Bob Dylan may be alone in owning a vault so stuffed with quality recordings he can release hours of outtakes that stand as songs themselves, not merely as interesting but one-listen-and-done snippets and not-yet-finished arrangements.
Of course, as his live performances make clear, Dylan’s arrangements are never finished. And the works-in-progress on Fragments – Time Out of Mind Sessions (1996-1997): The Bootleg Series Vol. 17 demonstrate this is a fortuitous circumstance.
The generous compilation includes a tasteful remix of the original LP up front and relatively low-quality live recordings from 1998-2001 and previously released material from Vol. 8 on the back end.
And in the middle lies gold.
This is the restless Dylan of resetting the music, revising his lyrics and reimagining his voice as a nasal cry, a twangy drawl from the briar and a haggard, glass-gargling rasp. It’s the kind of restlessness that ensures multiple appearances of the same title sound like different compositions. And it leaves one to wonder whether the original track list and selection of takes for Time Out of Mind was deliberate or merely the tossing of darts at potential recordings for inclusion.
So while “Not Dark Yet,” “Mississippi,” “Highlands” and others cuts are undeniable classics, Dylan proves with this Bootleg they could’ve been even more impactful upon release. And he ensures they are now.
Meanwhile, Version 2 of “Dirt Road Blues” reveals the template for “Duquesne Whistle,” while Version 2 of “Can’t Wait” recalls the sound – but not the message – of “Slow Train.”
Comprising five discs, 60 tracks and more than six hours of music, Fragments makes the point that Dylan – in the course of making one late-career album – recorded more potential keepers, more masterpieces tossed away, than many artists do in a career. It also, like so many of the preceding Bootleg Series releases, gives insight to how much different Dylan’s linear output might have been had he made different choices or if the hypothetical dart had landed elsewhere.
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