Review Summary: Historical document. A missing link between "Modern Times" and "Music From Big Pink". Here, he is not Messiah or voice of generation, just a very gifted musician trying some his new ideas with the band (OK, The Band).
1966 saw masterpieces of The Beatles ("Revolver"), Bob Dylan ("Blonde On Blonde") and The Beach Boys ("Pet Sounds"), and dozen of other great artists were about to begin their long winning streaks of memorable albums. Expectations were very high. Only The Beatles brought the album worth of its great predecessors: Sgt. Pepper. The Beach Boys were very close to do it, too, but they had lost in drugs and ego-clashes related haze. And Dylan experienced release of "Blonde On Blonde", England Tour (where some screamed: "Judas") and motorcycle accident in July. He was running away from the pressure and took his backing band (they were about to be called "The Band"), recorded some songs for fun and had a peaceful, family life.
And that was very lot of talent in one place. Creative sparks flew, The Band learned a lot from Dylan and Dylan received so much needed freshness and had space for experimenting without booing from the audience. And that is why it is called "The Basement Tapes". He played it where almost nobody except his trusted family and friends saw it. It wasn't for release. His audience had enough shock treatment when he had taken an electric guitar. Imagine year 1967, everybody sing about revolution, good time, summer of love and then comes Dylan, their idol and sing "Tears Of Rage", a song about frustrated parents without even traces of irony.
The music? Songs "Nothing Was Delivered" and "You Ain't go Nowhere" ended on The Byrds' transitional country rock album "Sweetheart Of The Rodeo". "Tears Of Rage" and "This Wheel's On Fire" were included on the groundbreaking The Band's "Music From Big Pink" so we can count "The Basement Tapes" as one of the first country rock records. But what is most important, both Dylan and The Band knew rock, country, soul, folk, and other American music's genres inside out and that is why "The Basement Tapes" is so great listen. Basically Dylan and The Band were playing with all these genres the way children play with their toys but they were always aware what they should do and what they had not to do. Lyrics are somewhere just couple of lines or sketches because they didn't bother to write a perfect song. It is relaxed atmosphere and natural energy of playing that makes this album so special. There are fillers and weaker songs, but they are part of the show.
Although it is written on the sleeve Bob Dylan and The Band, The Basement Tapes is Bob's show. He was incredibly productive and his performances with The Band are awesome. The Band was already bunch of stellar sidemen but they were a step beyond Bob as songwriters. Shortly after "The Basement Tapes" sessions The Band's first two albums have succeeded to match the brilliance of the best Bob's records.
Although Bob Dylan didn't want to release "The Basement Tapes" it did have a huge impact on his work. I see both "Love And Theft" and "Modern Times" as logical successors of "The Basement Tapes" in a way of completely ignoring popular trends and strutting and strumming music you really love.