Of all the shocking tracks on Bob Dylan’s 1970 release, Self Portrait, none may be so bold as the reimagining of his classic “Like A Rolling Stone.” Recorded live at the Isle of Wight festival, it had Dylan singing in his newfound crooning style. It was softer, smaller, like a dog that wouldn’t hurt if it bit you. By the early 90s, when he recorded his Unplugged set, the song took on a reverence once again. Full bodied, and full of 20/20 hindsight and “I told you so.” Seeing him perform it live now, the words fall out of his mouth, leaving extra timing at the end of each phrase. It seems to be the intentional goal to not allow the audience to sing along.
The impetus for an artist to revisit old material is strong. No great artist is ever satisfied with work put down onto a canvas or tape or page. There’s always work to be done. Which is why it’s no surprise that My Morning Jacket would eventually revisit It Still Moves, perhaps their most recognizable album. It is by some estimates their greatest album, and it contains what I would say are the two most iconic MMJ tracks in “Golden” and “One Big Holiday.” Via Rolling Stone: “According to James, the band’s intense touring schedule at the time forced My Morning Jacket to hurriedly complete the album, which left the band feeling as though It Still Moves was ‘unfinished.’”
Which brings us to a necessary starting point: the album in its original mastered version. Over the course of a decade plus of listening to this album, never once did I think, this album could be better. Nor did I think that any part of it screamed unfinished. In fact, before the release of last year’s The Waterfall, I would have told you that it is their best album. (The Waterfall is their masterpiece, no ifs, ands, or buts.) But like Dylan looking back on “Like A Rolling Stone,” Jim James and MMJ must have heard something missing, or something askew, using as Rolling Stone suggests, the 15th anniversary as an excuse to revisit it (despite it being 13 years).
After remixing and remastering, this discerning listener noted definitive differences between the two copies. What they were, I couldn’t tell you. A word on methodology: I listened to both versions of the album, back to back on computer speakers, on headphones, and on my home stereo system. One time, I listened to a few main tracks back and forth, and the main thing I came away with was that they feel different. It’s almost like they had a room cramped full of furniture, and what they did was space it out better. It’s all the same stuff in the same room, it just feels more feng shui now.
What comes in addition to the revamped original album are three unreleased tracks and demos for ten out of twelve songs. On the former, it’s understandable why they didn’t make the cut the first time around. They are incomplete ideas that never reached the standard laid out by the rest of the tracks. This is interesting because the latter demos show just how well Jim James had these songs together before bringing them into the studio. The demos sound less like demos than they do a Jim James solo acoustic set (albeit with overdubs a la Springsteen’s Nebraska). Unlike bootlegs and demos for other albums, they give no real insight into the formation of the album.
So what we have as fans are three different versions of the same album: the demos, the original master, and this new remaster. Which brings me back to Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool from earlier this year. Most of the tracks on that album were songs that had existed in other forms, and were finally brought together to be completed for this album. The question being: are the songs now done? Could they be remastered in fifteen years time and be more done? The need to revisit a work of art is strong, even when looking at a song as seminal as “Like A Rolling Stone,” Dylan saw fit to go back over it and see what he could improve.
With this new edition, My Morning Jacket has definitely improved upon the original vision; an impressive feat considering the quality of the original. But, and most importantly, it gives us insight into the artists mind. That even when a work of art, in this case an album, is finalized, packaged, and shipped, inside the mind of the creator that work remains: it still moves.
Get your “It Still Moves” 4LP reissue here
Article: Christopher Gilson