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Roll Back by Peter Aaron

Rick Danko BandLive on Breeze Hill (Woodstock Records)
Inside Bob Dylan’s Jesus Years DVD (Highway 61 Entertainment/MVD Visual)
John SebastianWelcome Back DVD (Quantum Leap/MVD Visual)

Rick Danko’s passing in 1999 was, naturally, a tremendously sad blow to the Hudson Valley scene he helped create and the music world far beyond. Recorded just one year prior to Danko’s death, Live on Breeze Hill features the bassist and guitarist backed by his fellow Band members Garth Hudson and Jim Weider and such local stalwarts as keyboardist Aaron “Professor Louie” Hurwitz (whose Woodstock Records first issued the album in 1999; it later came out as half of a Japanese two-CD set), bassist Scott Petito, drummers Randy Ciarlante and Dean Sharp, and singer Leslie Ritter. This cleanly recorded disc finds Danko dishing up the expected Band classics (“Stage Fright,” “Shape I’m In,” “Ophelia,” “Chest Fever”) and a clutch of tunes from his later years, and a bonus studio remake of “Sip the Wine,” a song from Danko’s 1977 solo debut, opens the record.

Of course Danko and his Band-mates will forever be linked with Bob Dylan, thanks to their backing him during his early “electric” period and the communal woodshedding that begat Music from Big Pink and The Basement Tapes. Joel Gilbert’s documentary Inside Bob Dylan’s Jesus Years attempts a welcome look at the legend’s religious-themed late ‘70s/early ‘80s phase, an era that confused many fans and yielded Slow Train Coming and Saved, LPs much maligned in their day but now recognized as among Dylan’s best. Unfortunately, despite containing lengthy interviews with central figures like spiritual advisor and Jews for Jesus luminary Mitch Glaser, late producer Jerry Wexler, keyboardist Spooner Oldham, and backup singer Regina McCrary, this unsanctioned effort is little more than a hopelessly befuddled, wildly unfocused waste of two hours that never comes close to glimpsing the essence of its subject. Dylan evidently declined to appear in Gilbert’s doc, and the whole world knows by now that getting straight to the heart of what makes Bob Dylan tick is something that only Dylan himself—if and when he chooses to do so—is capable of, a fact underscored by the singer’s revelatory screen time in Martin Scorsese’s landmark No Direction Home. In Jesus Years, Gilbert, short of being able to interview his idol (the director is also a Dylan lookalike who fronts a tribute band) clearly has no idea of where he’s going, as the questions he asks reveal little about the man or his music and the storyline is hazy at best. Outside of the gruffly affable Wexler’s anecdotes and an earthed, typically evasive 1981 Dylan interview, this is for diehards only.

One of Dylan’s notable running buddies during his early ‘60s Greenwich Village days was future Lovin’ Spoonful main man and longtime Woodstocker John Sebastian. Welcome Back presents a 1987 solo concert at Iowa State University, much of it with the singer accompanied by yet another legendary Dylan sideman, guitarist David Bromberg. Although the editing could be a little better (do we really need to sit through the players tuning and changing guitars between songs?), this inti’mate, good-humored set includes sprightly Spoonful faves like “What a Day for a Daydream,” “Nashville Cats,” and “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind,” and, yes, Sebastian’s hit theme from “Welcome Back, Kotter.” A version of Little Feat’s “Dixie Chicken” is a rare treat, as is “Blow the Blues,” a steamy harmonica showpiece. Fans will delight.

Rick Danko:
Bob Dylan’s Jesus Years:
John Sebastian:

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