Along for the Ride with Tell Tale Signs
Columbia recording artist Bob Dylan's been slinging out the alt-takes, b-sides, throwaways, covers, live versions, and other unreleased tunes on the Bootleg Series since 1991. Of course, a bootleg ain't a bootleg if it is released officially, but I digress. If there's one thing that the series has proven, it is that often Dylan's best versions of his songs are left off the albums. . . and sometimes even the best songs are scratched, left in the backyard as Bob turns the lights out (I'm looking at you, "Blind Willie McTell").
Point is, the Bootleg series is rich with material, and Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Volume 8, is about as good as it gets. Chronicling the era between 1989's Oh Mercy and 2006's Modern Times, Tell Tale affords listeners a front road seat next to Dylan on his journey away from the burned out- leather jacket 80s to the ultimate bluesman, the songsmith so steeped in Americana that the man and the characters that populate his art are nearly indistinguishable. Tell Tale Signs paints the flowing veins of American song and culture, as our master artist Bob borrows, steals, begs, and creates his way through the landscape. There's an incredible stretch of songs on the first half of disc one- "Most of the Time" through "Dreamin' of You"- that stands up tall against anything else the man's done in his career.
Here's the best of Tell Tale Signs:
"Most of the Time":A raw acoustic & harmonica cut to the bone & hit to the core. He doesn't miss her- most of the time. So he still does.
"Someday Baby": A jumpy, bluesy band shimmers and shines polish on the edge of this number- Bob with a twinkle tin his eye and some well earned realism to impart.
"Red River Shore": Shockingly, this tune doesn't find a home on any album, but it is as great as anything released since 1997 in the catalog of Dylan. Hear Bobby reminisce, sadly. "Red River Shore" also features an impressive vocal from Dylan, as his voice hits all the right notes. Certain words are emphasized, others, rattled off; all of it: heartfelt. Was the girl from the Red River real?
"Tell 'Ol Bill": An icy walk through north country regret, "Tell 'Ol Bill" finds Bobby walkin' through the snow, as this edgy, wiry thin tune with roadhouse piano finds its path along the line of time. Joan Baez once reminiesced in "Diamonds and Rust" that Bob had "snow falling in this hair". It seems he paid attention to the song- his line here? "Snowflakes falling in my hair/ beneath the grey and stormy sky".
"Born in Time": A relaxed exhale of a song sung with laid back reassurance, emotional confidence, and wisdom. While other songs in this collection from this era are in tune with the seasons (and seasons of life- walking through the leaves falling from the trees on "Mississippi", walking though the summer nights on "Standing in the Doorway", and walking through the winter in "Tell 'Ol Bill) "Born in Time" is a cosmic recreation of simple twists of fate & connections that span across the land.
"Can't Wait": There might be a sense of anger, here, but also yearning for a lost love over a plate of slow and punchy blues.
"Dreamin' of You" features a sparse, meandering piano, the desert southwest, the searchers, the years of the detective. . . we all do see through the glass dimly, it's been said.
"God Knows" is a straightforward rocker, a clean, efficient, detailed list of what we should know when we are our best selves.
"Ain't Talkin'" is a romp through the mystical garden of life, angels and demons and spirits abound. . . part spooky part spiritual. Again, the singer is walking, and a sense of the fallen worlds sin lurks close at every corner. The picked acoustic sounds like a warning bell in slow motion, and sets a sublime, underground, naked-truth vibe from the start.
"Cross the Green Mountain"carries with it the slow chug of history. The band plays the music to match. It's a beautiful understanding of the horror of war (the American Civil War), as the fiddle hits home the emotional tug of historical destiny following each verse. This song is a vast statement- a living monument of sorts that charts its own course.