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Bob Dylan: The Bootleg Series Vol. 9—The Witmark Demos: 1962–1964 (Columbia) 

In the first official release of Bob Dylan's legendary publishing demos (47 songs, 15 of which have never before been released), it's stunning to see how early the talent, the power and even Dylan's chameleon-like instincts for transformation were in evidence.

Despite the fact that they're obviously first takes, the majority of these songs sound like anything but demos, aside from the occasional flubs.

The collection is a thrilling revelation, even for a fan who has chased and captured numerous Dylan bootlegs, including a different 40-song, two-CD version of the Witmark Demos plucked out of a PDQ bin a dozen years ago.

The Woody Guthrie affect-ation—especially on rail-riding

songs like "Poor Boy Blues," "Ballad for a Friend" and "Rambling, Gambling Willie"—is stronger here than even on the 1962 Bob Dylan, evidence of just how quickly Dylan was ready to shed the mimicry in favor of his own voice.

Most interesting aren't necessarily the "new" songs, but actually the songs that did show up on Dylan records, especially the ones that resulted in well-known recordings by others ("Tomorrow Is a Long Time," "Paths of Victory" and "I'll Keep It With Mine") long before any fan could hear Dylan's voice sing those same words.

On two counts, The Witmark Demos stand as an incredible testament to Dylan's songwriting excellence: First, even cast-off first drafts are genius. Second, it's clear that Dylan could have released two or three more records between 1962 and 1964 that were on par with The Freewheelin' ... and The Times They Are A-Changin'.

More by Eric Swedlund

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