Bob Dylan, “Mississippi” (The Bootleg Series, Volume 8: Tell Tale Signs), 3:02
“I know you’re sorry. I’m sorry, too.”
Oh, there’s so much I could say about Dylan, and there’s probably a longer Dylan post in the works. Dylan’s post-Time Out Of Mind body of work probably represents his longest sustained burst of inspiration since 1962-1966, and his outtakes from this period, as usual for Dylan, are not only better than most people’s best work, but better than many of his own official releases. Dylan’s tendency to leave some of his most striking performances and compositions on the cutting room floor is anywhere from eccentric to perverse, depending on your point of view. (This is, after all, the man who left “Blind Willie McTell” off of Infidels.) In 1991, Dylan released The Bootleg Series, Vol. 1-3, finally offering an official look into his legendary outtakes. The most recent Bootleg Series, Vol. 8: Tell Tale Signs concentrates on his work from the last 20 years, when he has been making some of the best records of his career.
It’s telling, though, that there are no outtakes from 2001’s “Love And Theft”. That record is a pretty towering achievement, and by all accounts, the recording was a much smoother, more goal-directed process than many of Dylan’s other sessions, featuring as it did Dylan’s second-best road band of all time. The only alternate versions of Dylan’s “Love And Theft” songs on Tell Tale Signs are the versions of “Mississippi” that date from earlier sessions. (Of course, it’s possible that there are dozens of “Love And Theft” outtakes that are the best things he’s ever recorded, but if there are, Dylan’s not telling. I’m inclined to believe that there aren’t).
The opening track on the first CD is one of those “Mississippi” takes, a stripped down duet with producer Daniel Lanois providing supportive guitar accompaniment to Dylan’s vocal and guitar. While the full-band rendition of the song on “Love and Theft” was more rock, with Dylan’s gruff vocal riding atop chiming, almost Beatlesque ascending chords, the earlier take is gentler and rootsier, and Dylan’s vocal is a masterpiece. The tenderness with which he sings is breathtaking and beautiful, and although there are many standout moments, the delivery of “I know you’re sorry / I’m sorry, too” is so genuine, so understanding, and so gentle that it’s heartbreaking. He really is one of the greatest singers of all time.