Review: Another Massive Dylan Delivery

Bob Dylan/Fragments: The Bootleg Series Vol. 17/Columbia
4.5 out of Five Stars

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Bob Dylan sometimes seemed like a curmudgeonly sort of guy, especially now, in his later years. A photo of the Bobster smiling could be as rare as many of the outtakes and outcasts included in any of the entries that encompass his ongoing Bootleg box set series.

That’s not to say the guy doesn’t have a sensitive side. The latest offering in the aforementioned series, the five-disc Fragments, culled from the late ‘90s Time Out of Mind sessions, could be considered the Bobster’s quintessential collection of love songs. That’s not to say they’re particularly sweet or serene: with the exception of only certain songs, “Til I Fell In Love With You” and “Make You Feel My Love” in particular, most of these tracks could be considered contentious at best—all darkly defiant and thoroughly immersed in a tangled tapestry of unrequited and understated emotion. Blues played a prominent role in several of the songs, adding a raw edge that defined much of his more provocative works of the late ‘90s and early 2000s.

That said, Time Out of Mind did yield a trio of Dylan’s most enduring songs, at least as far as his more recent era—those being “Not Dark Yet,” “Cold Irons Bound,” “Marchin’ to the City,” and the oft-covered “Make You Feel My Love.” Those two songs alone made the original album nothing less than a minor masterpiece.

With that set as a launching point, the Fragments box set offers enough weight and return to justify its weighty price tag. The remastered version of the original album is simply stunning, bringing clarity to the source material that wasn’t as evident before. So too, while repeated versions of certain songs may sometimes seem redundant, they are well in keeping with any Dylan devotee’s desire to peer well below the surface while gathering clues as to the germination of Dylan’s genius. So too, the addition of tracks that didn’t make the final cut—“Mississippi,” “Dirt Road Blues,” “Red River Shore,” “Highlands,” and “Marchin’ to the City”—demonstrated that Dylan had plenty of excess material to choose from. 

As always, much of the value can be found in the lavish hardcover book that accompanies this edition. It’s exceptional all on its own, offering commentary, rare photos, posters, and clippings that give an exceptional insight into this often negated phase of the Master’s later trajectory.

Of course, the price tag may dissuade all but the most fervent Dylan devotees, and in fact, those with limited resources and no definite desire to dig through the couch cushions in search of spare change may choose to opt instead for earlier volumes of such seminal soirees such as Blood on the Tracks or the Rolling Thunder sessions.  On the other hand, completists might be compelled to acquire the treasured trappings offered herein, simply for the sake of owning it all. 

To borrow the title of one of Zimmy’s most memorable offerings, desire and dedication go hand in hand.

Photo by FRED TANNEAU/AFP/GettyImages

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