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The Bootleg Series, Vol. 8: Tell Tale Signs - Rare and Unreleased 1989-2006 (Bonus Track Version)

Bob Dylan

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Album Review

Tell Tale Signs is perhaps the most appropriately titled of all the volumes in Bob Dylan's official Bootleg Series thus far. Containing 13 tracks, it adds up to disc one of the two-disc version; the material here dates from the albums Oh Mercy through to 2006's Modern Times. It presents a carefully prepared sonic treat of his turn-of-the-century musical world view. Dylan seems to perceive the modern world as a strange place; one he no longer understands, nor wishes to. The music here is startling in its depth and presentation. It begins with an unreleased version of "Mississippi," a song recorded for inclusion on Time Out of Mind, but which ended up on Love and Theft five years later. This one, with only Daniel Lanois' electric guitar as backing, reveals Dylan in full voice, performing it as a midtempo blues. It's jauntier in tempo, but harder, leaner, and wearier than the released version. Even more shocking is "Most of the Time," which has become a signature of Lanois' production style with its warm, thickly padded guitars and muffled drums. This alternate take, however, features Dylan solo with harmonica and guitar. It comes off as a statement about strengths and weaknesses rather than as a treatise of denial in the aftermath of lost love. It feels like a backporch country song here, with different lyrics that underscore the singer's steely determination. As the album flows, there are some truly amazing stops along the way. The unreleased "Red River Shore" would have shifted some of the darkness on Time Out of Mind and added some evidence of empathy and even tenderness to it. Likewise, "Marchin' to the City," one of the best slow blues Dylan has ever written, offers a respite from the desolation on that album. Soundtracks get represented here, too: the alternate take of "Tell Ol' Bill," from North Country, is a semi-rag tune with rambling honky tonk piano, and "Huck's Tune," from Lucky You, creates a more complex look at the male lead in the film with a Celtic undertow in the melody. This set closes with a burning live reading of "High Water (For Charley Patton)," with overdriven electric guitars. While most hardcore Dylan fans will purchase the double-disc version — containing 14 more tracks — this single CD is equally a delight, and easier to listen through in one sitting. Dylanologist Larry Sloman claims in his liner notes that this "might be his finest hour as a songwriter." It's not just hyperbole. In all, Tell Tale Signs feels like a new Bob Dylan record, not only for the freshness of the alternate material, but also for the incredible sound quality and organic feeling of its music. It's a carefully presented set, full of life and crackling energy, and offers yet more proof — as if any were needed — that Dylan remains as cagey, unpredictable, profound, and relevant as ever.

Biography

Born: 24 May 1941 in Duluth, MN

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Bob Dylan's influence on popular music is incalculable. As a songwriter, he pioneered several different schools of pop songwriting, from confessional singer/songwriter to winding, hallucinatory, stream-of-consciousness narratives. As a vocalist, he broke down the notion that a singer must have a conventionally good voice in order to perform, thereby redefining the vocalist's role in popular music. As a musician, he sparked several genres of pop music, including electrified folk-rock and country-rock....
Full bio

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