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Bob Dylan: Fragments – Time Out of Mind Sessions 1996-1997 The Bootleg Series Vol. 17

February 13, 2023

Time Out Of Mind (TOOM) is one of my top-5 Dylan albums (see my hall of fame post here). I have been looking forward to this bootleg edition for years – we had been teased with TOOM bonus material in 2008 on the Tell-Tale Signs bootleg. Fragments, the latest entry in the Dylan bootleg series, is focused on TOOM. It includes: a significant remix of the album, alternate takes, unreleased songs, and live TOOM material. Below is the official Fragments unboxing video:

Part One – the remix

I was apprehensive about the TOOM remix. Normally, I would find the remix of a masterpiece album as heretical – especially when the key feature of that album was its sonics/production/mix. However, for years I have heard that Dylan was not happy with the TOOM production. When TOOM was released I was a huge fan of Daniel Lanois productions: Eno, U2, Peter Gabriel, Robbie Robinson, Emmy Lou Harris, etc. Dylan’s Oh Mercy had been produced by Lanois and I loved the production on that album. So in 1997, after a long songwriting drought, the fact that Dylan was releasing a new album with new songs with Daniel Lanois was a thrill. This did not seem like an album that should be messed with.

When TOOM first came out I recall being highly distracted by the processing of Dylan’s vocals, But over time, I grew to love it. I loved the swampy fog of the overall production. Usually I don’t like it when a producer’s aesthetic overpowers the artist, but Lanois is an exception – I like his meddling with my favorite artists. And in the case of TOOM, I felt that Dylan and Lanois had brilliantly collaborated to create a masterpiece: lyrically, musically and sonically.

I never understood Dylan’s frustration with TOOM given its critical and commercial success. But after my first listen of mix-master Michael Brauer’s remix on Fragments, I get Dylan’s frustration. It reminds me of when I first got glasses as a kid. I had normalized blurry vision. When I put on that first pair of glasses the clarity was shocking (in a good way). I am similarly shocked by the Brauer remix of TOOM and the clarity it brings to the songs and performance of Dylan and the band. My initial reaction to Fragments is, despite the success of TOOM, Lanois had overreached by obscuring Dylan with his own artistic swampy vision. No wonder Dylan was pissed. Dylan famously declared his distaste for Lanois’ production of TOOM in a 2001 Rolling Stone interview saying that Lanois’ “swampy voodoo thing” resulted in a “sameness to the rhythms.”

Michael Brauer has successfully created an alternative version of TOOM without changing its fundamental beauty. He has reduced the processing on Dylan’s voice and brought forward the instruments without overpowering Dylan’s vocals. Per Brauer:

“It’s more of a singer-songwriter approach” and he was determined to “maintain the integrity and the essence of an iconic record.”

I judge the remix a success – it reveals another TOOM without subverting the original. I don’t love the original album any less, in fact I appreciate it even more. I am a huge Steven Hyden fan and I love his essay in Fragments. He captured my feelings about Fragments perfectly when he writes in the liner notes:

For someone who has listened to Time Out Of Mind more times than I could possibly count, this set is a real gift – for the first time since 1997, I can hear one of my favorite Dylan records with fresh ears.

Part Two – outtakes, alternative versions and previously unreleased material

The backstory of TOOM was that recordings were worked on at Lanois’ Teatro studio in California, but Dylan did not like the vibe and moved the production to Criteria Studios in Miami Florida. Once at Criterion, more players got involved- including a who’s who of session royalty and some of Dylan’s touring band. The outtakes and alternative versions come from both studios. It is cool to get a peek at the evolution of the songwriting, arrangements and production. Lyrics change, arrangements are changed, and some songs are ultimately abandoned or deferred to future albums.

There is a lot to absorb here and I imagine spending a few months listening to these outtakes and alternate versions. But some initial highlights for me:

Fragments outtakes and alternates opens with “The Water Is Wide” – it is the perfect transition from the folk songs of his prior two releases and TOOM. It is a traditional Scottish folk song performed early in the Teatro sessions.

“‘Till I Fell In Love With You” (Version 1) is a faster more rocking version from what appears on the original album.

“Can’t Wait” (Version 1) is a completely different vibe from what appears on the original album. Much more urgency to it.

“Dirt Road Blues” (Version 1) is a wonderfully raucous joy.

“Mississippi” is one of my favorite Dylan tracks. My initial exposure to the song was Sheryl Crow’s cover. “Version 1” on Fragments is great, but I can see why it did not make the cut for TOOM – too playful. This is a song that gave Dylan trouble – Fragments has five studio versions. Ironically it never did appear on TOOM, but finally found a place on his next album Love and Theft. I like all the versions presented here and on Love and Theft. Not sure which one I would have picked for TOOM or Love and Theft.

The alternative version of “Cold Irons Bound” has a nice funkiness to it – a little simpler arrangement than the final version.

“Love Sick” (Version 2) vocals are exceptionally smooth and sweet. This alternative version is reason enough for the deluxe bootleg to exist.

“Make You Feel My Love” may be the schmaltziest song in Dylan’s catalog. The “Take 1” version however, is simply arranged and just plain beautiful. This is one of those Dylan songs that is better in cover artist hands than Dylan’s.

Some of the outtakes and alternates were on 2006’s bootleg Tell-Tale Signs. Although these songs where previously released, it is nice to have them here with the rest of the TOOM tracks. Tell-Tale Signs is one of my favorites in the bootleg series.

Part Three – live

Fragments attempts to provides a TOOM live experience by including live versions of the album tracks from the few years after the release of TOOM. The performances are great, but the recording quality is poor (although they sound better on vinyl on the big boy stereo vs digital via earbuds). But it is worth it to hear these songs live. Most are close to the album arrangements, but some are completely different. There aren’t liner notes on the life stuff, but Dylan obsessive Ray Padget does a nice job here of creating liner notes for live tracks. Note there is not a version of “Dirt Road Blues” given Dylan has never performed it live.

Vinyl edition – deluxe, numbered (mine is #2700), and limited to 5000

I ordered my vinyl edition when Fragments was first announced. It didn’t ship until after release date and arrived at my home a week later. It did sellout and it is being sold for double the list price on Discogs. I initially panicked when it arrived as the shipping box was damaged.

Fortunately the actual product was well packed and survived the shipping abuse.

The vinyl sounds great – clean and well pressed. I hope to write another post comparing the vinyl to digital high-resolution streaming (Tidal). The package for the box set is nicely done. There are five gatefold double albums – each double album is the equivalent of the CD version. The is a nice booklet with great photos, memorabilia and liner notes (essays by Douglas Brinkley and Steven Hyden).

Parting thoughts

The “Dylan Camp” has taken a different approach with this bootleg. Normally to get the full package you have to buy it (vinyl, CD, or downloads) and only a sampler is on streaming services. Sometimes a few years later the full release is made available on streaming (but you never get the liner note or art). This time all the music is available day one on streaming services. As a guy who spent $275 on a preorder of vinyl I have no issue with this. Selfishly I like the high resolution streaming access (I use Tidal) for mobile access and given vinyl shipping delays it was my only access. But more importantly I want people who can’t afford or those who only have casual interest to have access.

I am still digesting Fragments, but one thing is clear, TOOM would have been a success even without Daniel Lanois – it’s the songs not the production. However, Lanois’ pixie dust created a unique sonic masterpiece in the Dylan catalog and for that I am thankful. The fundamental bluesy/Americana nature of the arrangements would become the sonic approach for the rest of Dylan’s career. Fragments does not betray TOOM – it increases my appreciation of the masterpiece. This is exactly what a deluxe and expanded edition of an important album should do.

Various links:

  • Jeff Slate’s Daily Beast article including interviews with producer Daniel Lanois and engineer Mark Howard here
  • Interview (podcast) with remixer Michael Brauer
  • Interview (podcast) with Steven Hyden who wrote the liner notes for Fragments
  • Discussion (podcast) with Jeff Slate on Fragments
  • Ray Padget’s notes on Fragments live tracks
  • Dylan FM Substack has more information on TOOM than the average human can consume

From → Music Reviews

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