Tell Tale Signs

My favorite review of Dylan’s new album is by Josh Hurst who concludes:

The level of consistency in this set is remarkable, belying its label as a “bootleg.” In fact, for all intents and purposes, Disc 1 feels like a new Dylan album– and a masterpiece, at that. It’s a dark marvel of an album, his boldest and most intimately rewarding dip into the blues yet, a defining statement of tortured humanity and hopeful spirituality. And if that disc amazes with its unity and cohesion, the second one is significantly more scattershot, but appealingly so– its ramschackle quality gives way to left-field surprises like a bluegrass duet with Ralph Stanley, the eerie carnival churn of “Can’t Escape You,” two old blues covers. But it all pulls itself back together in the end for the set’s epic coda, a harrowing Civil War ballad from the Gods and Generals soundtrack called “‘Cross the Green Mountain.” It is, simply put, as moving and as utterly amazing as any song Dylan has ever recorded, and it synthesizes all the themes of his past two decades– love and theft, mortality, the end of the world, the hope of the highlands– into one seamless, lyrical saga.

But of course, you could say that about the whole collection. It’s been noted that, over the past few years, Dylan’s media saturation is at an all-time high, but that the more he reveals about his life, the more cryptic and mysterious he seems to be. The new album doesn’t provide any insights into Dylan the Man, but it does prove that he’s been concerned with the same things all along, that he’s reached a new creative peak in the past few years, and that his theft from American music past only confirms that he’s as essential and important to the music of this land as anyone, ever. Yes, it’s an awful lot to take in all at once, and when you finally do, you won’t have many options other than to simply get down and weep. This is Dylan at his finest, Dylan at his most daring and his most profound. We’re lucky to have him, inscrutable and enigmatic though he may be, and as this music testifies, his is a vision that has room for all of us, carrying with it the ghosts of where we’ve been and shining a light ahead to where we’re going. These aren’t really bootlegs, and they’re certainly not leftovers; what they are is nothing less than necessary.

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