Release Date: Apr 28, 2009
Record label: Columbia
With Heartbreaker Mike Campbell and Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo in tow, Dylan’s 33rd studio release continues his never-ending end-times tour Since Bob Dylan discovered, more than a decade ago, that musings on the passing of life and our inevitable collision with death best suited his ever-changing latter-day moods, he’s enjoyed one of the most productive—and critically hailed—periods of his artistically restless and seemingly endless career. Together Through Life finds Dylan less focused on greeting the Reaper than fighting him off a while longer; the better to savor the fruits, both bitter and sweet, that life has left to offer. The album—nine of its 10 songs co-written with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, marking the first time Dylan has collaborated this heavily since working with Jacques Levy on 1976’s Desireband—supplemented by Los Lobos multi-instrumentalist David Hidalgo’s accordion and the stinging leads of Tom Petty guitarist Mike Campbell—lays down a ferociously swinging groove while Dylan implies that, aside from the love that exists here and now, there’s “nothin’ but the mountains of the past.
By all accounts, Together Through Life arrived quickly, cut swiftly by Bob Dylan and his touring band in the fall of 2008, surprising the label upon its delivery a couple months later, then rushed into stores in April 2009, just half a year after the release of the monumental archive project Tell Tale Signs. Given the speed of its creation, it fits that the album has a spontaneous, kinetic kick, feeling so alive that it's a little messy, teeming with contradictions, crossed signals, and frayed ends. That liveliness turns Together Through Life into a much lighter affair than its weighty predecessor, Modern Times, which was tinged with doom and had thematic unity, two things missing from this comparatively breezy affair.
Sort through any of the copy dedicated to Bob Dylan’s post-1975 highlights (there are more than one would think) and you’ll find an odd, eventually annoying phenomena: every great record released in that window of time is “the best thing Dylan’s recorded since Blood on the Tracks!” Invariably, as with the Rolling Stones are to 1978’s Some Girls, from now to time immemorial Bob Dylan’s new work will always be measured against the ever-growing and looming shadow of his mid-seventies classic. While attempting to avoid that strange lunar pull that drives a listener and writer to stake such a comparison, I will say the following: Together Through Life is at least as excellent as 1997’s Time Out of Mind, the first in a series of new-classic discs spun out by a rejuvenated Dylan, while not quite as overwhelmingly radiant and (let’s get the word out of the way now) brilliant as the thematically deeper and more cohesive “Love and Theft” and Modern Times. Though Together may find itself as the newest pearl on Dylan’s increasing strand of hot-streak of new releases, if there is a comparison to be made, it’s to the atonal gypsy folk of 1976’s Desire, wherein violins formed parabolic arcs from churning keyboard rhythms and unhinged percussion would incurvate beneath adrenalized guitars while Dylan sang of lost and lowly characters, including his soon-to-be-divorced self.
What do you do after you release a trio of critically acclaimed, respectably selling records, that have a large part of the music-loving public singing praises to your genius? A younger Dylan hopped on his bike and promptly flipped it over, providing a convenient way to break the mounting commitments that were threatening to overtake him. His next musical move was to retreat to The Band’s rec room and haphazardly record a group of songs that wrestled with the American myth in the most enigmatic and light-hearted way possible. Dylan always took his humor very seriously.
Bob Dylan has been on one prolonged roll for over a decade, ever since 1997’s lauded Time Out of Mind pulled the legend out of a similarly lengthy commercial and creative rut and reestablished him as a vital force in popular music. The quick take on Together Through Life is that the roll continues, the album finding the master in an especially giddy mood, every bit the grinning, sassing troubadour he’s played since Love & Theft, sometimes more so. Per usual, we critics and devotees will swoon, and those who just can’t handle the man’s voice will throw their arms up in wonder over all the fuss.
Should you ever start a band that performs only Bob Dylan’s songs about death, you’d have no shortage of ?material. But the sound of scythe-sharpening is particularly loud on this follow-up to 2006’s majestic Modern Times. On ”Life Is Hard” and ”Forgetful Heart,” Dylan sings from the perspective of someone biding his time before the embrace of the grave.
Recently, Bob Dylan was ruminating on how the response to his songs had changed over the years. "If there's an astrologer with a criminal record in one of my songs," he claimed, "it's not going to make anybody wonder if the human race is doomed. " There speaks a man either blissfully unaware of, or pointedly ignoring both the dippy ladies outside his gigs flogging books called Voice of a Nightingale: A Poetic Interpretation of Dylan and the gentleman from the British broadsheet who spent a paragraph of a live review pondering the significance of Dylan's "awe-inspiring" decision to emphasise the syllables in one line of All Along the Watchtower slightly differently from the recorded version.
I guess we're supposed to be grateful whenever Bob Dylan gives us even a slim disc like this one, but I wish I could hear evidence that, in the making of Together Through Life, he'd broken just a little bit of a sweat. These 10 tunes feel dashed off. [rssbreak] That's the intention, however. Dylan wants a freewheeling, easygoing, even messy feel for this outing.
When did Bob Dylan become such a nostalgic? He's always had an ear for the language and music of the past, of course-- that's part of what's made him special from the get-go. Over the course of his past few albums, though, he's been framing himself as a one-man preservation society, the keeper of the flame for a conception of the popular song tradition that slams shut sometime around the release of his own first record in 1962. Together Through Life owes a lot to the sound of 1950s Chicago blues, in particular, and to a few other sorts of records it's easy to imagine Dylan playing on his "Theme Time Radio Hour".
Review Summary: Is this the start of another barren decade?Credit where credit is due - Bob Dylan generates incredible hype and attention for a man approaching his 50th year in the music business, and it's quite right that he should be applauded for both maintaining his original audience and ensnaring an entire generation of younger listeners. Like the under-20 Iron Maiden fans, who can listen to Dance of Death and Brave New World without the knowledge of how unbearably naff The X Factor and Virtual XI were when they came out, a whole wave of whipper-snappers can hear albums like Time out of Mind and Modern Times and never know how bad the '80s and early '90s really were. But with that comes the necessary acknowledgment - no matter how long his career will last, or how skyscrapingly high his best work is, Dylan isn't infallible.
BOB DYLAN“Together Through Life”(Columbia) The cover photograph, by Bruce Davidson, on Bob Dylan’s new album — a young couple kissing desperately in the back seat of a car, a much-reproduced image familiar to anyone who owns a paperback of Larry Brown’s short-story collection “Big Bad ….
If love doesn't kill you, then the devil hasn't done her job. "My Wife's Home Town," wherein Bob Dylan adapts Willie Dixon's "I Just Want to Make Love to You" to the tune of "I just want to say that hell's my wife's hometown," crackles in David Hidalgo's Day of the Dead accordion and the singer's Mephistophelian growl. The blues hue Together Through Life.