Volume 8 in Bob Dylan’s Bootleg Series, Tell Tale Signs offers an amazing collection of songs from the latter third of his legendary career, covering the years 1989 through 2006. The two-CD version presents 27 songs in the forms of alternate versions, demos, concert performances, and previously unreleased material. The majority comes from recording sessions for Oh Mercy (1989), Time Out Of Mind (1997) and Modern Times (2006). Although there is no material from the sessions that produced Under the Red Sky (1990), Good as I Been to You (1992), and “Love and Theft” (2001), some elements from the songs here made their way into songs on Under the Red Sky and “Love and Theft.” Also collected are rarities from the soundtracks of Lucky You and Gods and Generals as well as a duet with Ralph Stanley, a legend in his own right.
What is so fantastic about Tell Tale Signs is that it works no matter what the listener’s knowledge of Dylan is. The songs are so strong and well crafted the album makes a great introduction. You don’t need to know the released versions to enjoy this; you just need to sit back and listen. Of course, it will be more appealing to hardcore fanatics who will pore intently over these songs, comparing and contrasting versions. Filling with pride for correctly recognizing one part only to be frustrated at the inability to explain why another sounds so familiar. They will hold off for as long as they can stand before cheating with the informative detail of Larry “Ratso” Sloman’s liner notes. Plus, it’s not only the fanatics that have the opportunity to examine Dylan at work. There are two different versions of “Mississippi” and “Dignity,” each feature Dylan accompanied by one instrument (Daniel Lanois playing guitar on the former; Dylan on piano on the latter) on Disc One and later with a full band on Disc Two.