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Bob Dylan's 'Time Out Of Mind' remains eerie and vital in a newly released version

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Columbia Records has released Volume 17 of its official Bob Dylan bootleg series. This one is titled "Fragments: Time Out Of Mind Sessions 1996-1997," and it provides an extensive new look at one of Dylan's most acclaimed albums, the Grammy-winning "Time Out Of Mind." Rock critic Ken Tucker says this package of five CDs offers a wealth of new ways to experience some of Dylan's most moving music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RED RIVER SHORE")

BOB DYLAN: (Singing) Some of us turn off the lights and we live. In the moonlight shooting by. Some of us scare ourselves to death in the dark. To be where the angels fly.

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: When "Time Out Of Mind" was released in 1997, it was Bob Dylan's first album of original material in seven years. He'd just turned 56 and had survived a serious heart problem health scare. In interviews, Dylan and producer Daniel Lanois admitted to a long, often contentious recording process that took place in California and Florida. By the time the collection won Album of the Year at the 1998 Grammys, the narrative around "Time Out Of Mind" had gelled. Here was Dylan's comeback, his don't-count-him-out resurgence.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MISSISSIPPI")

DYLAN: (Singing) Every step of the way, we walk the line. Your days are numbered - so are mine. Time is piling up. We struggle and we scrape. We're all boxed in, nowhere to escape. City's just a jungle, more games to play. Trapped in the heart of it, trying to get away. I was raised in the country, been working in the town, been in trouble ever since I set my suitcase down. Got nothing for you...

TUCKER: That's "Mississippi," a song that was left off "Time Out Of Mind." It eventually appeared on 2001's "Love And Theft" in a tame B-movie Western version. Here, however, with the organ of Augie Meyers and the slide guitar of Cindy Cashdollar greasing the melody, it's a slinky roadhouse blues. This collection, "Fragments," contains five discs, including a remix of the original album and many outtakes and alternate versions. There's one disc devoted to live performances. Some of these are very rough. On one or two, you can overhear people in the audience talking to each other. You can also hear Dylan really enjoying being on his so-called Never Ending Tour, hurling himself into these performances. The version of "'Til I Fell In Love With You" recorded in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1998, is raw and funny, very rock-'n-roll-y, with a great instrumental section in its center.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "'TIL I FELL IN LOVE WITH YOU")

DYLAN: (Singing) Well, junk is piling up, taking up space. My eyes feel like they're falling off my face. Sweat falling down, I'm staring at the floor. I'm thinking about that girl that won't be back no more. I just don't know what I'm going to do. I was all right 'til I fell in love with you.

TUCKER: The more you listen to Dylan working changes on what were then fresh new songs for him, the old way of hearing "Time Out Of Mind" falls away. This isn't about Dylan and Lanois trying for a comeback or a hit or a Grammy award - I mean, it is. It probably was, but who cares about any of that now? The songs outlast and exceed their initial framework. "Time Out Of Mind" is an album about effort, about work, about trying hard, laboring to be understood and to be loved. In song after song, Dylan is walking down a dirt road trying to get to a lover, but she's a million miles away, or he's 20 miles out of town in cold irons bound, but he's not giving up. He's transfixed by earthly love, even as he's trying to get to heaven. He's sick of being in love, but he's helplessly in thrall to it. He has a long talk with a waitress in a roadside diner that only convinces him he has to continue to try. And so he keeps on in a song that didn't make the album, "Marching To The City."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MARCHING TO THE CITY")

DYLAN: (Singing) Snowflakes are falling on my head. Lord have mercy, it feels heavy as lead. I've been hit too hard, and I've seen too much. Nothing can heal me now but your touch. Once, I had a pretty girl. She did me wrong. Now I'm marching to the city bus, and the road ain't long.

TUCKER: The atmosphere Dylan and Lanois achieved remains eerie and vital, a rhythm that skeletons might dance to in a graveyard using a few discarded bones for percussion. Dylan, with his crypt keeper rasp, has the last laugh.

GROSS: Ken Tucker reviewed "Fragments - Time Out Of Mind Sessions" from the Bob Dylan bootleg series. If you'd like to catch up on FRESH AIR interviews you missed - like this week's tribute to Burt Bacharach featuring two interviews with him; or with costume designer Ruth E. Carter, who's nominated for an Oscar for "Wakanda Forever"; or Yannick Nezet-Seguin, conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera, who put together a playlist for us of pop, hip-hop and classical music that inspires him - check out our podcast. You'll find lots of FRESH AIR interviews. And for a look behind the scenes at FRESH AIR, subscribe to our free newsletter. You'll find the link on our website, freshair.npr.org.

Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Thea Chaloner directed today's show. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COLD IRONS BOUND")

DYLAN: (Singing) I'm beginning to hear voices. There's no one around. I'm all used up, and the fields have turned brown. I went to church on Sunday, and she passed by. My love for her is taking such a long time to die. I'm waist deep, waist deep in the mist. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ken Tucker reviews rock, country, hip-hop and pop music for Fresh Air. He is a cultural critic who has been the editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, and a film critic for New York Magazine. His work has won two National Magazine Awards and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards. He has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and other publications.