|Title||The Bootleg Series Vol. 8 – Tell Tale Signs: Rare and Unreleased 1989-2006|
Listening to Tell Tale Signs is often like trawling through a writer’s first drafts: more intriguing for what it reveals about the process of composing songs than for the quality of the songs themselves. I don’t mean to suggest that the album – which collects live and unreleased recordings from 1989 to the present, many of them early versions of tracks on Time Out of Mind, Love and Theft, and Modern Times – isn’t good. There isn’t a bad song on it. It’s just that many of them appear in more polished form on the studio albums.
The two versions of “Mississippi” here, for example, are perfectly decent in themselves but, to my mind, the acoustic take is over-ponderous and the second effort unnecessarily restrained. Neither comes close to the faster, rollicking blues of the Love and Theft version – definitely that album’s stand-out track. The difference is the contribution of Dylan’s band, which is also muted on a recording of “Ain’t Talking” that lacks the haunting quality it has on Modern Times. Nonetheless, these versions, and those of “Everything Is Broken” and “Dignity,” amongst others, do stand up in their own right as well as encouraging the listener to reconsider their better-known counterparts. For Dylan, a song never exists in one version alone.
The live recordings are a mixed bag. The best of them are the intimate “Girl On the Greenbriar Shore”and a swaggering, growling “Lonesome Day Blues.”
There are also strong interpretations of Bill Haley’s “Miss the Mississippi” and Ralph Stanley’s more recent “The Lonesome River.” The soundtracks, “Huck’s Tune” and especially “Crossing the Green Mountain”, are lyrically sensitive but musically a little flat. But the absolute stand out track – and one of the few that, amazingly, can’t be found elsewhere – is “Red River Shore”. Crooned in a gravelly-silky voice which seems on the point of cracking at any moment, and with a restraint that makes it genuinely moving, it is as poignant a reflection on disappointed love, world-weariness and religious longing as Dylan has recorded.
This album repays many listens and supports Dylan’s exalted reputation of recent years.