Bob’s next new album came as something of a surprise, recorded and released very quickly, and with a relatively short break since the last new one. Together Through Life is a compositional collaboration with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, who’d previously blessed Bob with “Silvio” (fair enough) and “The Ugliest Girl In The World” (not a good sign). With a lot of accordion, courtesy of Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo, the album has something of a Tex-Mex feel, but somehow just doesn’t stick.
“Beyond Here Lies Nothin’” sets the tone with an unfortunate prophecy, as much of what follows lopes along the same dusty territory, song after song. “Life Is Hard” seems like an attempt to croon, but “My Wife’s Home Town” merely puts new words to a Willie Dixon blues, redeemed only by the cackle near the end. Similarly, “If You Ever Go To Houston” is a lazy rewrite of “Midnight Special”. “Forgetful Heart” shows some signs of life, bringing back some of the regret of Time Out Of Mind and some excellent imagery for a change.
“Jolene” isn’t the Dolly Parton song, but merely gives him an excuse to rhyme the name with “I’m the king and you’re my queen,” which we suppose puts it in line with some of the eyebrow raisers on Nashville Skyline. “This Dream Of You” is the only track credited to Dylan alone, and it’s a little better, but just goes on too long. “Shake Shake Mama” is average blues played for decades, but the slightly optimistic “I Feel A Change Comin’ On” could very well have been influenced by the previous fall’s presidential election. (Bob endorsed Obama, in case you were wondering.) However, that feeling doesn’t last with the litany of woes in “It’s All Good”, which chugs down the track, taking him away again.
Ultimately, Together Through Life is a disappointment. It’s not as bad as his mid-‘80s work, but there’s just not a lot of excitement here. Plus, his voice is more cracked than ever, and the incessant accordion doesn’t help break up the monotony any. It remains to be seen just how much of the words are Hunter’s and how much are Dylan’s, but the math would suggest that not a lot of thought was put into any of these. At the very least, he had new songs he could play live, at any of his hundred-plus shows every year. However, if you’re looking for a grand statement, this ain’t it.
Bob Dylan Together Through Life (2009)—2½