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Catchgroove’s Hall Of Fame: Bob Dylan – Time Out Of Mind

April 15, 2018

I recently picked up the 20th anniversary LP version of Dylan’s Time Out Of Mind – one of my top five Dylan albums. Released deep in the CD era, not many LPs were released and a used copy is now close to $100. So $22 for a reissue is more my speed. The purchase reminded me that it belongs in my hall of fame. The vinyl reissue sounds great.

This album represents a true comeback for Dylan. It was critically acclaimed, sold well and won three Grammys. The 80s and 90s were a tough road for Dylan. Prior to Time Out Of Mind Dylan’s muse was so lost he did two cover albums of folk songs.  Returning to folk songs must have revived Dylan’s spirit, because after soaking in the past, he created a masterpiece and set the foundation of his music for the next twenty years.

At the time I was excited that Daniel Lanois was the producer. Several years earlier Lanois had produced Dylan’s excellent album Oh Mercy. Dylan had famously hated recording that album and had seriously butted heads with Lanois so it seemed odd they would get together again.

On Time Out Of Mind Dylan sings the blues. It is Dylan’s unique take on the blues:  weary and regretful. When Dylan presented Lanois with songs, Dylan said the songs were about “the dread realities of life.” Lanois recently recalled the songs “had regret and hope, beauty and optimism. A lot of life experience. They were so complex.”

Dylan and Lanois fought, but out of that conflict came a beautifully cut gem. As much as Dylan claimed to hate Lanois sound, it informed his road band and subsequent albums to this day. Dylan had tried a lot of angles and producers in the 80s, but he couldn’t find his sound. Ultimately, with Time Out Of Mind he found it. The sound is swampy, bluesy, country, atmospheric – Dylan’s version of Americana. The music is the perfect pairing of Dylan’s forlorn lyrics and rough gravel road of a voice.  Once he found this new sound, Dylan would never need another producer again – he has been self-produced ever since.

On first listen the album sounds a bit depressing, but as the original Rolling Stone review stated, as the album ends with 16-minute-long “Highlands,” Dylan “detours from its verse-chorus-verse path to an extended narrative bridge, the deadpan twang in Dylan’s voice becomes more pronounced, and his old sly glee can be glimpsed.” That is the greatness of the blues – they wink with honesty at the challenges of life. Dylan does not candy-coat getting old and having problems, but he is not going to let his troubles beat him either. Dylan is brutally honest in his observations, yet somehow optimistic. He is simply Dylan. And at the time that was a big deal, because we thought we had lost him.

My favorite cut is “Highlands” with its long meandering lyrics and lethargic but infectious groove, The song reminds me of “Ballad Of A Thin Man,” only now the joke is on the hipster: mortality. Dylan is both philosophical and visual: one minute he is reflecting and the next he is creating a mini-movie.

Per Wikipedia regarding “Highlands” could have been even longer:

In Jim Dickinson’s (Memphis musician and producer) account, “I remember, when we finished ‘Highlands’—there are two other versions of that, the one that made the record is the rundown, literally, you can hear the beat turn over, which I think Dylan liked. But, anyway, after we finished it, one of the managers came out, and he said, “Well, Bob, have you got a short version of that song?” And Dylan looked at him and said: ‘That was the short version.

The album has stood the test of time by simply being timeless. I never tire of listening to it. After all the recent crooner cover albums I wonder if he has one more masterpiece in him? I would love for him to pick one more fight with Danny Lanois.

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4 Comments
  1. Yes indeed. I’d be tempted by a vinyl re-issue of this one!

  2. Great pick up for you. I absolutely dig this music. Play it a lot. Here’s how our music crosses paths. I went for a walk this morning and took ‘Hard Rain’ with me. We are on the Dylan Vibe.
    Also listening to Cameron Graves ‘Planetary Prince’ that you turned me onto. Really good listening. One of the first 3 cuts sounds similar to Kamasi. Same tune? I’m to lazy to look. Sounds good.

    • Cameron Graves is the pianist for Kamasi Washington and a founding member of the West Coast Get Down collective.

      • Ah, that explains it. CB’s ear caught something. I guess I should go back and read your take. I thought he was the sax (I was mixing him up with Donny McCaslin another of your leads). Any ways the guy playing sax sure sounds like Kamsai (That’s because he is Kamasi, CB you goofball). Bottom line I’ve been listening to it and similar music all day. Thanks for the leads.

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