“Remarkable…I'm stunned, especially by ‘I'm Not There.’ Seems to me completely right, never forced, lucid, luminous, but the performance, as with Dylan's, is where the truth of the song reveals itself. It just broke me in half. Second only to ‘I'm Not There’ [is] the gorgeous ‘Crash on the Levee.’”
-Greil Marcus, on HOWARD FISHMAN PERFORMS BOB DYLAN & THE BAND’S ‘BASEMENT TAPES’ LIVE AT JOE’S PUB
Cult recordings meet cult artist on the new CD/DVD HOWARD FISHMAN PERFORMS BOB DYLAN & THE BAND’S “BASEMENT TAPES” LIVE AT JOE’S PUB, from Monkey Farm Records. The recording will be released in conjunction with Fishman’s Lincoln Center debut as part of the American Songbook Series on February 1, 2007.
Culled from three sold-out evenings at Joe’s Pub at The Public Theater in New York City in May 2006, the new “BASEMENT TAPES” CD features classics like “Tears of Rage” and “This Wheel’s On Fire” alongside less well-known numbers. True to the subversive nature of the original material, the new CD also features the first-ever commercial release of “I’m Not There (1956),” considered by many to be Dylan’s unfinished masterpiece. A bonus DVD is included, featuring live footage from the Joe’s Pub performances.
Howard Fishman has garnered a cult following for both his live performances (alternately explosive and intimate, sometimes in the space of a single song) and for his uncategorizable original music (“Modern primitive” -New York Magazine, “Transcends time and idiom”-The New York Times). Ever-evolving and increasingly difficult to pin down, Fishman has moved through early jazz, pop, funk, folk, blues, classical, country and, most recently, gospel and brass band music, while releasing five critically-acclaimed CDs on his own Monkey Farm label. Fishman’s most ambitious project to date, a three-night marathon presentation of everything recorded by Bob Dylan and The Band during what has come to be known as the BASEMENT TAPES, happened to coincide with Dylan’s 65th birthday and generated an overwhelming response, paving the way for the new CD and an invitation to perform the project as part of the American Songbook Series at Lincoln Center. In a fitting twist, the performances captured on the CD/DVD were -- like the source material -- made for archival purposes and only later prepared for commercial release due to popular demand.
In 1967, Bob Dylan was living in Upstate New York, recovering from a motorcycle crash and the end of his now-legendary European tour (recently documented in Martin Scorcese’s “NO DIRECTION HOME”). With him were members of his backing band, soon to be known as The Band. Together, over the course of several months, they informally recorded a catalogue of music that would be widely bootlegged for years before being officially released, in greatly truncated form, as THE BASEMENT TAPES. Material left off the initial releases continues to be bootlegged by aficionados, and includes a trove of unreleased Dylan originals and covers of pop, blues, country, R&B and traditional numbers.
“I’ve always loved the unreleased BASEMENT TAPES stuff,” Howard Fishman says. “My idea for this project was to expose more people to it.” Once he began rehearsing, however, Fishman encountered a problem. “Bob Dylan’s music is so personal, so completely his own. I didn’t want to just get up there and cover the songs, to just ‘do’ Bob Dylan as it were, and so I had to find a way in by personalizing the music while still holding true to the spirit of the originals.” Included are Fishman’s radical reworking of several songs, including a heart-rending version of ‘Crash On The Levee.’ “It was a difficult set of lyrics to approach in the wake of Katrina. I felt like we needed to do something different with it.” Now a far cry from its original incarnation as a jaunty ditty, “Crash” sits beside other bold re-interpretations: “Nothing Was Delivered” is now an introspective jazz ballad; “Yea! Heavy”gets a reggae/ska treatment; “Santa Fe” goes from Western Swing to a trumpet stop-time section, a la Louis Armstrong’s Hot Fives. Several songs not penned by Bob Dylan are also included. Hank Snow’s classic “I Don’t Hurt Anymore,” one of dozens of songs covered during the original 1967 sessions, gets a funky new cast, and “Pretty Polly,” a traditional included in an evening at Joe’s Pub devoted to the roots of THE BASEMENT TAPES, becomes a dramatic, free-form group improvisation, clocking in at over fourteen minutes.
“In a way, this project completes a circle for me” says Fishman. “Bob Dylan’s music inspired me to pick up a guitar when I was eighteen, and for a couple of years, all I did was play Bob Dylan songs. It’s nice to have the opportunity to say thanks, and to do it from a place where I feel comfortable with my own musical identity.”