Dylan’s Tell Tale Signs DeLuxe Edition – exclusive review of CD3

Thanks to Liam Mogan:

Just a few notes on the Exclusive Deluxe Edition:

Price

I paid £84.99 for it, which is considerably cheaper than the bobdylan.com price (although the package doesn’t include the 7″ single). The main question I suppose is it worth the money? The answer is no – £70.00 for an extra disc of material and a bit of packaging is daylight robbery. Sony must know they are only ripping off the diehards on this one. But, hey, I suppose was always going to buy it and I could have just bought the 2 disc edition and downloaded the extra disc. It still rankles though.

Packaging

The packaging is ok – nothing spectacular. The cds come in a small book format and the cd single artwork come in a exact replica. They both fit into a stiff cardboard case (it seems pretty heavy duty). It’s basically quite similar to the Bob Dylan Scrapbook that was released a couple of years ago (but not as imaginative). The cd book has a few pictures and Rats Sloman’s liner notes (expanded for this edition, obviously). It also has an attempt at listing the musicians who play on each track, but for some (especially the TOM sessions) it seems to just list every musician who played on those sessions as a whole! The cd single artwork is something of missed opportunity. I’ve looked through it once and probably never will again. Surely Sony could have come up with something more interesting? Maybe an overview of Bob’s career during the period Tell Tale Signs covers, interviews with producers, players etc, more essays, historic reviews for the original albums etc.

Music

Obviously it’s what is on the third cd that really matters and suffice to say there are some awe-inspiring tracks on here. What amazes me about the alternate takes, especially, is the legitimacy of each version. There is virtually no re-treading of musical ideas anywhere. I’m sure that there could have been twice as many alternative versions included and this expanded edition could have run to 5 discs easily, (even more with live tracks). These are my feelings on them

Duncan & Brady – This is not a good start. A traditional track ruined by a completely incongruous backing track. All manner of instruments clutter up the tune which whizzes along without purpose or direction. Bob sounds disinterested and slightly embarrassed. At worst it sounds like something from Knocked Out Loaded, at best an out take from Under the Red Sky. No wonder Good As I Been To You/World Gone Wrong followed.

Cold Irons Bound (live) – Bob and his band fire up the stage with a truly incendiary, power-charged version of a track which always sounds better live. The guitar interplay is dynamic and Bob’s voice is focussed and elemental. Truly jaw-dropping.

Mississippi – The third(!) version on the set of this song has a slight reggae feel and whilst it has a certain charm seems a bit too calculated – as if Lanois (possibly) has instigated an attempt at a different style to shake things up.

Most of The Time – A more subtle version of the OM track. Less-obviously produced with a more rootsy feel (the acoustic guitars are more pronounced). I like this track a lot, Dylan leans into each word as if he means it. A gem.

Ring Them Bells – A great solo version. Piano and voice sound in perfect harmony. Its clearly the basis for later versions and rightly so. Without the shimmering guitars and intrusive echo it sounds just like it should.

Things Have Changed (live) – The band are in a tight groove and the overall feel is more relaxed that the studio version. Bob obviously likes this track and takes care over his delivery. A superb version.

Red River Shore – This take is slightly different from the one on Cd1 in that the band come in at the beginning as opposed to dropping in with each verse. After only a handful of listens its hard to say which one I favour. Safe to say both are beautiful works of art which only add to Bob Dylan’s status as THE musical genius of the 20th century. (I can see why it was left off of TOM though – it just wouldn’t have fitted in)

Born In Time – Similar to the version on Cd1. I prefer this version as, once again, it sounds less over-produced with Bob’s voice in the foreground.

Tryin’ to Get To Heaven (live) – Dylan as Sinatra! This is astonishing and as good an example of Bob’s skill as a shape-shifter as anything he’s ever done. From the simple guitar figure to the beautiful phrasing this lifts the doom-laden TOM version onto a different level altogether. The song is changed into a life-affirming tribute to a life well lived. Somebody shouts ‘F**kin’ Beautiful’ at the end, which while apposite, completely breaks the spell Dylan and the band have just created! Someone should have Pro-Tooled it out.

Marchin’ To The City – A definite ‘filler’. It adds very little to the previous version and sounds slightly generic. The organ is very annoying indeed. One to skip.

Can’t Wait – This is the best version of this song bar none. It starts spookily and mysterious and the slow pace adds depth to the lyrics and the performance. As the band comes in, their accompaniment is totally sympathetic. Great Vocals too. I could listen to this over and over.

Mary & The Soldier – I couldn’t think of a better place to end than this spot-on cover. As good as anything on the 90s acoustic albums. Dylan sounds completely at home with just voice and lone guitar. The disparity between this and the first track on this disc, Duncan & Brady, is staggering.

I can only agree with most reviewers (the general reaction appears to be one of mass-adulation) that this collection re-affirms the sheer immensity and ever-changing nature of the genius that is Bob Dylan. Personally I can’t wait until the next one….

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