Review: “Tell Tale Signs,” Bob Dylan


Certainly no one who knows anything about American popular culture needs to be informed about Bob Dylan’s monumental importance.  He was an powerful musical (and social) force in the 1960s, and his influence is felt even today.  Which brings us to Tell Tale Signs: Bootleg Series No. 8, a two-CD collection of outtakes, unreleased and live tracks from 1989-2006.  Dylan has always reinterpreted his own songs in different ways, and the new set gives listeners an opportunity to hear some familiar songs differently, and to hear some gems that never made it to the released albums.

Even though the 27 songs on the two-disc set were recorded over an seven-year period, they flow together rather well in this collection.  And I must confess: I’m a long-time Dylan fan, but the Bootleg Series always seemed to me kind of superfluous and a transparent moneymaking ploy.  But after listening to Tell Tale Signs straight through, I’m ready to reassess – these tunes hold together at least as well or better than the albums they were intended for (Oh Mercy, Time Out Of Mind, Love And Theft and Modern Times).  Songs written for the first two albums were produced by Daniel Lanois, and his dark and swampy influence only heightens the artfulness of songs like “Dreamin’ Of You” and “Can’t Wait.” 

Dylan himself produces about half of the program, and a handful of songs take him deep into the heart of American music.  “Red River Shore” waltzes along with an almost Tex-Mex lilt, and one of two versions of “Dignity” takes on a rockabilly gallop.  Bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley goes toe-to-toe with Dylan on the duet “The Lonesome River” and “32-20 Blues” covers Robert Johnson, the legendary bluesman who is one of Dylan’s deep influences. 

This is all pretty good stuff – Tell Tale Signs: Bootleg Series No. 8 is an important entry in the Dylan catalog and a worthy addition to the library of any knowledgeable music fan.  The 2-CD set is reasonably priced at under $20 but a three-disc set with an extra CD of music (mostly secondary versions of songs on the other two discs) and a hardcover photo book comes with a hefty price tag of around $140.  Go with the two disc set; one can only hope the other music will eventually, ah, turn up.

MP3: “Dreamin’ Of You”

Bob Dylan official website

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