The last three studio albums from Bob Dylan have been greeted as a return to form for the legendary singer-songwriter. Starting with 1996’s Time Out of Mind, Dylan has gone for a more simplistic sound, accommodating his raspy, smoke-ravaged voice in ways his ’80s music never could.
But while his studio albums have certainly been stellar, the most interesting Dylan contributions in the last few years have been the bootleg series, which feature outtakes, alternate versions, live concerts and unreleased material that lend tremendous insight into Dylan’s creative process. The latest bootleg series release, Volume 8: Tell Tale Signs, documents Dylan’s career from 1989 to present day, boasting two CDs (three with an online purchase) of unreleased Dylan outtakes and live songs, and serves as yet another solid contribution to the Dylan catalogue. The collection kicks off with the first of three alternate takes of “Mississippi” – a song off of 2001’s Love and Theft. The working versions presented here, which were all intended for 1996’s Time Out of Mind, are more acoustic and stripped-down compared to the final version.
Still, the three takes are different enough from each other to make each one an interesting listen, and dynamic in their own right.
Also featured are unreleased songs from Time Out of Mind, including “Marchin’ to the City” and “Red River Shore,” which both sound fleshed out enough to contend with the songs that actually made it on that album.
But perhaps the most interesting songs are the ones from 1989’s Oh, Mercy!, most notably an acoustic version of “Most of the Time.” Far different from its spacey, electric guitar-driven studio version, the bootleg series outtake features just Dylan with an acoustic guitar and harmonica. It is arguably the outtake most divergent from its studio counterpart, and is practically worth the asking price of the bootleg series in and of itself.
“Dreamin’ of You” – an organ-driven unreleased song from Oh, Mercy! is equally fascinating, and would have been a good addition to that album had it been included. And a live version of the same album’s “Ring Them Bells” from New York’s Supper Club varies up its usual instrumentation, and Dylan provides an energetic performance that’s rarely seen from him these days.
Other live songs include renditions of “Cold Irons Bound,” “Things Have Changed,” and “Tryin’ to Get to Heaven” – which sounds nothing like its studio counterpart. Outtakes from the acoustic mid-’90s World Gone Wrong are also included, and are some of the standout tracks.
But though the collection is by and large an interesting mix of songs, it does have its share of duds. There are two versions of “Born in Time” – an unreleased song from the late ’80s – which sound exactly the same as each other. It’s not a terrific song to begin with, so two seemingly identical versions is a bit overkill.
Additionally, versions of “Dignity” and “Series of Dreams” are easily obtainable on other Dylan bootleg collections, and could have been omitted.
Still, The Bootleg Series: Volume 8 is a strong collection of music, and one that should be bought by both casual and hardcore fans of Dylan. It’s a fascinating look at Dylan’s creative process, and proof that his late ’80s and early ’90s output can be as interesting as his recent studio renaissance, if not more so.