The New Basement Tapes

Note: Johnny Depp filling in for Costello on this recording!
Photo Credit: Big Hassle

What do Bob Dylan, T Bone Burnett, Jim James, Elvis Costello, Rhiannon Giddens, Taylor Goldsmith, and Marcus Mumford all have in common? Until recently it was just their love for good folk and rock music. But now they have come together as The New Basement Tapes to record the 20-track LP, Lost on the River, and it’s currently my favorite indie-folk/rock album.

Let’s take it from the top, how did this all begin? In 1966, Bob Dylan was rising to fame touring across the United States, Australia, and Europe. When he returned to his home in Woodstock, New York, Dylan crashed his motorbike and suffered from a mild concussion and cracked vertebrae. This forced him to cancel all upcoming tour dates and stay tucked away inside, distant from the media, fans, and distractions that come with the territory. This lead to the most creative part of Bob’s career. He wrote over 100 songs, and recorded many of them with The Band (Bob Dylan’s former back up group, and now more famously known for songs like “The Weight”). The songs circulated underground for some time until 1975, when the official album, The Basement Tapes, was released through Columbia records.

Then recently, almost 40 years since the original release, Bob Dylan’s publisher reached out to T Bone Burnett regarding a box of recently discovered handwritten lyrics from Bob’s basement tapes days. Who is T Bone Burnett? He was the guitarist for Dylan’s backing band from 1975 to 1976, has released albums as a soloist and as a part of The Alpha Band, and has produced albums for Counting Crows, John Mellencamp, Los Lobos, Elvis Costello, Roy Orbison, and more. He was also in charge of music for the films Walk the Line, The Big Lebowski, and Inside Llewyn Davis so you could say he’s had a pretty influential musical career. Burnett was asked to bring some other artists together and record an album comprised of the previously unknown lyrics written by Dylan. He took the task and ran with it; pulling together an all-star cast composed of musicians who are creative and unique, yet stick to the inspiring folk-rock roots.

Let’s bring in the cast:

  • Elvis Costello – This English rocker contributes the most experience to the group, as he’s been playing and recording since 1970. His early music was a major cog in the British punk and new-wave movement of the 1970s and his first 3 albums are all included in Rolling Stone’s 500 Best Albums of All Time List.

  • Jim James – The lead singer, songwriter, and guitarist for My Morning Jacket, Jim James has been jamming out since the mid-1990s. He brings a southern rock style to the group.

  • Marcus Mumford – It’s hard not to know who this guy is nowadays as Marcus is the lead singer for Mumford and Sons. These guys had a meteoric rise to fame, taking over the airwaves and IPods of so many. He has such a vast musical arsenal, playing guitar, drums, mandolin, and more.

  • Taylor Goldsmith – Taylor is the lead guitarist and vocalist from Dawes. They are a staple to the current American indie folk music scene.

  • Rhiannon Giddens – She is the lead singer, banjo player, and violinist for Carolina Chocolate Drops. This old-time string band made waves quickly, earning a Grammy Award in 2011 for Best Traditional Folk Album.

Early this year each member was sent the new lyrics. Then in March they came together to record the album at Capitol Records. I love this album for a unifying reason; its creative process resembles that of Dylan’s original The Basement Tapes. Back in the 60s Bob Dylan and The Band got together and let their creative juices flow. They all brought together different inspirations and aspirations and it lead to something beautiful. The same happened on Lost on the River. You hear Rhiannon’s mesmerizing vocals next to Jim’s southern style, paired with Mumford’s creative rhythms, influenced by Taylor’s American folk sound, and encompassed by Costello’s eclectic experience. Then it’s all put together and perfected by a producer who’s been along for the entire ride since Dylan wrote these lyrics. It’s the perfect box of assorted chocolates, including all current and old flavors of great rock and folk music. You’ve got to take a listen to this album. If you enjoy rock music new and old, folk and bluegrass old-time jams, and great collaborations, this is definitely one album to add to your music collection.



By Ben Lowden


Bonus Material: