Tell Tale Signs is the official name of the 8th installment of Bob Dylan’s bootleg series. It pretty much picks up where Volumes 1-3 left off, meaning some of the songs and outtakes date back to the late 80s. It has plenty of fresh arrangements of pre-released songs, but there are some really great new songs on this collection as well.
Bob Dylan has never claimed to be a particularly good melodist. That’s part of the reason why he constantly rearranges his older songs, which is what drives so many passive fans (including my mother) crazy about his concerts. But if you were on a “never-ending” concert tour, wouldn’t you want to mix things up as well? It’s this desire to experiment with different melodies that has created such a huge market for Bob Dylan’s throw-away tracks. And by Dylan releasing the songs himself, he’s keeping his works off the black market and in the public domain.
Many of the songs on Tell Tale Signs were recorded during the string of great albums that Dylan put out between 1997-2006 (click here for a chronological listing of Bob Dylan’s studio albums). Dylan’s Time Out Of Mind won three Grammy Awards in 1998 including Album of the Year. In 2000, he won the Academy Award for best original song with Things Have Changed from the film, Wonder Boys.
After basking in the glow of yet another “comeback,” Dylan began producing his own records under the pseudonym, Jack Frost. He drew on the kind of music that inspired him in his youth, such as blues, country, rockabilly, and early pop. He telegraphed this strategy by naming these albums Love And Theft (2001) and Modern Times (2006). It was a sly admission that he was stealing ideas and material from older songs and giving them a modern spin. It was a brilliant move despite the howls of many music critics. Not only was he tapping into classic songs that have stood the test of time, but he was doing it after they’d seen their copyrights expire.
The track list is below. The two new versions of Mississippi are very creative and the recording of Born In Time harkens back to the famously rare arrangement that I’ve blogged about before. Red River Shore, Huck’s Tune, and ‘Cross The Green Mountain represent some of his best work in the last twenty years, the latter of which tells the story of a young Civil War soldier from the Southern perspective. It’s both solemn and stirring at the same time.
I highly recommend buying the entire album, but if you wanted to sample the ten best songs before buying, I’d check these out first.
- Mississippi (Unreleased, Time Out Of Mind)
- Most Of The Time (Alternate Version, Oh Mercy)
- Dignity (Piano Demo, Oh Mercy)
- Someday Baby (Alternate Version, Modern Times)
- Red River Shore (Unreleased, Time Out Of Mind)
- Tell Ol’ Bill (Alternate Version, North Country Soundtrack)
- Born In Time (Unreleased, Oh Mercy)
- Can’t Wait (Alternate Version, Time Out Of Mind)
- Everything Is Broken (Alternate Version, Oh Mercy)
- Dreamin’ Of You (Unreleased, Time Out Of Mind)
- Huck’s Tune (from Lucky You Soundtrack)
- Marchin’ To The City (Unreleased, Time Out Of Mind)
- High Water (For Charley Patton) (Live, 2003)
- Mississippi (Unreleased Version #2, Time Out Of Mind)
- 32-20 Blues (Unreleased, World Gone Wrong)
- Series Of Dreams (Unreleased, Oh Mercy)
- God Knows (Unreleased, Oh Mercy)
- Can’t Escape From You (Unreleased, December 2005)
- Dignity (Unreleased, Oh Mercy)
- Ring Them Bells (Live, The Supper Club, 1993)
- Cocaine Blues (Live, 1997)
- Ain’t Talkin’ (Alternate Version, Modern Times)
- The Girl On The Greenbriar Shore (Live, 1992)
- Lonesome Day Blues (Live, 2002)
- Miss The Mississippi (Unreleased, 1992)
- The Lonesome River (With Ralph Stanley)
- ‘Cross The Green Mountain (From Gods And Generals Soundtrack)
If you downloaded these songs as well as the ones in my Suggested Track List For Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Volume 4, you’d have a pretty good collection of Bob Dylan’s best songs since Oh Mercy was released in 1989.
Note: Huck’s Tune has the second-weirdest lyrics Dylan’s ever written in my opinion; “All the merry little elves can go hang themselves.” Obviously, the weirdest lyrics he ever wrote are from Tombstone Blues; “The sun’s not yellow, it’s chicken.” Third place arguably goes to I Shall Be Free No. 10 with “Well, I set my monkey on the log and ordered him to do the Dog. He wagged his tail and shook his head and he went and did the Cat instead.” Actually, that whole song is really weird.