Tell Tale Signs of Genius: Dylan's Best Album of The Past 20 Years? (Rave #2)
"It ain't no use to sit and wonder why, babe
If you don't know by now"
- Bob Dylan, "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right"
I've never before written two reviews of the same album, but this time, it seems, Bob's simply left me no other choice. And, yes, I know all the Dylan haters out there must be shaking their heads in bewilderment, but, as Bob himself once sang, "don't criticize what you can't understand".
The fact of the matter is, the more I listen to Bob's new album, Tell Tale Signs, the more I feel I have something extra I need to say. Something more substantial. Something more decisive. Something, perhaps, a bit more radical.
In my earlier piece, Bob's Back: Tell Tale Signs of Joy... and A Complete Lack of Judgement, I raved about this ninth installment of The Bootleg Series being a stunning classic, but, after a full month of listening bliss, I can now see that it's much more than just that. Which is why I'm now willing to go out on a limb and say that I think this 2-disc collection of 27 songs taken from the past two decades is - and this may strike some people as a tell tale sign of my own mental demise - possibly the best Dylan album of the last 20 years.
And I say that as a huge fan of Oh Mercy, Time Out of Mind, Love and Theft, and Modern Times. However, the fact is that, personally, I simply find this album to be a more pleasurable listening experience than any of those classic albums.
Just A Delusion?
At first I just thought this was a delusion based on my overwhelming sense of joy at hearing, for the very first time, songs as amazing as "Marchin' To The City", "Can't Escape From You", "'Cross The Green Mountain" and, especially, "Red River Shore". Not to mention the completely different and far superior versions of well known songs, such as "Most of The Time", "Dignity", "Someday Baby" and "Born In Time". But now, after dozens of listens over the past month, I'm pretty sure it's not, in fact, a delusion, but, rather, an absolute certainty.
Most collections of outtakes, alternate tracks and rarities such as this make for a somewhat jarring, disjointed listen... but not this one. In fact, with each listen it becomes more and more apparent just what a cohesive collection of songs this really is. The songs may span a period of 20 years, yet the album somehow feels as if it were conceived and recorded as a singular project. That is, as a coherent studio album.
One of The Greatest Dylan Songs of All Time
I'm now going to go even further out on a limb here and say that "Red River Shore" is, unequivocally, one of Bob's greatest songs ever. Yes, that's right, rivaling anything he's ever done. Lyrically it may not be as absolutely stunning as songs like "Desolation Row", "Visions of Johanna" and "Tangled Up In Blue", and it may not be as groundbreaking as "Like A Rolling Stone" or "Subterranean Homesick Blues", but, as a beautiful masterpiece of creative brilliance, it's up there.
Bob's Great Renaissance
No matter how much I've enjoyed Bob's great renaissance of recent years, I've always considered his newer work, even the best of his recent stuff, to be inferior to just about everything he created during his creative peak in the sixties and, then again, in 1974-76, but I've got to say that some of this stuff ("Red River Shore", Mississippi" and "'Cross The Green Mountain") can unquestionably stand side by side with anything he created in his earlier years.
Which brings me to another point. Many a critic and fan has spoken of late-period Bob as the second (or third? or fourth?) coming of a once-great artist who had lost his way (and much of his talent) before rediscovering his muse at the end of the eighties. And this is true. Bob admits as much in Chronicles Volume One, the first volume of his autobiography. However, what's not always recognized is that this body of work - from 1989 to present and, particularly, from 1997 onwards - is one of the great bodies of work in American music, period. If 1960s and '70s Bob had never existed and Dylan had simply appeared on the music scene with Oh Mercy in 1989, he'd still be one of the most important artists of all time.
Don't get me wrong, my favorite albums are still Blonde On Blonde, Blood On The Tracks, and Highway 61 Revisited, and, overall, late-period Bob clearly can't be said to be on par with Bob in his absolute prime, but the music he's created over the past 20 years is monumental stuff... not just an added bonus on top of some once-magnificent career.
So monumental, in fact, that a collection of outtakes and alternate tracks from this 20-year late-period renaissance may not simply be a masterpiece, it may also be the best album of 2008.
And here's hoping for another 20 years of monumental glory.
Mike Cowie (Oredakedo)
Monday, November 10th, 2008
To read my earlier rave of Tell Tale Signs click here: Bob's Back: Tell Tale Signs of Joy... and A Complete Lack of Judgement
And for much more on all things Dylan click here: The Bob (as in Dylan)
And if you like Dylan then you're probably going to like this guy as well: The Todd Snider "Peace Queer" Rave
And to read my piece on Bob, Neil and Joni click here: Talkin' Prairie Triangle of Inspiration (A.K.A. Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell Make Their Great Escape)
Or for more on other artists and albums click here: Music Homepage
Or here: Music: Album and Concert Raves
Or for something completely different try this: Obama Wins: The Nightmare Is Over. So Why Am I Crying?