Dylan Returns with Time Out of Mind by Cook Young

October 1997

The good news is that Bob Dylan hasn’t given up on songwriting -- all the songs on Time Out of Mind are brand-new, original compositions. Unfortunately, he has appeared to have given up on playing harmonica -- there’s hardly a sign of it on the new CD. (The liner notes credit him as playing harmonica but I’ll be damned if I can hear it.) No matter, it’s just good to have ol’ Bob back in fold, cranking out some compositions for our ears to behold.

On the new release, it’s clear that Dylan still has the touch. His poetry is superb, his melodies are infectious and haunting as ever. Of course, his vocals have gone from a slight rasp to a broken-glass-and-gravel throttle that enters the realm of Tom Waits or Louis Armstrong. Fortunately, the new voice works well against the bittersweet love songs that he’s been penning these days, even if a few of the high notes, we once heard, are no longer there in Dylan ’97.

Time Out of Mind is a curious album. It’s sort of two records mixed together. Half the songs compare to the introspective plaintive compositions that we witnessed on Blood on the Tracks. The other half are 12-bar blues ditties that often sound as if Bob is making ’em up as he goes. (Columbia seems to be all too aware of this duality; the songs are sequenced in such a manner that all the odd-numbered songs are of the first variety and the even-numbered songs of the second.)

The production on Time Out of Mind is a bit strange to say the least. No one can accuse Dylan of following the crowd. As opposed to the rhythm-heavy mixes that are so common today, the drums on the new CD are so subdued as to be barely present. The strategy behind this is anyone’s guess. Perhaps it’s to highlight his new matured voice. Perhaps Dylan just doesn’t like drums (and is sick of harmonicas). Who knows. The main thing is that we get a sampling of Bob’s writing -- the first since Under the Red Sky came out seven years ago -- and this is good news. Dylan’s songs are superb.

A good chunk of the CD revolves around Dylan’s personal experiences with the sadness and disappointment that goes hand in hand with being alive and being in love. Dylan says that he’s “sick of love.” He tells some nameless former lover that “you broke a heart that loved you” and “I wish I knew what it was that keeps me loving you so.” He astutely points out that “just when you think that you lost everything, you find out you can always lose a little more.”

Not suprisingly, Dylan touches upon the topic of mortality often on the new CD. In songs such as “Trying to Get to Heaven” and “Not Dark Yet,” he shares his thoughts on the topic. In the latter, he says, “I was born here and I’ll die here against my will, I know it looks like I’m moving but I’m standing still... I don’t even hear the murmur of a prayer, it’s not dark yet but it’s gettin’ there.”

Time Out of Mind wraps up with “Highlands,” one of album’s cuts from Column B: 12-Bar Blues Selections. The song has its moments (the dialog between the narrator and a narcissistic waitress is truly amusing), however, 16 minutes of this sort of thing can get to be a bit much. But, hey, I’m not complaining. I’m just glad to have the CD in my possession and in my CD player -- even if I do keep hitting the forward button to skip over every other song on the album.

More Bob Dylan on NY Rock:
Dylan Live in Concert (4/18/97)

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