Bob Dylan: Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8: Rare and Unreleased 1989-2006

The Bootleg Series acknowledges that Dylan's career has extended past 1975. It's an album to sit proudly alongside his recent triumphs.

Bob Dylan

Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8: Rare and Unreleased 1989-2006

Label: Columbia
US Release Date: 2008-10-07
UK Release Date: 2008-10-06

Since 1997's Grammy-winning Time Out of Mind, Bob Dylan has benefited from increased exposure. 2001's Love and Theft and 2006's Modern Times both sold big, there's a new installment of his groundbreaking Bootleg Series every couple years, and Dylan has contributed new recordings to a number of tribute albums and film soundtracks ("Things Have Changed", from 2000's Wonder Boys, won an Academy Award). The sales figures and consistently high quality of his work over the past decade have led critics to rightly declare that Dylan is undergoing a late-career renaissance. All the while, he's been touring and occasionally shining onstage. And yet The Bootleg Series, other than the original box set, hasn't acknowledged the fact that, yes, the man's career has extended past 1975. Until now.

Dylan (or his people, or Columbia) decided now would be a good time to dip into the more recent vaults and right that wrong, and Tell Tale Signs is what they came up with. It's a 27-track collection of studio and live material dating back to 1989, with the bulk of the studio numbers coming from the Oh Mercy and Time Out of Mind sessions. (There's another version with a third, 12-song bonus disc and a couple of fancy books. Many Dylan fans are pretty upset with Sony over this, and with good reason, since its retail price is about five times that of the regular release. What an absolutely clueless move on Sony's part, especially in the current economic climate.) The two-disc set comes with a 64-page booklet and liner notes by Larry "Ratso" Sloman, author of On the Road with Bob Dylan, a chronicle of the first Rolling Thunder Revue. As in past Bootleg Series sets, the notes put the contents of the package in the context of Dylan's career while also discussing the music, and the circumstances of its creation, in detail.

Tell Tale Signs works because it's neither a clearinghouse for all the stray, officially-released tracks -- no "Things Have Changed", no "Waitin' for You" or "Red Cadillac and a Black Mustache", for instance -- nor a straight chronological trawl. Instead, it chooses its cards wisely and emphasizes the themes running through Dylan's work. Musically, it's the American roots-music stew that he's always traded in, and which he's arguably perfected over the past decade or so. (The pre-Time Out of Mind songs here demonstrate that he was on his way, even if he seemed at times to be floundering.) Lyrically, to name but one example, there's an interesting fascination here with river towns, the women that inhabit them, and the experiences of the body and the spirit that these places and these people have helped shape. Two versions of "Mississippi", "Red River Shore", "Huck's Tune" (named for a character in the film Lucky You, for which the song was written, the title nevertheless recalls Mark Twain), "High Water", "The Girl on the Greenbriar Shore", "Miss the Mississippi" and "The Lonesome River" seem to form a non-linear narrative. Like in Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County or Twain's Hannibal, in Dylan's river town the narrators and points of view shift, characters drift in and out of focus, and the language has much to offer: "When I kiss your lips / The honey drips / I'm gonna have to put you down for awhile", or "I'll ramble and gamble for the one I love / And the hills will give me a song".

One of the things The Bootleg Series has consistently gotten right is its ability to strike a balance between making records that are interesting for both collectors and casual fans, and making them work as albums. Tell Tale Signs is a great album, perhaps more immediately stunning than Modern Times, a triumph of sequencing and making disparate sounds and sources fit together well. But it's also a feast for the hardcore Dylan nut.

Perhaps as a result of the creation of The Bootleg Series, there seems to have been a considerable decrease in access to Dylan's tapes, as the sessions for the post-Oh Mercy albums have barely been illuminated by bootleggers. Oh Mercy, by contrast, has been exposed by so many illicit releases that it's come to be seen by many as a botched job, as any record that could include but instead omits "Series of Dreams", "Dignity" and "Born in Time" is bound to be. In seeming acknowledgment of its strong bootleg history, seven Oh Mercy outtakes are included on Tell Tale Signs. "Born in Time", in particular, suffered when it was rewritten and rerecorded for Under the Red Sky. The original, more beautifully sung and played, less cluttered production-wise, and boasting a better lyric, is evidence of why The Bootleg Series exists, and justice delayed is still justice served. ("God Knows", the other song skipped over for Oh Mercy and redone on Red Sky, is a lesser song, but rocks a lot harder in its original incarnation.)

The Time Out of Mind sessions are the source of six tracks here, and notable because "Red River Shore", "Dreamin' of You" and "Marchin' to the City" are new titles (none of the Oh Mercy outtakes are genuinely new songs, despite some major lyrical alterations). Inevitably, this will lead some to question whether Time Out of Mind, like Oh Mercy, could've been even better. It's a toss-up, as "Dreamin' of You" and "Marchin' to the City" both had sizable chunks of their lyrics integrated into later tunes. Those songs were "Standing in the Doorway", a masterpiece, and "Til I Fell In Love With You", a somewhat rote blues exercise, respectively. A few lines from "Marchin'" also wound up in "Not Dark Yet", one of Dylan's finest recent compositions. As a window into Dylan's creative process, hearing these earlier songs is fascinating, and they stand up very well on their own. But the real treat here is "Red River Shore", a meditative, accordion-driven reflection on lost love that pulls you in and sucks you under over the course of its nearly eight minutes. Again, this is why The Bootleg Series was started in the first place. Sometimes Dylan, for his own reasons, makes decisions about what to put on his records that don't seem to make a whole lot of sense to the rest of us, and it's interesting to hear what was discarded and wonder why.

There's surprisingly little here from the Modern Times sessions, only two songs, and nothing at all from Love and Theft, and it's anyone's guess why. In any case, the rest of the tracks come from a variety of sources, including concert recordings. It's surprising how well the live tracks fit in here. Not thematically, of course -- movement and restlessness have been lyrical and lifestyle trademarks of latter-day Dylan -- but sonically. The most glaring difference between Dylan's studio and live recordings is his voice. Where his voice is capable of a range of subtle expressions in the studio, onstage he has a tendency to sound strangled, pained, and frighteningly unclear. The first verse of "High Water" demonstrates this deficiency, as he seems to struggle to remember the beginnings of his lines. The second and subsequent verses, though, find him bending and reshaping his lyrics with a dexterous snarl, and his band turns in a hell of a performance, full of variety and movement, which makes the original, masterful "High Water", on Love and Theft, sound monotonous in comparison. But the one true misstep of Tell Tale Signs seems to be the repetitive, whiny "Cocaine Blues", which has no sense of drama or momentum and nothing to recommend it and puts Dylan's deteriorated concert voice on painful display.

One track out of 27, though, isn't much to complain about. The reason Tell Tale Signs works so well from start to finish is that all the songs, even those that are modest on their own ("God Knows", "Miss the Mississippi"), are illuminated by the company they're in. The covers shine a light on the originals, and especially in the river songs, the line separating Dylan's own compositions from his source material blurs. It's all one song, a musical e pluribus unum. Tell Tale Signs is every bit as good as its predecessors, and if there was any lingering question of Dylan's relevance to contemporary America, if not contemporary American popular music, it can be laid to rest. We are, as always, lucky to have him around.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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