To someone who knows Dylan better as a vestige than as a vital singer/songwriter, Time Out of Mind might well come off as nothing but a record of sad songs, the plaints of a man who's "been hit too hard" by the end of love. Indeed, under producer Daniel Lanois's guidance, Time Out of Mind almost seems to sob, like a lover left for dead. Songs begin out of nowhere and fade into oblivion, with Dylan popping up to spin tales in which tears turn to blood and love turns to dust. But to an acolyte, Time Out of Mind is the record Dylan should have made long ago -- an intimate portrait of a man coming to terms with his age, his legacy, his ability. It isn't just about traveling through the world looking for love; almost every song finds Dylan walking down some dirt road like a vagabond, but one searching for some redemption, some salvation. He sings of wanting to make it into heaven before the gates close. He later sings of "comin' to the end of my way," like a man seeking to make some kind of peace. Then, even later, his voice almost a shadow, he groans that "I don't know how much longer I can wait" and that "the end of time has just begun."

Time Out of Mind would be invaluable for its final track alone, a 16-minute opus titled "Highlands" that begins in a daydream and ends on a crowded street where the people don't recognize the man who's singing. It's a remarkable discourse from someone who has spent the last two decades mumbling into his pillow, at once a declaration of victory and the white flag of surrender. "I feel like a prisoner in a world of mystery," he moans, "I wish someone'd come and push back the clock for me." After so many tossed-off releases -- all those folkie throwdowns and unplugged indiscretions -- Dylan finally spills a little more blood on the tracks. (****)

-- Robert Wilonsky

Jamie Blake
Jamie Blake

Jamie Blake's appealing blend of brains, perspiration and polite rebellion is a few months too late for what could have been a promising second-stage distraction on the Lilith Fair tour. The 21-year-old singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist hails from Chicago, but she came of age in New York City, perfecting her saucy, folk-grrrl rock in Washington Square by day and neighborhood bars by night. By one of those impossible flukes that seem to happen all too regularly in the music industry, someone important at A&M got ahold of her demo tape and signed her on.

While Blake still has a way to go in her quest for sonic self-realization, her eponymous debut is nothing if not aurally arousing. It's the sort of bristling, if flawed, first effort that leaves you a tad disappointed, but hungry and hopeful for the inevitable second try. After being humbled a bit by the endless life lessons that accompany months on the road, it's likely Blake will have a little more to say on the next go-around.

As it is now, Blake advertises her influences a touch too prominently. The fastest tunes wag the coattails of Veruca Salt; the slower ones amble down a well-traveled road paved with heartbreak, self-loathing and the general urgency of adolescence. Blake's husky, assertive vocals betray her debt to the likes of Debbie Harry, Pat Benatar and Stevie Nicks, and for every pretty pop melody and soft-hearted confession, there's a dose of disarming demolition guitar to remind us of Blake's early exposure to cock-metal demigods AC/DC, or a brash, full-throated chorus to validate the assertion that this girl is tougher than she looks. She might not be tough enough quite yet, but still, the seed is planted. It just needs a little time to germinate. And when it does, take cover. (***)

-- Carrie Bell

Jamie Blake performs at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, October 7, at the Hard Rock Cafe.

Elton John
The Big Picture

You've got to hand it to old Reg: Few aging stadium-pop relics have coasted more efficiently on the creative fumes of a career that, for all intents and purposes, was spent ages ago. He and Paul McCartney ought to be sharing a few laughs over a cognac about now (make that a Shirley Temple for the drug-free Elton), seeing as both have been pulling a huge one over on us for going on 20 years.

The Big Picture celebrates the 30-year anniversary of John's song-writing partnership with Bernie Taupin, an on-and-off pairing that, thus far, has resulted in three dozen top 40 singles and a dozen number-one hits worldwide. Some celebration. Picture neatly and dutifully frames everything that's gone wrong with the John/ Taupin enterprise since the mid '70s. A feigned significance courses through the disc's 11 tracks, and a numbing indifference is its unintended effect -- it's nothing short of Novocain for the soul. Fortune cookie sentiments ("You think you win but in the end you lose") and vague twinges of pained midlife insight ("Tell me do I fit in the big picture / Do I have a shot at the big part?") are made sodden by innocuous arrangements, tedious melodies and a crisis-level shortage of hooks.

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