By Bill Spurge
Last year, I decided to complete my collection of Bob Dylan albums. I was a few albums and some odds and ends short, so I bought most and swapped items with a co-worker and fellow Dylan fanatic.
Then, in honor of the 50th anniversary of his first album, 1962’s Bob Dylan, I set out to rank every Dylan album and song. A monumental task, indeed. I listened to album after album, four or five times through. Even albums I knew in my sleep were placed under scrutiny.
Then came the hardest part: making the list. The albums came easier. The songs, not so easy.
My song list is coming soon. In the meantime, here's my album-by-album ranking of Dylan's 33 studio LPs (NOTE: Dylan has actually released 34 studio albums, but I've chosen not to include 2009's Christmas In the Heart.)
These 33 album-ranking stories will take us right up to the release of Tempest, Dylan's new album, which is scheduled to come out September 11. Enjoy!
No. 7 of 33: Time Out of Mind (1997)
This fascinating album garnered all kinds of awards, including the Best Album Grammy. I don't care about those awards; they have nothing to do with how I feel about this record.
To be honest, when I set out to do this project, I didn't think this would be in my top 10. I'd always liked it, but when I listened to it closer than ever before, I just had to move it up. It's an album that finds Dylan's "old-man" voice very much in line with the musical and lyrical content. It's an album that pulls you in so many different directions: At times, his life is a mess; other times, he's crooning about love; sometimes he's singing the blues; sometimes he seems to be dealing with mortality.
The murkiness of the sound makes me feel like I'm walking with Dylan through the fog, watching the world either right in front of us, by our side or passing us by. Dylan seems to be trudging down this desolate landscape where he sees all kinds of places and people, all of which come and go. He's trying to sort them out. He knows them, but he doesn't know them. ("I thought some of them were friends of mine," he says in "Cold Irons Bound." "I was wrong about 'em all.")
He mentions several cities, so he's going everywhere. But where is it all taking him? Sometimes into his past, sometimes into the present, and sometimes into the future (and perhaps to that permanent state called death). Sometimes he doesn't like or understand what he sees. What has happened to life as we knew it? "I got new eyes, everything looks far away," he sings on "Highlands." Some of the songs are gut-wrenching, and the music is harrowing in how it sets the mood.
Dylan was 55 when he wrote the bulk of this album (as I am now), and it makes you feel haunted as time just slips away.
Journalist Bill Spurge of New York City has been a Bob Dylan fan since 1974.