Sixteen years ago, in January of 1997, the official sessions for 1997’s Time Out Of Mind began at Criteria Studios in Miami, Florida with Daniel Lanois co-producing with Bob Dylan.
Time Out Of Mind followed the return to ‘folk’ albums, Good As I Been To You and World Gone Wrong that were the start of a new phase for Bob Dylan, one that has been a creative rejuvenation that continues to this day.
Musicians who took part in the sessions included Lanois, Augie Meyers (organ, accordion), Tony Garnier (bass). Jim Dickenson (keyboards), Jim Keltner (drums), Brian Blade (drums Winston Watson (drums), Tony Mangurian (percussion),Cindy Cashdollar (slide guitar), Bucky Baxter (acoustic guitar, pedal steel guitar), Robert Britt (electric guitar), Duke Robillard (electric guitar), David Kemper (drums) and John Jackson (guitar).
Ten outtakes and alternative versions of songs on Time Out Of Mind were released on 2008’s The Bootleg Series Vol. 8: Tell Tale Signs: Rare and Unreleased 1989–2006. I’ve posted them below.
The old songs that sprung to such cryptic life on Good as I Been to You and World Gone Wrong took a new form in 1997 with Time Out of Mind. There the likes of Blind Willie McTell’s “Ragged and Dirty” and the mists-of-time British ballad “Love Henry” shed their skins and grew new ones, turning into “Dirt Road Blues,” “Standing in the Doorway,” “Not Dark Yet,” “Tryin’ to Get to Heaven,” “Cold Irons Bound.” Onstage the songs changed shape yet again, as if they were less made than found, daring their putative composer to keep up with them. On numerous real bootlegs — as opposed to Dylan’s own official bootlegs — it was plain that “Cold Irons Bound” grew faster and bigger than anything else, but I have never heard anything like the Tell Tale Signs performance, from the Bonnaroo Festival in Manchester, Tennessee, in 2004.
Marcus ended his review:
…there is little point in saying that “Red River Shore,” despite the tragedy of its story, is as open as the Plains, the only limit to what it can say a matter whether you can see from one end of its Kansas to the other. After a few listenings, it might seem too sweet, not the tragedy it means to be at all. As you listen it might be replaced at the top of this set’s chart by “Most of the Time,” a song so carefully composed you can imagine that had Dean Martin or Fred Astaire had the chance to record it their versions would have been better than Dylan’s — and as Dylan performs it, solo on the first disc, with quiet, retreating accompaniment on the third, can make you lose track of time, to the point that the fact that Tell Tale Signs has dropped its clues over nearly two decades need mean nothing at all.
Daniel Lanois spoke to Alastair McKay of Uncut magazine when the outtakes and demos for the Time Out Of Mind sessions were released on the Bootleg Series album Tell Tale Signs:
Jeff Rosen [DYlan’s manager] called me a couple of months ago and said he was thinking or releasing the demo version of “I Can’t Wait”. That was my demo, which was done at my theatre. I was renting a theatre at the time in a place called Oxnard [California]. I had my shop set up there for a while. So Bob Dylan would roll down to the teatro, cos it was a Spanish town. That’s where we did the demos for Time Out Of Mind, and out of that demo session came some lovely things, including that version of “I Can’t Wait”, which I feel has a lot of thunder in it. It’s very stripped down ’cause it’s piano – Bob on my lovely turn of the century Steinway, which has a roaring bass in it; me on my goldtop 1956 Les Paul, through a Vox, and Pretty Tony on the drums, who was a friend of mine who stopped by the help with the demos. I was sad to abandon that version, ’cause I think it has lot of rock’n’roll in it.
I did a lot of preparation [for the album] with Pretty Tony in New York City. I listened to a lot of old records that Bob recommended I fish out. Some of them I knew already – some Charley Patton records, dusty old rock’n’roll records really, blues records. And Tony and I played along to those records, and then I built some loops of what Tony and I did, and then abandoned these sources; which is a hip-hop technique. And then I brought those loops to Bob at the teatro. And we built a lot of demos around them, and he loved the fact that there was a good vibe on those. Some of the ultimate productions ended up having those loops in them. Songs like “Million Miles” and, uh, is it “Heartland”? [We think he means “Highlands” – ed] – those long blues numbers have those preparations in their spine.
I wanted people to respond to the vocal and not play across the vocal, so when the singer sings, you keep quiet. And if you want to respond to the singing, then you should have a signature or a melody and not ramblings. The rambling thing belongs to an old Nashville sound, where people pick a lot. I didn’t want ramblings. Just like I don’t like Dixieland playing for that reason – it becomes like a mosquito in the room, like “Would you just stop playing for a minute?” I want to hear the singer. I wanted to make sure that we didn’t fall into the clichés of Nashville ramblings. I think that was OK for the past, but not for now. [Drummer] David Kemper said I told him that the players shouldn’t play pedestrian – they had to play strange? He might have been referring to that particular rant where I felt that people were on autopilot, and I didn’t want autopilot. I wanted Bob’s vocal and lyrics, and then if we had something to say musically aside from that, then let’s say it loud and proud, no meanderings.