I must relinquish my tenacious hold on Son Lux's At War With Walls and Mazes and simply admit that Bob Dylan's Tell Tale Signs, the eighth installment of Columbia's Bootleg Series, will be the best album of 2008. These songs are, by the way, the leftovers, the ones that Bob and/or his producers didn't deem fit for inclusion on the official releases of the past twenty years. Which again simply proves that there is the rest of the musical world, and there is Bob Dylan. I'll put it this way. With Vol. 8 there are now 8 multiple CD sets of Dylan leftovers. And if Dylan had only released those leftovers, he would be the greatest and most important songwriter of the past 50 years. Sorry, Ryan Lott. I hope you don't mind giving up the top spot to someone of that magnitude.
As most people here know, I'm not a fan of Daniel Lanois' heavy-handed production, so it is a great, great pleasure to hear some of the more familiar songs freed from their sonic sarcophagus. Unwind the gauzy sheets from that mummy and you find that he can still rock and carry a tune. The live tracks bite and sting. The alternate versions of the previously released songs are, almost without exception, more raw, more urgent, and simply better than the versions that appeared on Oh, Mercy, Time Out of Mind, and Modern Times. And the previously unreleased songs? There are two songs here -- "Red River Shore" and "'Cross the Green Mountain" -- that are as nuanced and deeply layered and insightful as anything Bob Dylan has ever written. Awash in rueful regret, full of tender expressions of love, they reflect the hard, beautiful stuff of real life, and they are astonishing. And Bob Dylan left these songs on the cutting room floor.
The man simply has no peers. He plays in a world that celebrates youth, and he can still school the kids at the ripe old age of 67. Long may he howl.