Bob Dylan “Fragments – Time Out Of Mind Sessions (1996-1997): The Bootleg Series Vol 17”

Columbia Records, 2023

Landmark album remastered and the path to the recording beautifully laid out.

Time Out Of Mind’ is a landmark Dylan album, not only was it successful and widely lauded and heaped with awards it was also, far more importantly, a return to Dylan recording new songs written by Dylan. There had been a time when it looked as if Dylan might have permanently retreated into the folk music of his youth – there had been two albums prior to this release ‘Good As I Been To You‘ and ‘World Gone Wrong‘ which focused on such material. Good as the folk song albums are, at the time there was a fear, especially after the second one appeared, that this might be it, this might be what we get from Dylan from here on in. And then ‘Time Out Of Mind‘ revealed that Dylan the writer was back, and with a new voice we hadn’t yet heard.  It was an album that brooded on mortality, with ‘Not Dark Yet‘ the exemplar of that strand but also wrestled with love from the pained ‘Love Sick’ to the somewhat cloying ‘Make You Feel My Love.’ There’s an element of reflection on a past world that has not quite actually fallen into history, and of course there’s the enigmatic strangeness of  ‘Highlands‘ and its bizarre encounter with an argumentative waitress.

This release will be available – as is usually the case with the Bootleg series – in multiple formats and has an unusually complicated structure. The full version is 5CDs or 10LPs, and there is a 2 CD or 4LP release that will take CD1 of the full set and a cherry-picked release of 12 alternate takes. The full release’s breakdown is – Disc 1: new remix of ‘Time Out Of Mind‘, Discs 2 and 3 are alternate takes and outtakes from the sessions, Disc 4 consists of live tracks, all but one previously unreleased, and Disc 5 is made up of studio outtakes and contemporary live versions, all of which was previously available on Bootleg Series Volume 8. This review is based on a digital delivery of the full release with the liner notes provided as text only – the full release will be more sumptuous and includes rare photographs in a glossy booklet (and hopefully better than the cover image…).

It’d be tempting to view this package with a jaded eye – a remix of an album one already has, a disc worth of previously released material (which one already has…) – but that would be a mistake. It makes sense to pull all the previously released songs into this collection since they are part of the ‘Time Out Of Mind‘ story. And the remix is more than a casual wipe-over with a clean cloth – everything is so much brighter than the previously available CD edition, Dylan’s vocal is more prominent and elements of the percussion have a fuller, rounder sound. Basically, once the before and after comparison has been done it is likely that most listeners will plump for the new mix.  Dylan, and co-producer Daniel Lanois, were originally aiming for a sound that closely replicated the vinyl experience, and it could be said that they succeeded.  The new mix though just breathes more clearly – a surprise for someone who has become rather sceptical about the perpetual reissuing of remastered editions of classic albums – this time, though, it lives up to the hype.

Time Out Of Mind‘ had an interesting development – starting off with New York recorded demo versions, recording in earnest started at Lanois’ Teatro studio with a small band.  Versions of most of the songs were completed by the time that Dylan decided to relocate to Miami at the same time bringing in a much larger roster of musicians.  The second disc of this release then allows for a recreation of what an album would have sounded like had the shift in studio and recording personnel not occurred – stripped back in comparison but also intimate and urgent.  And whilst playing fantasy albums this release also includes the five songs that didn’t make the final running order, including five versions of ‘Mississippi‘ which still failed to fully capture Dylan’s final vision for the song, that would have to wait for ‘Love and Theft’.  Although, as the live versions – interesting also for the hard-to-grasp audience chatter which at least shows that some of the new material was hardly received in a hushed reverence at the time – tell, and as we expect from Dylan by now, the final version of the song had yet to be sung, and the definitive reading, if there was such a thing, might have been last week or last month or next year.

Simply because ‘Time Out Of Mind‘ is such an important and fully developed album in Dylan’s canon it follows that this entry in the Bootleg series is similarly essential.  It doesn’t disappoint, it intrigues, it offers alternative versions of what we know and shines up the final article to a fine polish.  It gives us a handful of songs we didn’t get first time around, including a lovely rendition of ‘The Water is Wide‘, and then after all that it whisks us off to a gig and shows us the evolution in that setting.  Glorious listening for the dyed-in-the-wool Dylanphile, but surely a temptation for the relative neophyte.


About Jonathan Aird 2748 Articles
Sure, I could climb high in a tree, or go to Skye on my holiday. I could be happy. All I really want is the excitement of first hearing The Byrds, the amazement of decades of Dylan's music, or the thrill of seeing a band like The Long Ryders live. That's not much to ask, is it?
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