Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Down The Tracks: admirable new DVD analysing Dylan’s influences

Markets abhor a vacuum. So the scarcity of official Dylan DVD product has opened the door for the release of a growing number of unauthorised products, of variable quality.

Down The Tracks: The Music That Influenced Bob Dylan, a new documentary from White Crow Productions, is one of the more attractive releases in this burgeoning niche.

It covers well the bases you’d expect - 1960s New York, the counter culture, and Dylan’s folk, country and blues antecedents. An interview with Pete Seeger is the highlight.

The impressively varied roster of contributors includes musicians Tom Paley and Sid Griffin, record biz operators Lawrence Cohen and Joe Boyd and writers Mike Marqusee and Michael Gray. Griffin is wisely employed throughout to pull the narrative together. He excels (just as he did in Million Dollar Bash, his recent book on the Basement Tapes).

Together, they provide a coherent narrative: if you need an introduction on where Dylan’s art sprung from, Down The Tracks is an admirable primer.

Its weaknesses are principally budget-related. The main downside is the lack of Dylan footage: presumably it’s too expensive or too jealously guarded. So expect production values below those of, say, No Direction Home – on Down The Tracks, talking heads and stills dominate.

The largely unknown musicians used to punctuate the narrative don’t add much, either – apart from a fine performance from the Handsome Family.

Budget constraints apart, the script occasionally sounds stilted; I’m not over-fond of the narrator. And the jukebox leitmotif palls quickly.

But these negatives are outweighed by the programme’s positives: Down The Tracks is a welcome addition to the Dylan DVD library.


Down The Tracks: The Music That Influenced Bob Dylan. DVD, 1 disc. White Crow Productions for Eagle Rock, June 2008, 95 mins, £10.

Gerry Smith