Sunday, 9 April 2017

"Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid: Original Soundtrack Recording" by BOB DYLAN (February 1991 UK Columbia CD Reissue) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...Workin' For The Law..." 

Strong silent types who let the pistolas do the jabbering as they gob beef jerky at lame horses and a trembling sheriff while Claudine (the tired town prostitute) stands in the doorway of the saloon scratching her less than immaculate garter wondering if business is going to be slow tonight after the boys let off some Prairie steam.

Dylan's first soundtrack for a Western came as something of a happy accident – something to do between gigs in 1973. Director Sam Peckinpah was holed up in Mexico with his talented and gruffly photogenic MGM cast - Kris Kristofferson as Billy The Kid, James Coburn as Pat Garrett, Jason Robards as Governor Wallace, Richard Jaeckel as Sheriff Kip McKinney and Katy Jurado as Mrs. Baker. Established hands, future film stars and cool musical types peppered the smaller roles – Slim Pickens as Sheriff Baker, Harry Dean Stanton as Luke, singer Rita Coolidge and her Keyboardist Donnie Fritts as Maria and Beaver. And of course perhaps coolest of them all – Bob Dylan himself as the appropriately obscure character 'Alias' – looking like he fits right in with all the sputum, blood and sex.

Sent to him by writer Rudolph Wurlitzer - Dylan had read the script and liked it and was even inspired. Sessions take place on location in Mexico's CBS Studios and then back in Los Angeles with Warner Brothers – producing a string of quietly majestic instrumentals that countered the bloody mayhem on screen. Even the front cover artwork seemed lean and uncluttered in keeping with the mean and moody themes - a bare black and white title complimented on the rear by sparse musician credits and a startling picture of Kris Kristofferson kneeling in the dirt – hand-cuffed - a show-me-some-mercy grimace on his face as Sheriff Richard Jaeckel points his shotgun down into his chest and cocks the trigger.

But way more than all of that - this largely forgotten 1973 album would of course produce one of BD's most moving and touching songs – the truly gorgeous "Knockin' On Heaven's Door” - a song that has gained almost mythical properties in the hands of others - least not of all Eric Clapton. But for me the magic of this movie-music LP has always been the Ry Cooder type instrumentals in-between - loose acoustic guitar ambles that suddenly seemed to exude emotion without the need for words (although Dylan sings on some cuts) – a heart in the music that had seemed missing from his work for a while. Let's get to the soundtrack and this very barebones CD reissue...

UK released February 1991 – "Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid – Original Soundtrack Recording" by BOB DYLAN on Columbia CD 32098 (Barcode 5099703209822) is a straightforward CD reissue of his 1973 10-Track LP. There are no mastering credits and it plays out as follows (35:23 minutes):

1. Main Title Theme (Billy) [Side 1]
2. Cantina Theme (Workin’ For The Law)
3. Billy 1
4. Bunkhouse Theme
5. River Theme
6. Turkey Chase [Side 2]
7. Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door
8. Final Theme
9. Billy 4
10. Billy 7
Tracks 1 to 10 are the Soundtrack album "Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid" - released July 1973 in the USA on Columbia KC 32460 and September 1973 in the UK on CBS Records S 69042. Produced by GORDON CARROLL - it peaked at No. 29 in the USA and No.16 in the UK.

BOB DYLAN - Guitars on all Tracks, Lead Vocals on Track 7
BRUCE LANGHORN - Guitars on Tracks 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6
ROGER McGUINN (of The Byrds) - Guitars on Tracks 2, 7, 8, and 10
CAROL HUNTER - Guitars on Tracks 4 and 8
BYRON BERLINE - Fiddle on Track 6, Vocals on Track 5
BOOKER T. JONES (of Booker T & The MG's) - Bass on Tracks 1, 3, 5 and 6
JOLLY ROGER - Banjo on Track 6
CARL FORTINA - Harmonium on Tracks 7 and 8
TERRY PAUL (Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge's bands) - Vocals and Bass on Tracks 7 8, 9 and 10
JIM KELTNER - Drums on Tracks 7, 8 and 10
RUSS KUNKEL - Tambourine on Track 1, Bongos on Track 2
GARY FOSTER - Recorder/Flute on Track 7
FRED KATZ and TED MICHEL - Cellos on Track 7
CAROL HUNTER, PRISCILLA JONES, BRENDA PATTERSON and DONNA WEISS - Backing Vocals (Carol, Brenda and Donna on Track 7)

The gatefold slip of paper that acts as an inlay gives song-by-song credits, a Cast List and Credits for the film and naught else. There are known outtakes from the January 1973 sessions in Mexico and the further February 1973 sessions back in California – including variants of that most famous hymnal song – but alas. 2005 and 2006 saw reconstructions of the movie into a Director’s cut and again more music. You can't help but think that surely this would be a great candidate for an /unusual unexpected Legacy 'Deluxe Edition' twofer – Dylan fans would dig it so much. In the meantime we have to content ourselves with this early 1991 Columbia CD, which actually sounds beautiful to my ears; it doesn’t advise who mastered what or which source was used – but as I say – the audio is gorgeous.

The album opens on a sublime moment - six minutes of Acoustic magic. I've lost count of the number of times I put "Main Title Theme (Billy)" on a CD-R compilation for the Seventies – unknown songs you should know about – or the number of times I've posted the music up on Face Book reminding the world one more time of its glories. I've even heard of it being used at weddings – in vow ceremonies – something heroic and beautiful in that song as the soaring acoustic guitars 'feel' the moment – take this leap with me and let's see what happens... Hero of the hour is Bruce Langhorn who takes Lead Acoustic while Dylan strums - both soon joined by Booker T. on a sweet and very clear Bass while Russ Kunkel gently shakes a tambourine (god how I love this track). Roger McGuinn of the Byrds takes lead on "Cantina Theme (Workin' For The Law)" - another ballad instrumental with Kunkel this time tapping out hand-rolls on Bongos as the guitars swoon and sway.

The unimaginatively titled "Billy 1" is a variant of "Main Theme" with Dylan's Harmonica adding another layer to those lovely acoustic moments. Half way through the song Dylan starts singing about 'bounty hunters' that don't want Billy to be free – the lad ignoring their holsters and the danger - risking it all for some sweet seniorina far away from home. Both "River Theme" and "Turkey Chase" may have worked in the movie but are less interesting as stand alone bits of music – even though Bryon Berline and Jolly Roger (is this Roger McGuinn) play a blinder on Fiddle and Banjo. And then we’re hit with the "'s getting dark...too dark to see..." of "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" - the three ladies (Carol, Donna and Brenda) giving it that church feel as they repeat the chorus. Even now it's an amazing song. A huge array of talent gives the 5:21 minutes of "Final Theme" a massive boost - Gary Foster on Recorder/Flute while Carl Fortina keeps that Harmonium note floating throughout. It's the kind of instrumental where you can see the movie screen in your head. "Billy 4" has Dylan singing about 'guns on the river', 'bounty hunters dancing all around you' - Hacienda streets with men wanting Billy to join the other plots up on Boot Hill - another notch on their ivory handles. McGuinn joins Bob for the final "Billy 7" - a song that feels like Dylan is drunk as he sings of Pat Garrett with Billy's number on his mind while the Kid drinks in some bar...

"Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid: Original Soundtrack Recording" is an unusual album in the patchy/voluminous Dylan canon - a record that's forgotten now and I'd argue shouldn't be. And we can all thank God it's not the terrible "Dylan" LP that followed in November 1973 - a record of warm-up tunes he didn't sanction that unleashed vicious reviews and not unfounded fan dismay.

"Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid..." is beautiful, odd, haunting and very rewarding Bob Dylan. Holster your Colt 45s on this one - buy at a whiskey at the bar from Claudine's close friend Memphis Margo - pull up a chair at the Last Chance Saloon and enjoy...

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