For the last 17 years, Columbia Records has been gathering Bob Dylan’s demos, alternate takes, unreleased songs, and live performances for the outstanding Bootleg Series. The just released eighth volume of the series, titled Tell Tale Signs, is one of the finest installments in the venerable series.
Volume 8 consists of recordings from the period 1989-2006. That means it includes material from sessions and performances that occurred during one of Dylan’s strongest eras. Critically praised albums from the period include Time Out Of Mind, Love And Theft, Oh Mercy, and Modern Times. The collection is available in a two-disc, 27-song edition with extensive liner notes, and in a deluxe three-disc package that you’ll need to raid your piggy bank to be able to afford. The thing is, that third disc included in the expensive version needs to be heard. Find a way to get it. Christmas is nearly here.
For me, the live songs stand out. Fiery versions of “High Water (For Charley Patton)” from disc one, “Ring Them Bells” from disc two, “Cold Irons Bound,” recorded at Bonnaroo in 2004, and a stunning “Things Have Changed,” both included on the bonus disc, showcase Dylan’s continuing vitality as a performer, and indicate that his songwriting powers have not diminished one bit.
Dylan has been critical of Daniel Lanois’ production of Oh Mercy, and Time Out Of Mind, and here an attempt is made to set the record straight by including alternate takes, including three separate and distinctly different alternate takes on “Mississippi,” which appeared on Time Out Of Mind, and two different interpretations of “Most Of The Time,” which appeared on Oh Mercy. There are a number of other songs presented in unreleased versions from these sessions.
All of this is just scratching the surface of this wonderful collection though. Tell Tale Signs is easily one of the best albums of the year. At 67 years of age, Bob Dylan remains a living, breathing master. Grab this.
In A Word: Imperative