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the pioneer of Dylan Studies; writer, public speaker, critic; became a Doctor of Letters in 2015 (awarded by the University of York, UK)

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Friday, May 22, 2009


Well now. With every other vocal Bobcat concentrating, apparently, on Together Through Life, I have finally got around to making my own 1-CD shortlist of the Best of Tell Tale Signs. My tracklist, which rules out the live tracks, goes like this - not given best-track-first etc but as I feel they make for the best running order. Essentially it begins at the most acoustic folk and blues end and swells from there:

1. Mary And The Soldier [from Disc 3]
2. 32-20 Blues [from Disc 2]
3. Most Of The Time [could almost be a Blood On The Tracks outtake, Disc 1]
4. Red River Shore [Disc 1]
5. Can't Wait [the slow version from Disc 3]
6. Mississippi [the different-words version, so surely the earliest, from Disc 3]
7. Mississippi [the folksiest version, from Disc 1]
8. Mississippi [lovely prowling, stylised voice, almost a bit 1966ish, Disc 2]
9. Dignity [Disc 2]
10. God Knows [surprisingly appealing, unlike on Under The Red Sky, Disc 2]
11. Can't Escape From You [Disc 2]
12. Ring Them Bells [Disc 3]
13. Marchin' To The City [definitely Disc 1]
14. Can't Wait [Disc 1, with some lovely alternative words].

'Duncan and Brady' nearly made it; I still dither about ''Cross The Green Mountain'. I don't dither about 'Tell Ol' Bill', 'Born In Time', 'Dreamin' Of You' and 'Huck's Tune': no no no. And while Disc 2's 'Ain't Talkin'' has the advantage of comparative brevity over the Modern Times recording, it was never going to make any shortlist of mine. So there it is. Try it before you knock it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

well, eight correspondending picks to my choices - so not much to argue about ... but how you can pick the horrible, horrible, horrible version of Dignity on disc 2 I'll never understand.

best wishes

9:17 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not a bad list from what ios a fantastic disc set. Not sure about your nos though - Huck Tune and Cross the Green Mountain are incredible achievements. It aint easy to write such songs - noone does it like Bob.

2:49 am  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

Hi Rainer
But you also hate 'Can't Escape From You', don't you?! Didn't you tell me you hated the kind of tune it uses?...

As for that 'Dignity', well, first of all despite Bob being too low in the mix, I like the bounty of so many different words - not better ones, but highly interesting: and sometimes funny, as when he sings of getting off the train and it starting to rain and then he adds a reference to "someone with water on the brain".

Another moment I like comes after his looking east, west, cursed, blessed, when he adds the neatly self-mocking and undercutting "askin' everybody like a man possessed" (which is also a resourceful rhyme to throw in). And then finally, I think he sings "land of the midnight sun" even more beautifully than usual.

But apart from all that, well, I was driving along, going up to Portland Maine from Newark NJ the other week, and I suddenly heard the rhythm differently. Some tracks work well in the car but not in the house, don't you find? In the same way that some tracks need to be heard on headphones and others sound best from a whole room away from the speakers.

This, if any of us have the time, is a whole area of discussion in itself, whether in relation to Bob tracks or other people's.

10:15 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wouldn't say the version of Mississippi on disc 3 is the earliest just because it has different lyrics. I think it's more likely that the lyric changes were a result of Dylan trying to make the song fit better with the newer songs that were coming together to form Time out of Mind.

9:09 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Michael, I think you could easily drop the, "could almost be" in describing the acoustic "Most Of The Time."
What is obvious from hearing it is just how easily Dylan could have recorded all the songs just like that demo, and the album would have been...well the fact is it's almost painful to think about. Pat Ford

7:16 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In 'Song and Dance Man 111'-Michael, you comment on 'Dignity' and the lines about 'Prince Philip'. I believe that this is the name that Mick Jagger used when checking into hotels(for whatever reason)so Dylan could be having a joke at Mick's expense and not at The Queens' Consort. Just a thought! Cheers, Brian O'Connell

9:10 pm  

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