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Bob Dylan's creative output in the mid-1960s has reached mythological proportions and with due reason. Between January 1965 and March 1966, he wrote, recorded and released three of the greatest albums ever recorded. The latest iteration, The Cutting Edge, dives headfirst into this period, which saw the creation of Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde. The set comes in three separate versions--a two-disc "Best Of" selection, a six-disc deluxe edition and a rare 18-disc set. As was previously illustrated with the past two bootleg installments, Another Self Portrait and The Basement Tapes, Dylan seems to have always had at least one alternate version of each album during this time and each version of The Cutting Edge seems to only reaffirm this theory.

On the 18-disc set, which was billed as containing "every note recorded during the 1965-1966 sessions, every alternate take and alternate lyric," an unsurprisingly dense collection of music is presented in chronological order. Beginning with the January 1965 sessions for Bringing It All Back Home and closing with the famous 1966 hotel recordings, the full set truly lives up to its selling points.

For casual fans, some of the full set's inclusions may seem excessive (the entirety of the disc four and 20 songs in total are dedicated to 'Like A Rolling Stone') but to those truly interested in the creation of these songs, a treasure trove of reference material is present. In the case of 'Like A Rolling Stone,' one can trace the song's roots from piano waltz (as previously highlighted on the very first bootleg installment from 1991) to its final rollicking single-ready form and back again. The inclusion of misfires and breakdowns helps to showcase how Dylan and his talented crew of musicians were truly capturing magic through their improvisational studio techniques.

Take 5 of 'Like Rolling Stone', which was recorded just moments after what would become the master take, perhaps best illustrates this. As Dylan and his band launch into a quickened version of the tune, something sounds off and Dylan stops the performance. "That's not it," he says. "How did we do it?"

As has become customary with these bootleg sets, one also gets to see the songs that Dylan discarded during these recordings. The scrapping of some of these songs are true head scratchers, perhaps only a notch or two down on the curiosity scale from the famous exclusion of 'Blind Willie McTell' from Dylan's 1983 record, Infidels. 'She's Your Lover Now', a complex and winding track, could never be finished to the liking of Dylan, much to his frustration. But to perhaps everyone except for Dylan, this is an exceptional piece of song craft.

Moments like these, in large part, help to dispel the myth that Dylan was a carefree studio musician who just wanted to rip through one song and move on to the next. This does occur on occasion (see: the one rehearsal and one take required for 'Rainy Day Women #12 and 35'), but more often than not, Dylan required multiple takes for each song. Each take seemed to incorporate a great deal of improvisation and experimentation, but Dylan wouldn't call it quits until he felt that it sounded right. He strived tirelessly toward that "wild mercury sound," even if it meant trying out different takes and sounds in the middle of the night.

Above all else, The Cutting Edge gives listeners a glimpse (with the 19 hour runtime of the 18-disc set being a significantly longer gander) into one of the single most brilliant creative periods in musical history. The quest to create this music showcased throughout the set is so sublime that one gets the impression that the youthful Dylan (24 and 25 years old during these recordings) is not even fully aware of how to fully control his gifts.

He has even said as much, saying that a song such as 'Like A Rolling Stone' more or less appeared to him: "It's like a ghost is writing a song like that, it gives you the song and it goes away. You don't know what it means. Except that the ghost picked me to write the song."

After his mysterious motorcycle accident in 1966, Dylan began to take a significantly more cerebral approach to his presentation. It became clear and has remained obvious that a great deal of thought is put into how Dylan creates and presents his work. But The Cutting Edge proves that 1965 and 1966 was not shaped by deliberate calculation and arduous planning, but rather a commitment to feeling and a loving embrace of one's creative impulses. This is Bob Dylan at his very best.

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