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Showtime Premieres Fascinating Documentary On the New Basement Tapes

The New Basement Tapes
Vivien Killilea, Getty Images

One of the most exciting musical experiments in recent memory comes in the form of the supergroup known as the New Basement Tapes. Organized by T Bone Burnett, the New Basement Tapes were tasked with the seemingly impossible endeavor of putting music to long-lost lyrics written by Bob Dylan — written in 1967 and recently discovered. The experiment is captured on the new record, ‘Lost On the River,’ which hit store shelves earlier this month. Friday night (Nov. 21), Showtime premiered the album’s accompanying documentary, ‘Lost Songs: The Basement Tapes Continued.’

An album like ‘Lost On the River’ almost requires a documentary; the making-of process is much too mythical to not have some sort of documentation. And with ‘Lost Songs,’ director Sam Jones and Burnett set out to provide fans even more than just a film on the New Basement Tapes, but also a historical recollection of Dylan and the Band’s original ‘Basement Tapes’ — and Dylan himself provides much narration throughout.

In the course of a little less than two hours, Jones captures the magic that was, essentially, assembled between five high-profile artists and one legendary producer — and the result is fascinating.

Starting at the top of the food chain, the one and only Elvis Costello plays a bit of a support role throughout the doc; sure, this is a monumental task, putting music to Dylan’s words, but Costello is a star himself who has years and years of experience — especially when compared to the other New Basement Tapes. Jim James also finds himself somewhat out of the spotlight — though, he is without a doubt the “funny man” in the group, seeming to always liven up even the most tense situations.

You might think Marcus Mumford would be one of the most prolific members of the band, what with the massive and constant success of Mumford and Sons. But, fans will be surprised to watch his songwriting process — a process that normally takes time and focus and several personal edits; with ‘Lost On the River,’ Mumford and the group found themselves writing these songs in a matter of days (two weeks to be exact). While this wasn’t necessarily easy for Mumford initially, it didn’t keep him from working and singing on one of the record’s standout tracks, ‘Kansas City.’

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As unsure as Mumford is about his own songwriting skills, Dawes‘ Taylor Goldsmith is even more doubtful. “I’m lucky to be in the room,” he says. “We’re all lucky to be in the room, but I’m especially lucky to be in the room.” While Goldsmith constantly questions whether or not he should be part of the supergroup, the focus of ‘Lost Songs,’ other than the creation process and the legend of Dylan’s original album, is centered directly on the beautiful singer and multi-instrumentalist, Rhiannon Giddens. She never quite feels like she fits in with the group, and even admits that she doesn’t know all that much about Dylan and the ‘Basement Tapes.’

What’s so interesting is that at any given moment during the making of ‘Lost On the River’ — even with Costello and James — the members of the New Basement Tapes all seem to be incredibly humbled by the opportunity that Burnett has presented them with. These five musicians all received the opportunity to collaborate with a 27-year-old Dylan — with, as Burnett puts it, decades and decades of hindsight; it’s understandable that they might be nervous.

“Self-consciousness ends the creative process,” Burnett explains. “My job is to not let self-consciousness get in the way.” And he succeeds, as evidenced on the 20-track debut from the New Basement Tapes.

Giving fans a sneak peek behind-the-scenes of the creation of one of the most exciting releases of the year, ‘Lost Songs: The Basement Tapes Continued’ creates an unexpected world for these successful singers and songwriters — one full of self-doubt and second guesses, but one that is built on the foundation of the legend that is Bob Dylan.

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Next: The New Basement Tapes Make Their Live Debut On 'The Tonight Show'

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