In 1997, following a near-fatal illness, Bob Dylan received universal acclaim for Time Out Of Mind, a spooky bluesy album dealing with the topic of death among other things. Once again, it was his performance as much as the songs and his ability to make you feel that did it and the album went on to win three Grammies including album of the year.
Time Out of Mind is a blues album, built around riffs that come from Howlin’ Wolf, with a couple of ballads. Dylan’s music has always been steeped in the blues, right from his first album, and a large percentage of his music has always been blues or blues based. Most (but not all) of his “rock and roll” songs are structurally blues songs and of his studio albums (not counting Dylan) only Desire lacks a song that is blues in structure. The best songs on “Time out of Mind” are Trying To Get To Heaven, Not Dark Yet and Standing In The Doorway, followed by Cold Iron Bounds and Highlands and Lovesick, which along with the blues songs is better a lot of the time in concert.
Time out of Mind was the first Dylan album in centuries where he paid attention to what he wanted in the music as well as the production. Some have spoken about the production being in layers. Not true. Not if you really listen. The album was cut live. The musicians were not allowed to redo parts. It is obvious that each track was paid attention to in terms of sound, whether the raw roadhouse feel of “Dirt Road” or the more Chess-studio type sound of some of the other tracks. They really got what they were going after, both in music and in sound and while some of the songs have a “swamp” feel and a definite spooky quality, it doesn’t have the buried, somewhat muddy sound of say Oh Mercy’s “Politcal World.” The only track where Dylan’s voice is buried is “Cold Iron Bound” and I think deliberate as part of the sound of the track. It’s going to be very interesting when the outtakes, which are supposed to be completely different, at least in terms of feel, finally surface.
I think the key to the title is the “Out of Mind” part. On every song (with the possible exception of “Make You Feel My Love,” the only time Dylan comes up for air, he is clearly and plainly going out of his mind in blunt unapologetic terms. From the “walking”, “standing” or trying to get somewhere it all sounds desperate. Most of the songs on Time out of Mind depict someone who can’t wait to leave, from the light being bad to the room temperature. Something is continually making this person crazy, there’s no solace.
I’m walking through streets that are deadLovesick
Walking, walking with you in my head
Gon’ walk down that dirt road, ’til someone lets me rideDirt Road Blues
I’m walking through the summer nightsStanding in the Doorway
Jukebox playing low
You left me standing out in the coldMillion Miles
I’ve been walking that lonesome valleyTryin’ To Get To Heaven
I know it looks like I’m moving, but I’m standing stillNot Dark Yet
I’m waist deep, waist deep in the mistCold Irons Bound
It’s almost like, almost like I don’t exist
I’m twenty miles out of town in cold irons bound
I’d go crawling down the avenueMake You Feel My Love
It’s late, I’m trying to walk the line…Can’t Wait
I’m breathing hard, standing at the gate
There’s a way to get there and I’ll figure it out somehowHighlands
But I’m already there in my mind
And that’s good enough for now
This is a very powerful record and at its release I thought the best Dylan album since Blood on the Tracks. It was certainly the best album I’d heard in the ’90s. There was hope on Blood on the Tracks, which appears to have been replaced by resignation on Time out of Mind, but unlike Blood on the Tracks, Dylan knew what he wanted and went for it and actually told the musicians what he wanted them to do. On Blood on the Tracks, Dylan just played the songs and all the musicians could do was follow.
There was a record my mother bought when I was a kid that’s an Alan Lomax album with Peggy Seeger, Guy Carawan. This record was key when Time Out Of Mind came out when trying to figure out the sources of all the lines. Trying To Get To Heaven is almost entirely composed of lines from old folk songs and I got the ‘Riding In A Buggy With Mary’ Jane line, because Peggy Seeger sings the song on that album. But there’s a bunch of other songs on this one album that either Dylan has covered or used lines from. If I ever interview Dylan I would love to just say, “You ever see this record?”
One of the things I want to hear is the Jim Dickinson mix. My problem with Daniel Lanois is he is always making Daniel Lanois records no matter who the artist is. I suspect Dylan had more of a bluesy album in mind and there’s little doubt in my mind that Lanois is why Dylan decided to produce himself. Hopefully the Dickinson mix includes the original Duke Robillard guitar parts, which Lanois replaced with his own guitar.
The good thing about Oh Mercy was that Daniel Lanois made Dylan work when he might not have been inclined to do so. With Time out of Mind, when you read about all the production technological bullshit he put songs through to obtain a kind of a Chess or Sun Records sound, Dylan achieved that sound, without all the bullshit, on “Love And Theft.”