The Bootleg Series Vol. 17: Fragments – Time Out of Mind Sessions: 1996-1997
With 1997’s Time Out of Mind, Bob Dylan—after nearly a decade of tying sad, sorely lacking albums to his name—got his groove back with a mix of instinctive, improvisational blues and haunting, sorrowful introspection, with a dollop of sticky, funky soul to cohesively glue his burnt-sienna vocals and his lovesick compositional proceedings together.
Eating the sausage and loving its process is the raison d’etre of Dylan’s long, searching Bootleg Series. For the 17th volume’s Fragments, listeners are transported to winter nights in Minnesota, summer days in Miami, and stolen moments at Teatro studio in Oxnard, all with the inspiration of Dust Bowl blues from Charley Patton and Little Willie John adding necessary salt to its wounded, worrisome songs, and a mix made up of producer Daniel Lanois’ desert-ambient tech and Dylan’s love of 1950s-era recordings. Listeners are transported to the sound of desire, a Dylan reconnecting and reconnoitering with a curt and surly muse so cunning and wonderful that Time Out of Mind has remained the palette for all Dylan studio albums to follow (save for his Sinatra musings).
It’s debatable as to how much a 2022 remix of the record is needed, as its stark, smoldering original version still stands as a smoky testament and verse to Dylan’s craggy genius. Maybe Dylan just wanted a newer Time Out of Mind to be tangled up in blue (paint), but just a slightly brighter shade. The same goes for a live album made up of varied gigs between 1998 and 2001 when he was still touring the record (both are good albums, so enjoy). But it’s the bonus disc of era-appropriate rarities and the two albums of outtakes, unused songs, and session alternate versions that made this box a worthy vessel.
The just-barely electric cowboy soliloquy of “Red River Shore,” a gut-bucket take on “Dirt Road Blues,” a weirdly up-tempo “Not Dark Yet (Version 2),” a chirpy, full-throated “’Til I Fell in Love with You,” an irredeemably wounded “Love Sick,” a hammy jam-band rendition of “Highlands,” and several warm, loose, Miami-vibe moments testing the waters of “Standing in the Doorway” and “Tryin’ to Get to Heaven”—each of these worthwhile outtakes, weary or surprisingly excitable—prove how Time Out of Mind could have gone a dozen different ways and still become an aching new classic.