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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Most of the time, I'm halfway content

Darn this digital age we live in, no longer do I have to wait until an album is in my hands. No longer do I have that annoying packaging to work through before I can pop a cd into the player to hear it proper. Now, you can usually hear songs from a new album long before it's released. I've always resisted this so that I can hear it in it's intended sequence from start to finish.

For Bob Dylan's latest "Bootleg Series, Vol 8, Tell Tale Signs", though they are making the album available for preview on NPR.ORG. If it weren't NPR & if it weren't available in full, I probably would wait until it comes out next week. So, as we speak & for the first time, I'm sitting down by the computer for a listen. Here's my thoughts so far, we'll see how far I get.

The two disc set is a collection of studio outtakes, soundtrack releases & live performances between the years of 1989-2006. The live performances don't excite me because I've heard many of them before, same goes for the songs released for various soundtracks. The meat of this collection comes from the studio outtakes. 1989 is often seen as a return to form for Dylan as far as studio albums go, many of the albums from the 80's were abysmal. Most of Dylan's albums had outtakes that surfaced as bootleg recordings (also 99% of his concerts). After 1989, however, he clamped down on the recordings so that his recordings wouldn't be heard against his wishes. The ironic thing about this is that during the eighties many of his best works were left off his albums. For many of the albums released post 1989, rumors swirled about outtakes of certain songs but nobody could hear them like they did in the past, until now.

Many of these songs are hard to evaluate without comparing them to their official album versions.

Mississippi-As I mentioned during the last blog, this version is older than the album version that was released. This version swings slowly, much more laid back then the album version. This is everything I'd love to imagine about Dylan performing in the studio, confident in his song, simple without any frills a producer can add.

Most of the Time, Oh Mercy Outtake-The album version of this song proves that if Dylan had started his career in 1989 when Oh Mercy was released, he'd still make it. The original album version doesn't rest on Dylan's legend nor does it try to sound like a Dylan song. The version featured here sounds much like a Bob Dylan song, complete with acoustic guitars & harmonicas. Again, a much more laid back performance, not without it's own merits, although I still think the original fits the feeling of the lyrics more.

Dignity, Oh Mercy Outtake-This one sounds just like a studio demo, unlike the first two songs on the album which could stand by themselves as fully realized, completely finished songs. It's fun to hear him work out the lyrics & melody to this song, playing it solo on piano. Without the band backing him on this one, however, it's stripped of it's power.

Someday Baby, Modern Times Outtake-It's well known that this song's melody "borrows" (some call it the folk process, others call it theft) from a Muddy Waters version of a song by the same name. Muddy "borrowed" the melody from someone way down the line & of course the copyright rules have expired. Dylan adds some new lyrics of his own & copyrights the song as his own. A lot of people have a problem with this, & probably for good reason, but it's a practice that many blues, folk & rock & roll artists have done for years. This song is a blatant example as it sounds so much like the original. The version here sounds much different than Muddy's version, it's as if Dylan was pushing the envelope of what he could get away with, as he has for years.

Red River Shore, Time Out of Mind Outtake-Musicians & producers who worked on "Time Out of Mind" have raved for years about this song. Us goofy fans have drooled over the possibility of this song being released & here it is. On first listen, it has all the earmarks of a masterpiece, but we'll have to wait & see.

Tell Ol' Bill, North Country Soundtrack alternate version-I've heard this version before, this is one of the rare occasions since 1989 that outtakes have surfaced. It's a minor song, to my ears. The official version swings along nicely, this one's a bit more sinister.

Born in Time, Oh Mercy Outtake-This is another example of a song coming out of a session for one album & being released later on 1990's Under the Red Sky. He should've stuck with the original. This version has much more grit & fire to it, the album version is weak in comparison.

Can't Wait, Time Out of Mind Outtake-This version smokes the album version. Bob Dylan has command of his vocals & the band follows closely behind. It sounds like a three piece band, piano, minor guitar frills & minimal drumming. It doesn't fit the swampy sound of Time Out of Mind, it's much more straightforward. To boot, it's almost a completely new set of lyrics which gives us use for both versions. One of the highlights so far, Dylan's voice soars higher than anything that came after it.

Everything is Broken, Oh Mercy Outtake-No amount of improvements can make this song more than a clunker to my ears.

Dreamin' of You, Time Out of Mind Outtakes-What fascinates me about this collection is the number of discarded songs from Time Out of Mind that are built around lyrics that were used for other songs. This song would've fit well on Time Out of Mind if it weren't the fact that it shares many of it's lyrics with the officially released (& superior) Standin' in the Doorway. I hate to say it, but this song is more dynamic than anything from Time Out of Mind, listen to Dylan's guitar fills!

Huck's Tune, Lucy You Soundtrack-I've heard this song before. This song shares a lyrical trick with many of Dylan's later songs that a seemingly beautiful song throws a couple of absurdist lyrics in it to show he's not getting soft. "all the merry little elves can go hang themselves"

Marchin' to the City, Time Out of Mind Outtake-This song shares many of the same lyrics with the officially released Till I Fell in Love with You, although believe it or not, this song sounds like a gospel song. This one could be special.

Highwater (for Charley Patton), Live version from Love & Theft-This is the quintessential live version of this song, his voice is full of fire & grit & all the while Freddy Koella's guitar teases him to push it a bit further. I've heard this one many times before.

Stay tuned for disc two, or pray for it to be over so you don't have to hear about it anymore, whichever you choose.

Five Favorite Songs of the Day

Girl from the Red River Shore

Can't Wait

Romulus-Sufjan Stevens, Greetings from Michigan

Men of Good Fortune-Lou Reed, Berlin

Amazing Grace-Sufjan Stevens

Happy Tuesday, friends...



Amanda said...

Thanks for the detailed walk through.
Sounds like a lot of good stuff there.
Am hoping my CD delivery arrives here next week (in NZ).

Tony said...

It's probably time I comment here; all the comments you've left on my blog, I would be remiss if I didn't return the favor, right?

I only gave Tell Tale Signs the one listen so that it will still be reasonably fresh when the actual physical CD comes out (and I'm buying it, no matter how evil those Columbia money-grubbing scumbags are), but my first impressions is that Red River Shore is, indeed, a masterpiece and would have made Time Out of Mind an even better album. I also really like the two Mississippi's, the first more than the second. Most of the Time sounded quite interesting, but probably benefited more from a band arrangement.

I'm still not quite sold on the track selection. Why bother with only a few live tracks? Why include a version of Series of Dreams that doesn't have the fire or passion of the first Bootleg Series version? Was Cross The Green Mountain really that rare of a song? Those quibbles aside, though, the collection was well worth the listen, and will be well worth my money.

andrew! said...

I'm not buying the three disc set, $130 is ridiculous, the book would have to be signed by Bob Dylan himself.

Pam said...

From a mom: But did you get your room cleaned up?? (TeeHee)- your workroom, I mean.

Joyce said...

I rely on you to keep me in the know about Mr. Dylan. If you were sitting next to him on a train what are three questions you would ask him ? All the merry little elves can go hang themselves, yes absurd. Huck's Tune, Lucy Soundtrack ? Have you mentioned this before? I'm not sure why this sounds familiar.

andrew! said...

Since we are on a train, I would ask him what his favorite songs about trains were. I'd probably ask him which of his songs or otherwise meant the most to him. Then maybe I'd ask him about Woody Guthrie.

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Grand Haven, Michigan
the sun shines on a dog's ass every now & then...