Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tell Tale Signs: the verdict – CD1

Thanks to Martin Cowan:

I thought now the dust had settled it would be a good time to take a look in detail at the latest volume of Dylan's Bootleg Series.

Having had the opportunity to live with this CD set for the last few months, it seems to me that Sony have wanted their cake and to eat it too. I believe that pickings are too thin to spread across three discs and while there are some gems on Disc 3, it is disgraceful that Sony saw fit to charge such an inflated sum for the 3 disc version.

My view is that there is a cracking 2 disc set here and one can only speculate on what further gems still remain in the archives. If anything, what this set suffers from is uncertainty about what it is.

Is it a collection of unreleased songs? Is it a set of "never ending tour" live versions? Is it a set of "never released before on a Dylan album" songs? Well, some of all these, and that could be the problem.

Funny also that the cover photo recycles an image previously in the deluxe version of Modern Times!


1) Mississippi #1

The pick of the versions of this song. The lyrics are in place (as heard on the later Love and Theft) but the simplicity of the twin guitar arrangement suits the song perfectly. An intimate vocal which shows how poorly served Dylan was by Lanois' production of his voice on Oh Mercy and Time Out Of Mind. Superb.

2) Most of the Time # 1

Possibly the most radical thing here, Dylan sounds fresh out of the 70s, with heartbreaking harmonica to match. Again, the intimate vocal is superb and it is remarkable to hear this song in an acoustic setting.

3) Dignity

Again, the best version of this admittedly slight, Dylan-by-numbers song. This version gains immensely from the intimate vocal (he sounds like he's in the room with you!) and the solo piano accompaniment.

4) Someday Baby

Hypnotic, with Dylan's older than God vocals. The melody line is flattened to the point of being one note throughout, but as this has a more up to date backing, it hides its origins as Muddy Waters' Trouble No More - the Modern Times version was too much of a straight lift for my liking.

5) Red River Shore # 1

One of the gems of this collection, this is classic Dylan. Again, the vocal is intimate and demonstrates that rumours of the demise of his voice are greatly exaggerated. The arrangement of the songs builds as it progresses and it is hard to find any fault with this at all. It reminds me of Angelina, and again you have to wonder how this didn't find its way onto Time Out Of Mind.

6) Tell Ol Bill

Marvellously out of kilter piano, and a fine, understated vocal. Again, this is an improvement on the previously released version of this song. Lyrically, this is one of the more interesting songs on this collection as it eschews Dylan's recent habit of recycling old blues lyrics.

7) Born In Time

Here is the Under The Red Sky gem dressed up in its Lanois shimmer. Not as good as the previously released version as it has none of that performance's light and shade.

8) Can't Wait

Another of this set's gems, we hear Dylan suggesting they "do it in B flat" before a Dirge-like piano signals the opening of the song. Again, a superb vocal performance from Dylan, naked without Lanois' studio trickery, and a song that makes more sense lyrically than the released version.

9) Everything is Broken

There's not much to recommend the inclusion of this - a slight song in Dylan's canon in any case. The lyrics are not as polished as the Oh Mercy version and much of the backing track sounds the same as the previously released version. Very much a work in progress.

10) Dreamin of You

This kicks off with a snap of snare and a hypnotic piano figure, before Dylan's upfront vocal launches into what clearly sounds like a dry run for the (inferior) Standing In The Doorway which saw the light of day on Time Out Of Mind. This version is head and shoulders above that - Dylan in total control vocally, some fantastic lyrics, and a great production. Superb.

11) Huck's Tune

This sounds like an old folk song - a beautiful melody, a sensitive arrangement, and Dylan's superbly cracked vocals. One of the gems of this set, this song packs a huge emotional punch in the way the wistful lyrics, the folky tune and Dylan's heartfelt vocals all come together.

12) Marchin to the City

Another highlight, this is an early version of Til I Fell In Love With You but is greatly superior to the TOOM version. Shorn of Lanois' production, the vocal is vintage Dylan - up close and in your face - and kicks off like a song from Saved. The lyrics are mysterious and magical and vastly superior to the rather ordinary cliche-ridden Til I Fell In Love With You. Another of Dylan's "why on earth didn't he release this?" moments.

13) High Water

A smoking live version of this “Love And Theft” tune. It takes Dylan a few lines to get going, but once he is warmed up he attacks the lyrics with gusto. A showcase for his live band, 2003 vintage, Dylan leans into the vocals and whoops and hollers in the finest way possible.

… to be continued…