Together Through Life
Bob Dylan’s Together Through Life, his 46th release, is a heavy, hugely satisfying trip of a recording — far more alive, persuasive and rich for this writer than Modern Times. With this album, Dylan proves once again that his place in modern music is justified. It's impossible to judge a record from the man without regard to his legend, but it’s pointless to compare Together Through Life to the likes of Blood On The Tracks or Blonde On Blonde. Dylan has always found a way to reinvent himself, to change shapes and forms. The same young man who wrote those classics of the 60s and 70s can't be measured next to the older gentleman of today.
Taking that into consideration, I encourage people to listen to the record as if they didn't know who Bob Dylan once was. It has a very natural, live in-studio sound with a lazy, late night, warm summer evening feel. Together Through Life, much of it co-written with Robert Hunter of Grateful Dead fame, doesn't remind me of any of Dylan’s previous works. I wonder if Hunter's role was to help pare down the lyrics a bit. It's not that they're simplistic; they are, in fact, far more straightforward, enabling the songs to move along rather effortlessly.
“Life Is Hard” ranks as one of Dylan's finer crooners. As accessible as the melody is, this track probably packs more chord changes in than any previous four-line Dylan tune. Until now, the singer has gone with the 30s style ballads to communicate a sense of comfort and nostalgia, even a touch of bliss. But on “Life Is Hard,” he scrapes the barrel of his soul for old scars of grief. You get the sense that this loss of love is only too real.
More than any of the 10 tracks, “My Wife’s Home Town” sounds like a jam (“Shake Shake Mama” is a close second). It's open and rough, and then after the first two verses, there’s some casual accordion noodling going on, and no attempts to tie up the ends. You get the impression the band was two takes away from a final rehearsal. The words add up to a humorous blues rant with a lot more bark than bite. “The song is a compliment,” Dylan said in a recent interview, and it’s evident that whosoever she may be, he's crazy about her.
On “This Dream Of You,” the melody and music suggests a love song, but again the words would have been just as fitting on Time Out Of Mind. As the longest track, it earns all of its six minutes. Dylan almost whispers the lyrics, and the overall effect is that of a superbly paced and lyrically played rumba that makes you want to move to San Pedro, Mexico.
This is not just “Bob Dylan Music” anymore, and it hasn't been for a long time. Rather, it's “The Dylan Band Music,” for the most part. Think about it, Tony Garnier has been the bass player and band leader for 14 years. George Recile has been in the drummer’s chair for almost 10 years. The rhythm section is so critical, despite what a guitar-god-with-blazing-solos-addicted-world thinks. These two hold their own and then some.
What I'm hearing on Together Through Life — that core-groove, that blend of fraternization — doesn't happen with session guys. Even as singular an artist as Bob Dylan is, the music becomes stronger and richer when done in collaboration with kindred spirits. It's really 'The Bob Dylan Band' that's making all this great music (accordionist/guitarist David Hidalgo of Los Lobos and guitarist Mike Campbell of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers also join the party). Dylan’s just the house poet, keyboardist, harpist, occasional guitarist and natural (understandably so) bossman of the gang.
There are a lot of better singers, obviously. There are a lot of writers who can come up with better lyrics than Dylan and Hunter did as well. These days, some think the bard's just an old man with a sinister mustache. But I can't imagine another artist that sounds or makes songs like him. You may not be a fan of Dylan’s “blue” period; you may not even appreciate his art. But you know you are watching an icon, a legend, a man unwilling to play it safe, pushing forward for nearly a half century with little to no compromise. And to this day, the ever cool Bob Dylan keeps us all in awe and suspense without even trying.
~ Jackie Moore