Friday, June 8, 2018

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

Release Date October 6, 2008
With Tell Tale Signs Bob Dylan released a wealth of material recorded from 1989-2006, one of the most productive periods of his career. 

Disc 1

A stripped down version of "Mississippi" opens the disc, a song first recorded during the Time Out of Mind Sessions. Dylan later gave the song to Sheryl Crow for her 1998 album The Globe Sessions. "Most of the Time" is more upbeat than the "swampy" production that appeared the official release on Oh Mercy. An early version of "Dignity" features Dylan on piano with some early lyrics, my favorite being, "soul of the nation is under the knife." A far more effective song without the snappy production that appeared on Greatest Hits Vol. III. "Someday Baby" is more restrained than the straight blues entry on Modern Times. "Red River Shore" was another outtake from Time Out Of Mind, a Western epic within the folk tradition, that tale of an elusive muse.

Almost under the radar, Dylan wrote many songs for films during this period, even winning an Oscar for "Things Have Changed" from the 2000 movie Wonder Boys. "Tell Ol' Bill" was written for North Country starring Charlize Theron. A smoothed out version of "Born in Time" from his 1990 album Under the Red Sky is another highlight. An alternate version of "Can't Wait" minus the Daniel Lanois production lacks the sense of existential dread of the album version. "Everything is Broken" sounds similar to what appeared on Oh Mercy, only less intense and angry. "Dreamin' of You" was recorded in during the Time Out of Mind period, snippets of the lyrics would appear on "Standing by the Doorway" and "Can't Wait," providing a brief glimpse into Dylan's songwriting process. "Huck's Tune" was another one written for filmmaker Curtis Hanson, in this case the forgettable 2006 film Lucky You. The gospel tinged blues of "Marchin to the City" is a throwback to the Christian era with an updated sound. Disc One ends with a live version of "High Water (for Charley Patton)" displaying Dylan's ability to chisel his songs during the never-ending tour.

Disc 2

Another version of "Mississippi" kicks off the bonus disc in an effective mid tempo performance. "32-30 blues" from the World Gone Wrong sessions pays tribute to Robert Johnson. "Series of Dreams" sounds similar to the version on Bootlegs Vol. 1,2, and 3. "God Knows" also appears, although I wish they had included the stunning live version Bob and his Band performed at Woodstock '94. "Can't Escape From You" is a masterful song (written for a film that was never made) from Modern Times is melancholy and beautiful, more akin to the songs that would appear on Tempest a few years later. Then a finished version of "Dignity," that lacks the urgency of the piano demo on Disc 1. A stirring performance of "Ring Them Bells" from the legendary New York Supper Club shows Nov. 16-17 1993. The murder ballad "Cocaine Blues" was recorded for a 1997 show. A guitar driven version of "Ain't Talkin" made me think the song would be right at home on a Metal album. "The Girl on the Greenbrier Shore" and "Miss the Mississippi" from the Good As I've Been To You illustrate Dylan's re-engagement with folk during the 1990s. A blistering version of "Lonesome Day Blues" follows. A jaunty duet of "The Lonesome River" with bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley is another highlight. "Cross the Green Mountain" was written for the Civil War film Gods and Generals, an era that's long fascinated Dylan. A live performance of "Love Sick" closes the second disc. 

Tell Tale Signs is comprehensive yet at the same time feels like the tip of the iceberg. While it's compelling to hear these songs develop in the studio, as Dylan has said many times, it's in the live performances where they take shape. On a more profound level, the collection places Dylan's evolution in some perspective: culture hero of the 1960s, searching for meaning in the 1970s with obsessions ranging from I Ching to The Late Great Planet Earth, adrift in the 1980s, and, finally, a wistful seeker into the New Millennium. 


  1. My favorite bootleg series release, Time Out of Mind could have been even better with the inclusion of Red River Shore, Dreamin' of You, etc.