Sunday, October 19, 2008

Bob Dylan - Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 8 (Columbia, 2008)

Bob Dylan's career had taken many twists and turns, leading up to a low point in the late 1980's. A series of poorly conceived and received albums left him feeling lowdown and washed up. But like a boxer rising from the mat for one final round, Dylan surprised everyone by releasing a series of albums in the 1990's and 2000's that rivaled anything he had done before. The music here is of very high quality, and these are the outtakes from those albums, that should give you an idea of what kind of rarefied plane he was operating. These discs show the many aspects of Dylan's music, from the roadhouse blues of "High Water (For Charley Patton)" and "Lonesome Day Blues" both raucous live performances recorded with his crack touring band, to the acoustic balladeer spinning the beautiful narratives of "Red River Shore" and "Mississippi." There are a couple of fascinating covers, "32-20" is Robert Johnson's epic and evil tale of violent revenge, and "Cocaine Blues" sung in a distinctly nasal Midwestern drawl. Multiple versions of "Dignity" and "Mississippi" show fascinating glimpses of how Dylan's visions of these songs morphed and changed over time. The liner notes are well written and extensive, breaking the music down song by song, and providing the provenance for each. The liner essay makes an excellent point about Dylan's turn to "archaic" music. By returning to the folk and blues that originally nurtured him, he reconnected with his muse, and made some of the finest music of his career.

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