Tell Tale Signs:
The Bootleg Series Vol. 8

Bob Dylan

If anything, Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8, the eighth installment in Bob Dylan’s Bootleg Series, rolling along unabated since1991, reveals how productive the Minnesota bard has been in recent years. The 27 songs spread out over two CDs comprise a slew of unreleased and alternate versions of songs taken mostly from sessions that produced Dylan’s highly acclaimed albums Oh Mercy (1989), Time Out Of Mind (1997), Love And Theft (2001) and Modern Times (2006). One thing is clear: Bob Dylan is no nostalgia act, riding out his golden years on cruise control. As these recordings attest, he’s a musical archeologist who continues to excavate new and wondrous ways of expressing himself like no one else can.

Throughout most of the 80s, Dylan struggled to reach a generation that swayed to the beat of new wave, heavy metal and MTV. Recharged and ready to revive his status as the song and dance man of rock and roll, Dylan set up shop in New Orleans with a batch of new songs and producer Daniel Lanois at the helm for No Mercy. Raw and breathing with new life, it was hailed as Dylan’s comeback album for the 1990s. The alternate version of “Most Of The Time” from these sessions comes across as a lively acoustic number that easily stacks up next to the likes of “Just Like A Woman” or “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” The version “Everything Is Broken” boasts a swampier groove, while a live take of “Ring Them Bells” twinkles with sublime tenderness. “Dignity,” “Born In Time” and “Series Of Dreams,” which failed to make Oh Mercy in any form, still earn their place alongside other nuggets fromthe period.

Unfortunately, the next three albums — 1990’s Under The Red Sky, 1992’s Good As I Been To You and 1993’s World Gone Wrong (“32-20 Blues,” a leftover from this session, makes its debut here) didn’t quite sustain the momentum of Oh Mercy. But once Dylan reconnected with Lanois, and the two and members of Dylan’s touring band, set out to up the stakes. Time Out Of Mind, of course, would surpass all expectations. It was a sonic feast, wet and wild with lost love and disappointment; a bleak and magnificent album that won a Grammy for “Album of the Year” and turned Dylan into a folk hero for the new millennium (and we all know how interesting that’s been these last few years). The unreleased “Dreamin’ Of You” might have given Time Out Of Mind an extra kick in the pants, but it was a wise decision to keep “Red River Shore” and “Marchin’ To The City” under wraps for the time being. Neither one of the two versions of “Mississippi,” which open each disc from Tell Tale Signs, would have been appropriate for Time Out Of Mind, its original target. Rather, a fresh recording seems ready-made for the mood of Love And Theft.

Indeed, for Love And Theft and Modern Times, Bob Dylan fell into a ragtime rockabilly trance that stirred a new, insurmountable creative streak in the elder folk singer. Spirited live versions of “High Water (For Charley Patton)” and “Lonesome Day Blues” show how much guts and glory was lurking in the mire of Love And Theft. Meanwhile, debates are possibly raging, pitting alternates of “Someday Baby” and “Ain’t Talkin’” against their released versions from Modern Times. Any undecided voters should immediately go to the random ramblings of “Can’t Escape From You” or “The Girl On The Greenbriar Shore,” a suave and jaunty reminder of Dylan’s ability to turn the simplest ode into a stroke of genius.

Along with the oddballs and live tracks are three tunes (or takes) from various films. No, there isn’t anything from Masked And Anonymous or The Wonder Boys, but “’Cross The Green Mountain,” from the Gods And Generals soundtrack, makes for an interesting closer. The liner notes by Larry “Ratso” Sloman that fill the pages of the set’s booklet has all the slimey details. Well, unless, you’re a hardcore Dylan freak who would probably prefer the limited edition 3-CD set and its included hardcover book, or a vinyl purist who might go in for the four LP box set. No matter which configuration or format it comes in, Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8 is required listening for Dylanologists and casual fans alike.

~ Shawn Perry

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