“Tell Tale Signs:” Mining the Bob Dylan Bootlegs

September 10, 2008

I was just perusing bobdylan.com and noticed the upcoming release of the latest installment of Bob Dylan’s bootleg series (vol. 8!), “Tell Tale Signs.” Basically, the collection is comprised of a lot of Oh Mercy outtakes, with a few live cuts and outtakes since Dylan’s re-emergence in the late 90s thrown in for good measure (plus a cover of Robert Johnson’s politically incorrect 32-20 blues). 

Please allow me a little cynical interjection: For a number of years, Columbia has (re)mastered the art of selling Bob Dylan. Since 2001’s Love and Theft, there have been 6 releases of non-original material to only one studio album (2007’s Modern Times). If you count the actual number of CDs, you have 13 CDs of old material (bootlegs, live tracks, and sundry repackaging) to 1 new album, not including ‘deluxe’ versions! Particularly unnecessary (and downright redundant) was 2007’s “Dylan,” a 3-CD re-release of greatest hits. Coincidentally, all were released at intervals conducive for maximum consumption, to a fan base largely comprised of a demographic group well-known for shelling out for plastic discs.

Tsk! Shame on you, Columbia. It used to be about the music.

However, there is still reason to rejoice (in addition to padding the label’s coffers). The Bootleg Series has been a mostly judicious series of landmark performances and fascinating castoffs. Although spanning almost 20 years, these Tell Tale Signs looks promising as a collection. I’ve heard the Oh Mercy sessions (previously circulated as the “Deeds of Mercy” bootleg), which are truly a marvel. The performances are sharp, full of great phrasing, interesting alternate lyrics, and are in many cases equal to or better than the studio album. Particularly noteworthy is Born in Time, not to be mistaken for the adequate version on Under the Red Sky. Finally, this gem will be publicly revealed in its original, driving, messy glory. Dignity, an astonishing omission from Oh Mercy, also appears in a rougher, piano version.

But you gotta give it to Columbia. To get all of the bootlegs, you have to shell out an extra $110 ($129.99) for the deluxe set featuring a third disk and a hardcover book.

One final note, to any record company marketing personnel: I await the release of the bootlegs of Dylan’s Christian concerts (and am willing to pay top dollar for it too).


One comment

  1. b, my friend don williams writes a great book about dylan’s ‘spiritual journey’…all of his ‘spiritual paths’ actually…it’s a great read…i got it for free (not even a dollar years later:)…when you’re in calgary next, i’ll lend it to you…

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