Bob Dylan: Fragments - Time Out of Mind Sessions (1996-1997): The Bootleg Series, Vol. 17By
In the chalk dust arena of popular punditry, the second enfant de notion everyone was beside themselves about was "Dylan stares death in the face!" "Dylan looks at his own mortality!" Then, as if fate really is a press release, just after wrapping the sessions, five days after his 56th birthday in May, 97, Dylan was hospitalized with histoplasmosis pericarditis (in layman terms a possibly fatal swelling of the tissues around the heart) and the death knell loud throughout the land.
It is that subsequent perception about Dylan pondering his departure from this mortal coil that most got wrong. It wasn't just his own expiration date he was singing about butsurprise! surprise!he was paraphrasing about ours too. Because no one likes thinking about their own limited shelf life, someone has too. And as history has proven, Dylan's usually up for a deep pocket game of chance.
Though it did seem to come as a shock to so many, mortality and religion were not new games to Dylan. As a burgeoning folkie, he did record Blind Lemon Jeffersons "See That My Grave is Kept Clean," and "Let Me Die In My Footsteps," an outtake from 1962's folk opus The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (Columbia)? Then there was "I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine," "The Drifter's Escape," "Wicked Messenger," and "All Along the Watchtower" from 1967's epochal John Wesley Harding (Columbia) pre-dated by more than a decade the much-maligned born-again era circa 1979-1981.
Number Seventeen in the award-winning Bootleg Series, Fragments: Time Out of Mind Sessions 1996-1997 finds the standard bearer easing to the edges of the spotlight as the pallbearer takes center stage with a battered but still intact belief system as young and as old as this short life itself. Behind every pretty face there is some kind of pain. Yes indeed there is, but only Dylan, and a small handful of others, readily admit it. "I've been down to Sugar Town, I shook the sugar down / Now I'm tryin' to get to Heaven / before they close the door."
The bailiwick and ballyhoo that accompanied the release of the original disc was the battle between Dylan, who wanted a clearer, more defined picture vs. the aural vision of producer Daniel Lanois (U2, Peter Gabriel, Emmylou Harris) who swamped it, reverbed it, and added other sonic ephemera to smudge the sound like the old fifties records Dylan had initially sought. Disc 1 of five is a startlingly clean new mix of the original twelve tracks. With much of Lanois's ghostly and gauzy architecture stripped bare, it is just the guys in the room making "Love Sick" crunch like the hellhounds really were roaring up from hell.
Riding the ether like a late Saturday night hoot, "Dirt Road Blues" follows. "Gonna walk down that dirt road / till my eyes start to bleed" Dylan grittily professes as the band rolls and tumbles behind him, finding their pace in the twangy, second-line procession. "Cold Irons Bound" slashes. "Can't Wait" slinks into consciousness buoyed by the dark exquisite rhythms of steel guitarist Cindy Cashdollar and drummer Jim Keltner. "Tryin' to Get to Heaven" is more truthful than ever. "'Till I Fell in Love with You" even bluer. Even in these cleaner incarnations, the sixteen-minute "Highlands" and prophetic "Not Dark Yet" remain, as they were when first encountered in '97, their own separate accomplishments, each its own humor, conflict, and consequence.
As is routine with these multi-disc dives into Dylan's sense of the world's sins and absurdities, the outtakes and alternates found on Discs 2 and 3, (and 5, though previously released) can not be denied their rightful place. The elusive but formidable "Mississippi," first attempted at these sessions but not finalized until 2001's triumphant Love and Theft (Columbia) premiere contemporaneously in two compelling versions each more provoking than the other. "Love Sick," its true dark rock and roll heart not yet revealed, turns here into a spectral, lonely essence as do versions 1 and 2 of "Red River Shore," easily the saddest song ever written. "Sometimes I think no one ever saw me at all / 'cept the girl from the red river shore."
And then, as is custom with in-concert Dylan, new truths are revealed on the live Disc 4. Gathered from worldwide performances from 1998-2001, Time Out of Mind becomes a whole other thing: equally sinister but somehow roomier, the music no longer confined to tape or the studio walls that once contained it. It is music that contains us all. That reminds us all that no one gets out of here pretty and alive.
Disc 1: Love Sick; Dirt Road Blues; Standing In the Doorway; Million Miles; Tryin' to Get to Heaven; 'Til I Fell in Love With You; Not Dark Yet; Cold Irons Bound; Make You Feel My Love; Can't Wait; Highlands. Disc 2: The Water is Wide; Dreamin' of You; Red River Shore - version 1; Love Sick - version 1; 'Til I Fell in Love with You - version 1; Not Dark Yet - version 1; Can't Wait - version 1; Dirt Road Blues - version 1; Mississippi - version 1; 'Til I Fell in Love With You - version 2; Standing In the Doorway - version 1; Tryin' to Get to Heaven - version 1; Cold Irons Bound. Disc 3: Love Sick - version 2; Dirt Road Blues - version 2; Can't Wait - version 2; Red River Shore - version 2; Marchin' to the City; Make You Feel My Love - version 1; Mississippi - version 2; Standing in the Doorway - version 2; 'Till I Fell in Love with You - version 3; Not Dark Yet - version 2; Tryin' to Get to Heaven - version 2; Highlands. Disc 4: Love Sick; Can't Wait; Standing in the Doorway; Million Miles; Tryin' to Get to Heaven; 'Til I Fell in Love with You; Not Dark Yet; Cold Irons Bound; Make You Feel My Love; Can't Wait; Mississippi; Highlands. Disc 5: Dreamin' of You; Red River Shore - version 1; Red River Shore - version 2; Mississippi - version 1; Mississippi - version 3; Mississippi - version 2; Marchin' to the City - version 1; Marchin' to the City - version 2; Can't Wait - version 1; Can't Wait - version 2; Cold Irons Bound - live; Tryin' to Get to Heaven - live.
Bob Dylan: guitar; Daniel Lanois: guitar; Bucky Baxter: guitar, slide; Duke Robillard: guitar, steel; Winston Watson: drums; Cindy Cashdollar: guitar, steel; Tony Garnier: bass; Augie Myers: keyboards; Jim Dickinson: multi-instrumentalist; Jim Keltner: drums; Brian Blade: drums; Tony Manguaian: percussion.
Disc 4: (Tracks 1, 2, 4, 6, 9) Bob Dylan: vocals and guitar; Larry Campbell: guitar; Bucky Baxter: pedal steel and slide guitar; Tony Garnier: bass; David Kemper: drums. Disc 4: (Tracks 3,5,7,8, 10, 11, 12) Bob Dylan: vocals and guitar; Charlie Sexton: guitar; Larry Campbell: guitar, mandolin; pedal steel, and slide guitar; Tony Garnier: bass; David Kemper: drums.
Title: Fragments - Time Out of Mind Sessions (1996-1997): The Bootleg Series, Vol. 17 | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Columbia Records
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