Springsteen’s Grit, Dylan’s Anger Revealed on Long-Lost Tapes

Bruce Springsteen CDs including "Live at the Main Point 1975" on display at the Westminster Record Fair in London. The CD has been released in the U.K. and is available on import in the U.S. Photographer: Mark Beech/Bloomberg

Bruce Springsteen fans have been waiting more than three decades to hear this.

A concert witnessed by fewer than 300 people has passed into legend among devotees of “the Boss.” Record company Columbia had lost $150,000 on his first two LPs. Springsteen, though, displayed the drive that was to make him a star when playing in Bryn Mawr (“Big Hill” in Welsh), Pennsylvania.

The gig was broadcast on local radio station WMMR and has been the subject of murky bootlegs under different titles. Now “Live at the Main Point 1975” shows clearly why critic Jon Landau was proclaiming Springsteen as the future of rock.

I’ve seen many Springsteen concerts from the 1980s where he played as his life depended on it. Never was the “make or break” more true than at the now-defunct Main Point as he previewed songs for the soon-to-be-released “Born to Run.” Its title-track lyric references “broken heroes on a last-chance power drive.” Bruce could be talking about himself.

Like some other recent “unofficial” Springsteen albums, the disc isn’t available in the U.S. though it can be ordered online. It’s worth seeking out, if only for “Wings for Wheels.” This is an early version of “Thunder Road,” with different verses. Another standout is “New York City Serenade,” here with an expanded monologue and instrumentals that push it toward 20 minutes.

The E Street Band sounds great, boosted by violinist Suki Lahav. Still, they were to get even better when guitarist Steve van Zandt joined soon after. Rating: ****.

“Bob Dylan in Concert: Brandeis University 1963” offers revealing insight into a songwriter about to make it big.

An open-spool tape of the obscure show, probably recorded straight off the mixing desk, was discovered in the archives of writer Ralph Gleason. The resulting CD is going on general release after being available as a limited-time offer.

Dylan’s political fury drives “Masters of War” and “Talkin’ World War III Blues,” which both showed up in studio form on “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” released two weeks later. Too bad “Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance” is ragged. Still, this is a fine document. Rating: ***.

Bob Dylan isn’t the only artist with a “Bootleg Series” of archive material. The late Johnny Cash has joined in. A previous album of outtakes from 1973-1982, “Personal File,” has been repackaged as “Bootleg Volume I.” Now comes “Bootleg Volume II,” which compiles a radio show and rarities from 1954 up to 1969. The low point is the gravel-voiced Cash hesitatingly reading commercials for air conditioning. The best material comes with the early demos, such as an energetic stab at “I Walk the Line.” Rating: ***.

Neil Diamond joins the bandwagon with “The Bang Years 1966-1968.” He presented 23 mono songs such as “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon,” later covered by Urge Overkill for the “Pulp Fiction” soundtrack; “Red Red Wine,” known for its version by UB40; and “I’m a Believer,” a hit for the Monkees. Diamond’s songwriting here is excellent, his performances growing in confidence. Rating: ***.

What the Stars Mean:
*****      Exceptional
****       Excellent
***        Good
**         Average
*          Poor
(No stars) Worthless

Springsteen is on Left Field Media. U.S. import prices vary. The CD is priced 8.99 pounds in the U.K. or on http://www.amazon.co.uk

Dylan is on Sony Legacy priced at $9.07 or 4.93 pounds.

Cash is on Sony Legacy priced at $14.44 or 10.49 pounds.

Diamond is Columbia/Sony CMG priced at $8.99 in the U.S. It will be released on May 23 in the U.K. priced 8.99 pounds.

Download fees vary across services.

Information: http://www.brucespringsteen.net, http://www.bobdylan.com, http://www.johnnycash.com, http://www.neildiamond.com/.

(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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