Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bob Dylan 49: Together Through Life

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)—


  1. The music on this album is fun. It's meant to be fun and to be listened to in fun. It's fair to assume that it is not music in a political or self-reflective vein, so then why criticize it with such albums like TOOM in mind. Revolutionary it is not, but who says every one of Dylan's albums has to be.

  2. I really like this album. I have listened far more to this than any other album from Dylan the last 20 years. In fact - I think it's great!

  3. Unfortunately, I agree with the reviewer. This album is forgettable, and perhaps a telltale sign that we shouldn't expect too much more from Dylan in the way of memorable new songs. He seems completely out of ideas here, relying on standard blues progressions and the omnipresent accordian. And while I love the Grateful Dead, Hunter hasn't written a decent lyric in 25 years, so his inclusion here was definitely not a promising sign. "I Feel A Change" is the one song that really could have made the grade, but Bob's voice is so wracked and wrecked here -- especially in a few unbearable spots where it tears altogether --that it robs the song of its beautiful melody and sentiments. Too bad.

  4. Bob's mid 80's work was fine,his Infidels album was great.

  5. Funny, I just put "Together through Life" on again last night and thoroughly enjoyed it.
    As someone above said- Its fun.- And as far as his voice goes these songs and that road wracked voice work well together. I don't know why but I like his voice these days- I mean I always did- but there is something about this old, tired and ravaged vocal cords that grab me- its a comfortable place to be, listening to that voice- like the comfort you get with a long time companion- you don't have to discuss the world and its tragedies, political malignancy, and all the disappointments because you know each other and where each other has been.
    You've been through it all before so now is the time for some comfort, some fun, some laying back, resting and grooving. Tomorrow the same crap will be there to contend with.

    " Shouldn't expect too much more of Dylan in the way of memorable new songs..." Really?
    Well, he is not going to do another "It's alright ma" or Visions of Johanna or any of the other hundreds of unbelievable memorable songs- but he is still going to- as he has been- make good songs and yes, many memorable ones as well.
    Forgetful Heart is gorgeous- I saw him perform it in November and it was stunning.

    The person commenting about the new songs above remarked about "a few unbearable spots where it tore altogether"
    I find those moments incredibly poignant and filled with beauty and pathos. I guess I would suggest that people find new ears to hear with. Look through a new lens- get busy being born, simplify.

    In any case, Dylan's "worst is better than best"for the most part.
    If only half of his body of work were "good" and "memorable" he still has done more than any other with his poetry and imagery. No one can touch him.
    At least IMHO.

    Oh, wanted to mention that Dylan didn't "endorse" Obama. He said maybe things will change for the better- this new guy seems to have some good ideas- or words to that effect.
    Bob does not make political announcements let alone endorsements.

    I've just been watching No Direction Home again on PBS. There are some great comments about Bob and his so called political self- including by Bob himself.
    Thanks for the great blog. Always a pleaure even if I don't always agree.

    I wonder how disappointed Bob might be in the current political climate. I would guess he didn't expect anything so wasn't disappointed.

    Maybe that is the key for seeing Dylan- go enjoy it and don't expect a damn thing- then what you get will knock your socks off.

  6. Another Dylan classic.......there is more than meets the ear! Keep on rollin' Bob!