Bob Dylan – Tell Tale Signs: Bootleg Series Vol. 8

bootlegVolume 8 in Bob Dylan’s Bootleg Series is one of the best yet, and that’s saying a lot. This collection focuses on the past 20 years of Dylan’s career and it’s amazing that, though his voice has become more and more limited, his songs are just getting better and better.

Though the two-disc set isn’t sequenced this way, it basically boils down to 1) a collection of live and alternate takes of songs on his last five studio albums, and 2) a dozen or so little-known gems that, if released as a proper album, would rank right up there with Dylan’s finest work.

Each category is revelatory. Start with the previously released tracks: Two versions of the marvelous Love and Theft song ‘Mississippi’ show up here, one a delicate, questioning thing and the other a loping bluesy number. Just like that, one of Dylan’s finest compositions becomes three of Dylan’s finest compositions.

He works similar magic with ‘Dignity,’ a powerful song famously left off the Oh Mercy album (Dylan is known for leaving some of his best songs off his albums because they don’t ‘fit’ and this is a prime example).

He also makes up for some of the heavy production layered on his 80s albums. Oh Mercy‘s atmospheric ‘Most of the Time’ shows up in a stripped-down guitar and harmonica version that’s even more poignant. And Under the Blood Red Sky‘s lone bright spot, ‘Born in Time,’ is much improved here.

But the real treasures are the ‘new’ songs. According to the liner notes, one Time Out of Mind musician was incredulous to hear that a tune called ‘Red River Shore’ wouldn’t make the final cut, claiming it would have been the best thing on the album. He was right. This seven-and-a-half minute epic romance is, to my ears, one of the best songs Dylan has ever written. I’ve embedded it below so you can judge for yourself.

Three songs which first surfaced on movie soundtracks are almost as good : ‘Tell Ol’ Bill,’ from North Country; ‘Huck’s Tune’ from Lucky You; and the sublime ‘Cross the Green Mountain’ from the civil war epic ‘Gods and Generals.’ And ‘Dreamin’ of You,’ another Time Out of Mind outtake, sails along on an irresistible piano riff and fabulous drums… possibly the most seductive thing he’s ever written. I’ve posted clips of all these songs below. It’s absolutely worth your time to listen to them.

I could go on and on (I suppose I already have) but suffice it to say that this collection is as significant and as powerful as Dylan’s last three studio albums (which themselves rank right up there with his brilliant 60s output). If there was ever any doubt that Bob Dylan is the preeminent voice of popular music, the last decade has certainly put it to rest.

Red River Shore:

Tell Ol’ Bill:

Huck’s Tune:

Cross the Green Mountain:

Dreamin’ of You:

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