say the least.

Costello comments about how it is interesting to him how people interpret the same set of lyrics. Where "Diamond Ring" has a pop feel in his rendition, James takes more of a country turn while Goldschmidt's has a folk feel. Dylan may have written these lyrics, but these are musicians with strong songwriting voices and each of their songs sound like their own material.

It's not lost on any of the musicians that by making a record meant for the public, their project is automatically different than Dylan's original intent. Still, they try to work collaboratively and keep the fun spirit of the original recordings alive in these songs. They aren't trying for hit records, they are just trying to write the best songs possible given the material and have fun while doing it.

The Blu-ray is presented in 1080p High Definition 16:9 Widescreen and looks great. Audio options include DTS HD Master Audio and LPCM Stereo. Full performances of six of the 16 songs are included as bonus footage, including a spirited version "Hidee Hidee Ho #16."

It's not often a box of unused Dylan lyrics from 1967 comes around, but the five musicians in Lost Songs: The Basement Tapes Continued make the best of them and come up with some great music in the process. It's interesting to watch them collaborate with each other and the documentary provides another interesting chapter to an already interesting portion of Dylan's career.