This is one of Dylan's most consistently gripping albums, even though it is a roundup of outtakes and orphaned songs, many cut for the haunted triumphs Oh Mercy and Time Out of Mind. Like any night on his Never Ending Tour, each track is a fresh portrait of Dylan at the crossroads, cutting new roads in rhyme, tempo and emotional emphasis: the introspection of "Most of the Time," the looming apocalypse of "Ring Them Bells" and the heavy weight of "Ain't Talkin'." The veering tempers of Dylan's medicine- rattle rasp are a wonder to themselves. His enraged growl in the piano demo of "Dignity" — "In the next room a man fightin' with his wife/Over dignity" — sounds like he's ready to jump right in.
I've been listening to it in earnest this week on the iPod and it's an extraordinary overview of the last two decades of Dylan's lexicon. Some of the recordings are familiar - but take twists away from the final cuts of albums. Others are brand new. And others are complete reworkings of songs or we discover lyrics that pop up in other compositions later and others with lyrics that never made the final cut. We hear Dylan experimenting with different phrasing and in the use of his voice as though he's channelling some ancient New Orleans bluesman from another generation, another century. Is he Stephen Foster or Charlie Parker?
You can listen to the album at Rhapsody here.
Read it all at Rolling Stone here.