The Bootleg Series, Vol. 8: Tell Tale Signs - Rare And Unreleased 1989 - 2006

Bob Dylan

Columbia, 2008

REVIEW BY: Mark Millan


Bob Dylan’s ongoing Bootleg Series has thus far provided us with some brilliant live albums and rare gems from his extensive vault.  This new edition covers seventeen years, from the recording sessions for 1989’s Oh Mercy through to his most recent sessions recording 2006’s Modern Times.  It’s available as a single CD, two-disc -- and if you really want to drop some serious coin, a three-disc edition is available for a tad under $100.  Not being that frivolous with my hard-earned money, I purchased the double-disc set that comes with a 60-page color booklet.

The tracks are not sorted chronologically, so you get the feeling at times that it’s an entirely new album, being that Dyan’s voice hasn’t changed much save for a little more grit here and there.  The earliest songs are from the Oh Mercy sessions produced by Daniel Lanois.  An alternate version of “Most Of The Time” is vintage Dylan and sounds as if it’s a much older song.  “Dignity” is here in two forms, first a short piano demo version, then the full band studio version that was left off of the album.  It’s a little muddled and would not reach its full potential until Dylan performed it for his MTV Unplugged set in 1995.

The other unreleased songs from Oh Mercy here are “Series Of Dreams,” “God Knows,” and what I consider to be one of his finest ever, “Born In Time.”  It’s classic Dylan, just a beautiful tune and one of his best lyrics: “In the hills of mystery / In the foggy web of destiny / You can have what’s left of me / When we were born in time.” The song would be re-recorded for the Under The Red Sky album but lost all of its charm in the process.

Both discs open with alternate versions of what must be one of Dylan’s personal favorites (though he’d never admit it); “Mississippi” was originally recorded for the troubadour’s brilliant comeback album, 1997’s Time Out Of Mind.  The album’s producer (Lanois once again) didn’t think the song was “sexy” enough and it was left off of the record.  my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

It finally appeared on the follow-up album Love And Theft in 2001. It differs greatly from the album version and offers a slightly different perspective lyrically. The second version is better again, but neither come close to the rollicking version that graced its album of origin.

“Can’t Wait” is also from the Time Out Of Mind sessions and it’s obviously a demo, but much brighter both in arrangement and lyrics than the morbid beauty that ended up on the album. The track has a great vocal performance from Dylan and apart from the chorus, the lyrics are entirely different from the original. 

More unreleased gems from these sessions are here with “Red River Shore,” “Dreamin’ Of You,” and “Marchin’ To The City.” Time Out Of Mind has long been my favorite Dylan album, and these songs prove that he was in rare form during those sessions; I can’t help thinking how great a double album would have been.

Aside from the alternate takes of “Mississippi,” the only other songs here from Love And Theft are two live cuts. Considering that he made that album in two weeks, self-producing (under the alias Jack Frost) and recording live, there probably isn’t much left over from those sessions anyway. 

The first is a smoking hot version of “High Water (For Charley Patton),” easily one of the album’s best songs, which was recorded live in 2003. The production is crisp and Dylan gives it all his got, growling over the blues rock his band is serving up -- it must’ve been a great show.  The second, “Lonesome Day Blues,” however, suffers from the dreadful production. It sounds like it was recorded in a tin shed, which is a shame really, because the performance is great.

The only track from Dylan’s most recent sessions for 2006’s Modern Times is an alternate take on the album’s finest cut “Ain’t Talkin’.” Although it’s a great song, the album version runs over eight minutes and the slightly plodding arrangement isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, much like Dylan himself. 

Here it’s stripped of more than two minutes and has a more bluesy feel to it, not to mention an alternate verse, “It’s the first new day of the grand and glorious autumn / The Queen of love is coming across the grass / None there call here anything but Madame / No one flirts with her or even makes a pass.”

In addition to all of this, there are great live versions of “Cocaine Blues” and “Ring Them Bells,” a stunning live cut of “The Girl On The Greenbriar Shore,” and more unreleased tracks from various times including “32-20 Blues” and the enchanting “Miss The Mississippi.” 

All told, this is essential for any Dylan fan and is a fantastic showcase for the last seventeen years of his work, which has most certainly included some of his best ever work. Can’t wait for Volume 9.

Rating: A

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© 2008 Mark Millan and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Columbia, and is used for informational purposes only.