(As published in the Illinois Entertainer ... )
Time Out of Mind
When it comes to generating interest in your fortieth album, there's nothing like nearly dying of a mysterious heart infection then recovering just in time to perform for the Pope. Especially when you're a rock icon who, despite having changed the face of popular culture etc. now finds himself eclipsed in the hearts of contemporary record buyers by your Wallflower son. At least Julian and Ziggy waited till their dads were dead! Seriously, despite the return of Daniel Lanois to Dylan's production helm, diehard Dylanites have been debating on the Web and in fanzines for months now whether their Main Man should risk tarnishing his legend with a half-there "comeback" album when he could sail comfortably into rock 'n' roll Valhalla on a sea of boxed sets instead.
They needn't have worried. Far from exposing Dylan as a punch-drunk shadow of his former self, Time Out of Mind adds one more layer of authoritative folk-prophet mystique to his fascinatingly inscrutable public persona. In a sense, it's Oh Mercy, Pt. II, what with Lanois swathing Dylan's every craggy pronouncement in echoey guitars (courtesy of Duke Robillard) and spooky Farfisa organs (courtesy of Augie Meyers). In fact, the lyrics of "Standing in the Doorway" echo the lyrics of Oh Mercy's "Ring Them Bells" as surely as the melodies of "Tryin' to Get to Heaven" and "Not Dark Yet" echo the melody of Oh Mercy's "Shooting Star."
Repeated listenings, however, reveal deeper connections. Familiar Dylan archetypes like "the road," "heaven's door," and "the gate" recur throughout, as does his love-hate relationship with love and hate. Musical archetypes surface too--on "Dirt Road Blues" he slips into a "Maggie's Farm"-like shuffle so naturally you'd swear the times they haven't been a-changin' after all. As for the disc-ending "Highlands," it's his longest recording ever (sixteen minutes) and makes "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" ("Highlands," "Lowlands," get it?) seem brief by comparison. Part sermon, part soliloquy, part shaggy-dog story, it's his "Talking Career-Summary Blues" and essential--if only to hear him admit to liking hard-boiled eggs, Neil Young, and Erica Jong.