Bob Dylan
Time Out of Mind

There's a federal statute prohibiting anyone who doesn't admire Bob Dylan from becoming a rock critic, so it's no surprise that I'm crazy about a great many of his recordings. Highway 61 Revisited and The Basement Tapes are my favorites, followed by Bringing It All Back Home, Blonde on Blonde, Bob Dylan and The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan--and I also regard Before the Flood, Blood on the Tracks and Desire to be worthy efforts. But the last Dylan disc I came within spitting distance of actually enjoying was Empire Burlesque, an oddball, scattershot mess of a platter that came out in 1985--which, as you math wizards out there no doubt realize, was a dozen years ago. Since then, Dylan has released a handful of records, but the majority of them have either been casual throwaways (like Down in the Groove) or spare flashbacks to his folkie past (World Gone Wrong). That Time Out of Mind is something else--Dylan's first album of new, original material since 1989's Oh Mercy--explains why the arbiters of pop music have embraced it so passionately. But to put it kindly, most of these reviewers are grading on the curve. Musically, Mind is as safe as safe can be--a collection of bluesy lopes that sound like variations of Bobby's mid-Sixties stylings that were left out in the sun too long. Producer Daniel Lanois, who also helmed Oh Mercy, gives everything a laconic feel that matches up nicely with Dylan's don't-rush-me vocalizing, but the result can't help but be a bit underwhelming. On "'Til I Fell in Love With You," for example, Dylan sings some fiery lines ("Well, my nerves are exploding/And my body's tense"), but he does so with all the bravado of a man on his fourth Quaalude of the afternoon. Elsewhere, Dylan settles for obvious, empty rhymes--on "Million Miles," he matches up "You took the silver/You took the gold" with "You left me standing/Out in the cold"--or mutters dour declarations like an old man impatiently waiting for the Grim Reaper to come a-knockin'. Given Dylan's health problems, you'd think that such fatalism would add depth to the tunes, but hearing him concede, "I just don't see why I should even care," on "Not Dark Yet," is more pathetic than moving; he sounds tired, used up, ready for a couple of months in a recliner. He occasionally rouses himself, and when he does, as on the voodoo number "Cold Irons Bound," he's capable of grabbing and holding your attention as he did in the old days. But for all its ambitiousness, the CD's sixteen-minute closer, "Highlands," doesn't stack up to the poetic epics Dylan made at his peak; the occasional glimmers of humor sour amid confessions like "Feel like I'm driftin'/Driftin' from the scene." The echoes of glories past that reverberate through the recording may be enough to satisfy cultists, and I confess that I was glad to hear his gruff, nasal whine again, even if they appear on songs that imply that he doesn't give a damn anymore. But for anyone who wants to know why this old coot is so revered, his latest doesn't offer many explanations. My advice to novices? Leave Time Out of Mind in the rack and pick up some of the records Dylan made when he was a young, loquacious, smarty-alecky pain in the ass. Then you'll understand.

--Michael Roberts

Various Artists
Source Lab 3
(Virgin France/Caroline)

The French pop scene was ahead of the game during the first half of the twentieth century, thanks to its cutting-edge embrace of American artists such as Josephine Baker and the innovators of bebop, and it maintained its hip cachet for a while afterward due to the contributions of Edith Piaf and Serge Gainsbourg. But the adrenal punch of rock and roll left the country's music industry seemingly confused and isolated. Today, though, a posse of electronic jocks from Paris is making a bid for renewed credibility by rejecting the sound of the guitar generation and moving straight into the heart of the global dance universe. The first two volumes of the Source Lab series have done a good job of documenting the success of acts such as Daft Punk, Dimitri From Paris and Motorbass, all of which subsequently found themselves slotted into DJ playlists in Europe and beyond, and Source Lab 3, a double-CD set, is an admirable successor. Among the highlights are "Inflammable B Boy," a stand-out track by DJ Cam, a producer heavily influenced by the trippy, illbient funk beats associated with the Shadow Records roster; Fantom's "Faithfull," which pins smooth, jammin' house beats to the riffing of a processed guitar loop and a slinky Moog; Hi-Way's "Nite Fly," the requisite drum-and-bass nod; Mozesli's "Sunshine," featuring a blues vocal that's spliced into a breezy dub-rock excursion; and Magic Malik's "Obsession," an effervescent marriage of Debussy flutes and smoky sax that should delight even the most ardent francophile. Last but not least is "Cosmic Bird," a collaboration that pairs Air, an ambient-dub group, with Seventies electro-pop composer Jean-Jacques Perrey. This bubbly festival of sound manages to clear the room of any hot air left behind by the preceding two hours of electronica indulgence.

--Kelly Lemieux

John Hiatt
Little Head

Fifteen years ago, artists like Hiatt and Bonnie Raitt gave adult-alternative radio stations progressive asphalt with which to build new roads. But since then, bands such as 16 Horsepower have been doing the trailblazing, while Hiatt remains stuck on his own crumbling Route 66. "I've got that feeling again," Hiatt sings at one point on Little Head, and no doubt he does: His new, catchy numbers sound no different from his old, catchy numbers. "Pirate Radio" rocks along in fine fashion, but be warned: After only one listen, it'll be jingling around inside your head all day, whether you want it to or not. The recording's ballads, meanwhile, find Hiatt at an all-time low; the falsetto he uses to croon "doot, doot, dootie-doot" on the worst of them epitomizes phony soulfulness. As for the title track, it recalls the Subdudes' soulful "Straight Shot," but not in a good way. Hiatt shoots it straight, all right--straight to a mechanized, tried-and-true hell.

--Jack Jackson


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