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Tell Tale Signs
Artist:  Bob Dylan
Label: Columbia
As conventional wisdom would have it, when an artist as prolific as Bob Dylan releases a box set, the release is usually directed at die-hard fans and collectors.  Since Dylan began releasing his Bootleg series, cleverly named after the common title of many of the pirated recordings illegally released over the last 40 years, he has had the chance to deepen his legacy, restore his artistic consistency and collect more disciples to the singer-songwriter's fold.  This new release, Tell Tale Signs does one better.  It holds up as good as any release of new material.  For those who may be curious about the Bobster's artistic development from the late 80's until present time, this is the package to dive into. This collection picks up as of Dylan's 1989 artistic comeback Oh Mercy.  As reported in his memoir, Chronicles he had experienced devestating dry-spell while he toured and recorded with Tom Petty and The Grateful Dead.  It was during rehearsals for the Dead shows in 1988 that Dylan reported regaining his creative footing and beginning on a new chapter of his career.   This was followed by the release of the outstanding, "Oh Mercy," produced by Daniel Lanois.   This collection picks up at this time and moves forward to outtakes and alternate tracks from Time Out of Mind, Love and Theft and Modern Times.    
Even for those familiar with Dylan's creative outpouring over the last 20 years, the alternate tracks of such classics as "Mississippi_" stripped down to a bare to the bones folk song, makes this a collection of work that will do more than sit on a shelf.   One of the consistent style's Dylan has pursued with studio and concert success is a kind of stomp-boogie blues feel.   The new songs in this mode are here with songs like  High Water(For Charley Patton) and Lonesome Day Blues.  In concert, songs like "It's Alright, Ma(I'm only bleeding)" are a thing to behold in this style.   "High Water" is completely reworked beginning with an acoustic feel and building to a blues explosion.   That this is a live recording from 2003 serves as a demonstration of how Dylan reinvents songs.   He has always regarded himself a performance artist.   Performances like this one make a strong case for the title.  
This collection offers the diversity of Dylan's approach to songs that have blessed or plagued his entire career depending on one's perspective.  The unreleased "Red River Shore" is turned into an apocalyptic romantic vision of ideal love gone wrong.  "Marchin' to the City" is a blues-filled acoustic piano and gospel organ driven song of loss and despair.   Worth the price of the CD is the single outtake from Dylan's acoustic blues _World Gone Wrong_session, "32-20 Blues" a piercing version of the Robert Johnson classic.   
In a near 50 year career that seems bottomless in brilliant creativity based in the roots of American music and imagery, this CD deserves a listen from fans and anyone who is ready for an earful of country-delta-blues with howling poetic lyrics penned like a Mississippi blues man who's just spent the night reading Rimbaud and William Blake.  For the unitiated this could be a collection of true discovery.   With so much emphasis on his first ten years of work, there needs to be an awakening to the Dylan of age, wisdom and weary perseverance.   If you're ready to crack open the last twenty years of some of the most prolific interpretations of American music,  then you're ready for the Bob Dylan of Tell Tale Signs.    This is the Bob of Ages.    
Terry Roland


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