Time Out of Mind 
Artist: Bob Dylan 
Label: Columbia Records 1997 

In case you missed it, here's the Grammy Newsflash:   

    Album of the Year:  Time Out of Mind - Bob Dylan  
    Male Rock Performance:  "Cold Irons Bound" - Bob Dylan 
    Contemporary Folk Album:  Time Out of Mind - Bob Dylan 
    Rock Song:  "One Headlight" - Jakob Dylan of The Wallflowers (Whoops!)
What can be said about Bob Dylan that hasn't already been said?  He is a living Rock and Roll legend and after 30 odd years, he's still going strong. Stronger than ever.  Fellow rock legend Van Morrison once remarked that Bob Dylan is "The world's greatest living poet."  Following up a pair of albums of mostly blues standards, Dylan has returned with all original material to prove Morrison's remark true.  Or has he?    

Bob Dylan not only won three Grammys this year, he also received a standing ovation after coherently crooning the languished "Love Sick" despite the interruption of a clumsy, shirtless dancer with the words "Soy Bomb" emblazoned on his chest.  Seemingly unruffled, Dylan played on while the interloper was forcibly removed.  We're sure Bob has seen worse in his lifetime.  He's been knocking around too long to be bothered, and Time Out of Mind proves it by specifically addressing both his age and subsequent world weariness with a set of eleven haunting tunes.  The ghosts of blues, jazz, country and gospel wander here with dignified purpose.  The message is intact and decipherable, unlike his infamous performance of "Masters of War" in 1991, when he received an honorary Grammy award but left his fans in dismay.  Despite being preoccupied with dark themes of death, despair, and ubiquitous solitude, Dylan has received a new lease on life through the making of this hallowed record.  This rumored return to greatness is qualified and worthy of respect. 

Dylan was quoted as saying, "We got a particular type of sound on this record that you don't get every day." Time Out of Mind finds him paying homage not only to a host of blues greats, but also to himself.  The sweeping retro sound recalls shades of his earlier glory while infusing it with contemporary freshness in the production.  His intelligible vocals are in the foreground, with layers of gently-muted music farther back in the mix--as if a wet blanket was draped apparition-like over the speakers.  Not surprisingly, the overall effect is acclaimed producer Daniel Lanois's doing, and conjures the soothing feeling of Cowboy Junkies's Trinity Sessions.       
 
The last time Bob won an album Grammy, it was back in the 70's for Slow Train Coming, but Time Out of Mind is an entirely different spirit.   For starters, the enthusiasm of a vibrant, newfound Christian faith is still notably absent.  Perhaps his faith has merely matured along with the man, for Bob still offers the casual glimpse into the spiritual world.   In "Dirt Road Blues" he is "praying for salvation," and later he intones his intention to try "to get to heaven, before they close the door."  He even goes as far as to claim in "Til I Fell in Love with You" that "God is my shield; I know He won't lead me astray."  Yet later he speaks of taking his conscience to the pawn shop.  In "Standing at the Doorway," a simply beautiful, sultry romantic tune, Bob claims that the "mercy of God must be near."  None of these remarks are intended to be statements of faith nor proclamations of his renewed confidence in Jesus Christ.  Clearly Bob likes to keep the converts guessing, and for what it's worth, my vote is that this artist is still profoundly refreshed by the Fountain of Living Water.  He sings about a world where there is no superficial division of sacred and secular.  All of life is spiritual--the domain of a just yet loving God--and Bob lives in this real world confronted with real issues and searching solemnly for real solutions which often result in very real suffering.   

It can't be easy to be the "World's Greatest Living Poet," a closet Christian (speculation on my part here), a world-class artist with few peers, and sliding down the other side of over-the-hill besides.  It's no wonder he shares no fondness for the press or even critics like, well, me.  Nor does he have to.  This is what the blues are about, and these songs are by definition not particularly happy.  Yet despite the proverbial melancholy, Bob Dylan seems to be enjoying himself.  He may sound awfully lonely, but there is a hint that his tongue is planted firmly in his cheek.   As Thomas Dolby once chortled, "This isn't my love song--it's more like my love gone wrong song." Nearly all of Bob's songs here are love gone wrong songs.  But we all know that sharing the disappointment of a love gone astray can lift your spirits. That the power of love itself overcomes the momentary disappointments.  He does this clearly on "Make You Feel My Love," which is merely one example where his faith in love shines like a beacon amidst desolation.  Bob Dylan may be weary of the diurnal battles, but he hasn't left the brawl. 

We, too, can all be glad that he was spared death after his heart surgery for a viral infection . Time Out of Mind if nothing else is irrefutable proof that he hasn't given up the ghost yet.  He could have given us a little more, though.  The overall strength of the album is not in the lyrics or even the phenomenally well-played music, but rather in the overall mood that the album invokes.  A mood that is stark and stifling at times, but still brimming with hope and transcendence.  Lyrically, however, we're talking about Bob Dylan here, and some of these songs seem overly simple in both execution and sentiment.  You expect more from the world's leading songwriter.  Notable exceptions include "Not Dark Yet" (where he uses a generous dose of moody poetry), and "Highlands" (which ambles for 11 minutes and includes a bizarre encounter with a Boston waitress).  The latter is also a rare moment of levity in an otherwise sober album. 

Don't get me wrong, his title via Van Morrison is still intact, and we can all be grateful for Dylan's return to both original material and the requisite moments of expected greatness.  But, Bob Dylan is Bob Dylan and, therefore, expectations of his creative output are rightfully exaggerated.  He could make an even more brilliant album, and win twice as many Grammys sans Soy Bomb boy. In the meantime, Time Out of Mind will serve.  And you've still got to serve somebody, whether you are the World's Greatest Poet or just a mere album reviewer.  

By Steven Stuart Baldwin 

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Shortly after the release of Empire Burlesque (1985) Bob Dylan appeared on Rockline (a call-in program aired across North America) and surprised even the show's host when he confessed to having seriously considered abandoning his career as a singer/songwriter.  It is obvious in retrospect that Dylan was not taking these impulses too seriously because four years after Empire Burlesque came out he recorded Oh Mercy (produced by Daniel Lanois), a work thought by many fans to be his finest in years. However, by the time his 30th anniversary of recording was celebrated in 1992 there were signs Dylan was beginning to slow down as a songwriter. The most apparent sign was the absence of original material on his albums Good As I Been To You (1992) and World Gone Wrong (1993) which featured traditional music by the likes of Blind Willie McTell and Doc Watson but nothing penned by Dylan himself.  Dylan's revisitations of the classics were perceived by some as an indication that his contributions as a songwriter were spent at last. Thankfully, in the same year in which a heart illness almost took his life, Dylan recorded 11 new songs which comment on the twilight of life.  Time Out of Mind by Dylan's own admission is the album he had been wanting to make for years.  "Many of my records are more or less blueprints for the songs," Dylan told Jon Pareles of the New York Times. "This time I decided I wanted the real thing." Perhaps the death of Dylan's good friend and fellow musician Jerry Garcia prompted him to put pen to paper.  Time Out of Mind is world weary, the ruminations of a drifter in his final hour.  The album's voice belongs to The Wanderer who had set out at one time on a journey "to taste and to touch and to feel as much as a man can before he repents."  He's returned. In fact, he's the one trudging along through "streets that are dead" to the dirge-like cadence of "Love Sick," the album's first cut. Hold-overs from Dylan's "Unplugged" tour, Bucky Baxter and Winton Watson appear alongside veteran Dylan-collaborator Jim Keltner, giving Time Out of Mind a vintage R&B sound reminiscent of the roadhouse scene of the early 1960s.  Most prominent on Time Out of Mind is the Hammond B3 organ which meanders and weaves its way from beginning to end carrying Dylan's tales of the old days with it.  The fresh, live quality Daniel Lanois has infused into the songs keeps things moving. The journey Dylan's drifter set out on offered up its fair share of experiences but did not take him too far as seen in the song "Million Miles": 

    I am drifting in and out of a dreamless sleep/ throwing all my memories in a ditch so deep/ did so many things I never did intend to do/ I'm trying to get closer but I'm still a million miles from you." 
All of this searching has cast a shadow of meaninglessness over what is left of life, causing Dylan to lament, "I can't even remember what it was I came here to get away from" on "Not Dark Yet."  It might be tempting to dismiss the central figure of Time Out of Mind as a has-been until you note the enduring hopefulness and unwillingess to see love die.  Nowhere is this sentiment more evident than in the heart-on-sleeve tribute "Make You Feel My Love": 
    The storms are raging on the rolling sea and on the highway of regret/ the winds of change are blowing wild and free/ you ain't seen nothing like me yet/ I could make you happy/ make your dreams come true/ nothing I wouldn't do/ go to the ends of the earth for you/ to make you feel my love.
Bob Dylan has captured on Time Out of Mind the desperation we experience when we know life is ebbing away and "it's not dark yet but it's getting there" ("Not Dark Yet").  Desperate to forget the differences in a relationship and to embrace the love that really matters, he sings: "I can't wait/ Wait for you to change your mind/ it's late" ("Can't Wait").  Life has grown tired and routine, but there are still a few reasons to keep on living, and one of them is to recover the love we have lost or to cherish the love we have. 

By James F. Laverty 

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