Release Date: Oct 7, 2008
Record label: Sony BMG
Only one set of archival releases can compare to Bob Dylan’s ”Bootleg Series” in the annals of popular music, and that would be the Beatles’ Anthology collections, which similarly gave the world a window onto a great recording act’s studio outtakes. But with the Fab Four, you always get the feeling that there was only one possible perfect version of each song; the fascination lies in hearing how certain numbers become classics due to some final, transcendent tweak. Listening to Dylan’s discards, though, there’s little sense of honing or averted near misses; his cuttingroom-floor takes are usually completely viable alternatives to the official renditions.
A real surprise on disc two is a dynamite reading of Robert Johnson's "32-20 Blues" that was originally recorded for the covers-only World Gone Wrong, but left in the can. A completely unreleased tune, "Can't Escape from You" portrays Dylan the folksinger as a lover of early rock & roll ballads. In his own wrecked way, he pays homage (in waltz time) to the Platters, Doc Pomus, Leiber & Stoller, and Cisco Houston with a lonely B-3 and trebly guitars.
Chocolate GeniusLive tracks and crisp, rootsy outtakes with a whole lotta LanoisAs Dylan’s every move seems to add weight and mystery to his legend, it’s no surprise that Columbia’s bootleg series—the cockeyed commentary to the canon—has finally caught up to the latter phases of his recorded output. Tell Tale Signs largely resists the temptation to sketch “latter-era Dylan” in favor of the more specific “Lanois-era Dylan. ” Stocked heavily with outtakes from Time out of Mind and Oh Mercy, these “lost” tracks demonstrate producer Daniel Lanois’ influence in steering the legendary songwriter to a place of seemingly pure voice—a revived interest in roots fused with an elder jokester’s nostalgic delivery.
Which Bob Dylan is it that will turn up this time? Last year's film, I'm Not There, directed by Todd Haynes, presented seven incarnations of the singer - the young Dylan who wanted to be Woody Guthrie (played by a child), the born-again Dylan, the Dylan who played that thin wild mercury music (played by Cate Blanchett) and so on - but in the course of the past half decade, he has revealed himself to us in a further multiplicity of ways. There's Dylan the TV ad star, Dylan the radio host, Dylan the painter, Dylan the author - and of course Dylan the never-ending touring artist. Can these different figures be reconciled by thinking of Dylan as Dylan the entertainment franchise? Because the 67-year-old's commercial stock is higher now than at any other point in at least the past 30 years.
The eighth treasure trove in Dylan's Bootleg Series of unreleased material and alternate takes further illustrates that there is no such thing as a definitive recording of a Dylan song, just a snapshot of the great man's prevailing mood. Thus, Mississippi appears in completely different haunting-blues and sleepily sensual versions; Most of the Time - without Daniel Lanois's atmospheric production and delivered in 60s Dylan style - highlights the power of the lyrics. This set trawls the last two decades, including sessions from Oh Mercy, Time Out of Mind, Love and Theft and Modern Times, and reaffirms Dylan's return to classic form.