Sound Bite: Bob Dylan’s leftovers make a meal
October 9, 2008
There had never been anything quite like Bob Dylan in the 1960s, and there’s nothing quite like him today.
Once he burned with revolutionary fervor, songs spilling out of a man in a hurry. Now, at age 67, he’s a walking history book of the United States, keeping alive stories and musical styles that might otherwise be forgotten. His work has grace and majesty, and the breadth of his late-career resurgence is better illustrated in this collection than on any of his individual albums.
“Tell Tale Signs” is a two-disc set spanning the years 1989 to 2006, part of the ongoing official “bootleg” series of alternate takes, unreleased tracks, random live recordings and overlooked soundtrack material.
Songs are never quite done with Dylan. They’re living organisms, subject to rewriting and recasting. The “Time Out of Mind” rocker “Mississippi” is here in two versions, each dramatically different than the one eventually released ” a solo acoustic take and one where the band sounds adrift on a Southern summer afternoon.
Some of the alternate takes sound better than the versions already known, like “Most of the Time” freed from the shackles of a confining producer. Some aren’t: the rockabilly version doesn’t dignify “Dignity.” All are fascinating peeks at creativity in progress.
The set closes with the stately beauty of “‘Cross the Green Mountain,” a mostly-forgotten song written for the soundtrack of a Civil War movie. It sends shivers, both for the music and precisely written lyrics true to the times. The song is reminiscent of “Every Grain of Sand,” another Dylan hymn tucked away, barely noticed, in his vast catalogue.
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For Bob Dylan, these are outtakes. Most musicians would call them their greatest hits.
A live version of “Ring Them Bells” is an example ” and there are many ” of a Dylan song that improves from the recorded version after time spent with them on the road.