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Bob Dylan, "Fragments — Time Out of Mind Sessions (1996-1997): The Bootleg Series Vol. 17" (Legacy)

"Time Out of Mind" was a pivotal Dylan album because it was 1) his best collection of original material in two decades, 2) his last project for which he used a producer (he's helmed all his subsequent discs), and 3) another instance, like 1975's "Blood on the Tracks," in which he recorded two different versions of the same album.

The first sessions were essentially demos cut by four musicians at producer Daniel Lanois' El Teatro Studios in Oxnard, Calif. That's curious; Dylan was never known for making demos. The final version was recorded at Miami's Criteria Studios, with an all-star cast and Lanois processing Dylan's vocals in a way that had never been done before. The sessions were tense. Hence, "Fragments" features alternative versions of songs as well as outtakes.

To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Grammy-winning "Time Out of Mind," this boxed set presents a brand-new mix by engineer Michael Brauer, who essentially strips the 11 selections to a striking clarity, moving Dylan's penetrating vocals upfront.

Over the course of this 60-track, five-CD deluxe set (including one bootleg-sounding concert disc), Dylan changed arrangements, tempos and lyrics — sometimes a single word, sometimes adding a new verse. This has been his approach in concert, so no surprise here.

It's not clear whether he — or Lanois — didn't like a particular take or approach. Dylan was never one to necessarily fuss over multiple takes. Per usual, he's not talking, though liner notes from historian Douglas Brinkley, who's interviewed Dylan, and Minneapolis journalist Steven Hyden, 45, who didn't discover Dylan until the 1990s, offer some speculation.

There is an alluring bluesy vibe throughout, including the stinging "Cold Irons Bound" (Brauer mix), the galloping "Mississippi" (version 2) and "Dirt Road Blues (the thumping version 1, the western swing version 2). Dylan's voice is snarling on "'Til I Fell in Love" (version 3) and cutting on "Standing in the Doorway" (version 1). The permutations of "Can't Wait" are fascinating. Whatever the rendition, the power of these tunes, especially subsequent concert staples "Love Sick" and "Not Dark Yet," is undeniable.

"Fragments," in all its various pieces, confirms what we thought in 1997: "Time Out of Mind" is a masterful work no matter how Dylan delivers these exceptional songs.

JON BREAM, Star Tribune

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