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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Next week, a new Bob Dylan collection hits stores. "Tell Tale Signs" compiles rare and previously unreleased recordings. The collection is devoted to Dylan's more recent work and our critic Tom Moon says it offers rare glimpses into Dylan's artistic process.

(Soundbite of song "Mississippi")

TOM MOON: Bob Dylan has been on something of a tear these last 20 years. Starting with "Oh Mercy" in 1989, the enigmatic rock songwriter and singer has made a bunch of acclaimed records, among them "Love and Theft" and "Time Out of Mind." The new "Bootleg Series, Volume 8" gathers early drafts of songs from these projects.

(Soundbite of song "Tell Tale Signs")

Mr. BOB DYLAN: (Singing) Every step of the way, we walk the line. Your days are numbered, so are mine. Time is piling up, we struggle and we scrape. We're all boxed in, nowhere to escape...

MOON: Think of "Tell Tale Signs" as a glimpse into Bob Dylan's notebooks. We hear him using a couplet in one song that eventually turns up in another. We hear him trying out radically different musical backdrops for his lyrics. For example, here's the piano demo of "Dignity" which was recorded during the sessions for 'Oh Mercy.' It's got a chilling vocal performance.

(Soundbite of song "Dignity")

Mr. DYLAN: (Singing) Fat man lookin' at a shining steel. Thin man lookin' at his last meal. Hollow man lookin' in a cottonfield for dignity. Wise man lookin' in a blade of grass. Young man lookin' in the shadows that pass. Poor man lookin' through painted glass for dignity.

MOON: Now, here's that same song done with Dylan's full band.

(Soundbite of song "Dignity")

Mr. DYLAN: (Singing) Dignity is a woman that knows. Dignity feels like a top of the wind that blows Into the city, into the towns, Into the land of the midnight sun.

MOON: And finally, here's the version that was commercially released on "Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits Volume 3."

(Soundbite of song "Dignity")

Mr. DYLAN: (Singing) Blind man breakin' Out of a trance. Puts both his hands In the pockets of chance. Hopin' to find one circumstance of dignity...

MOON: It's interesting to hear these later Dylan songs, tales of fate and redemption and long-simmering desire, as they go through different iterations. After a few of them, you realize that the great part is not phoning anything in. He's working the tunes over, wringing them out to see what they might yield. Sometimes the pursuit takes him to unlikely places, as on this laid back swampy version of 'Mississippi.'

(Soundbite of song "Mississippi")

Mr. DYLAN: (Singing) Every step of the way, We walk the line. Your days are numbered, So are mine. Time is piling up, We struggle and we scrape. We're all boxed in, Nowhere to escape...

MOON: "Mississippi" evolved into an epic blues and it's one highlight of "Time Out of mind." This bootleg version won't make anyone forget that final take, but it's worth hearing all the same, as an intermediate step, a point in the evolution of a song, and a tiny glimpse of what goes on in this man's mind.

SIEGEL: Critic Tom Moon is the author of "1000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die." Bob Dylan's new collection is called "Tell Tale Signs" and you can listen to an exclusive preview of the album at nprmusic.org.

(Soundbite of song "Mississippi")

Mr. DYLAN: (Singing) The devil's in the alley, the mule's kicking in the stall...

SIEGEL: You're listening to All Things Considered from NPR News.

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