Bob Dylan
   
Together Through Life
   
   

Release Date: April 28, 2009
Produced by: Jack Frost
Format: CD

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06/03/2009
Mark Squirek


 

Start the CD with a little too much volume and you're in for a treat. It breaks out with the feeling of a back-alley club in a lost New Mexican cantina. The seductive drums imply a slightly overweight dancer sitting at the bar on her break while three large gentlemen, whose collective points of origin are likely not local, are standing by the jukebox. The location is as far off the beaten path as one can get.

After the gravel-tone of the opening guitar line, the singer, whose voice seems to mirror the directness of the guitar line but just not as clearly, opens with an off-the-cuff admission that we have heard from singers many times before. The admission is stated matter-of-factly yet somehow manages to sound comfortable and simultaneously thrilled at what is said. He starts with a royal admission of love and need, but his own take on the perfection of the moment creeps in at the end.

“Oh well, I love you pretty baby, you’re the only love I’ve ever known/Just as long as you stay with me, the whole world is my throne/Beyond here lies nothin’, nothin we could call our own”.

It is a great vocal moment from one of America’s master musicians. Dylan’s command of the music that historically precedes him is evident in his earliest works but has often stood hidden as most people focused on what he can do with words. From his first steps out of the ore fields and the quietude of Minnesota to the Gaslight in NY, down to Memphis and everywhere he has been since and in between, Dylan has listened intently to everything he has ever heard.

As much as he loves the words and poetry of them, he just flat out loves music. He sees a country that holds a thousand different styles and, when he can, he tries them out. He understands the worlds of George Gershwin and Irving Berlin, he hears the flow of the Mississippi, and he sees and smells the stockyards of Chicago. He knows the blues from the fields of one state, gathered the electricity and industry of the others, and gave light and weight and crispness and volume  to the toughness of America.

Today Bob is in Texas and thinking a lot about the music he has heard there. A desolate and larger-than-life place populated by larger-than-life and desolate people, the music of Texas is inextricably linked to the music that floats up from the south of its border. Dylan (producing under the name Jack Frost) uses percussion to remind you of the waves of heat as they comes up from the south and the long roads that connect the interiors of the state. The accordion of David Hidalgo (from Los Lobos) and the guitar of Mike Campbell move around the songs adding distinctive touches to what the singer wants to say and the stories he has to tell us.

Much of the album is anchored by the way Dylan has evolved as a vocalist. There is a lot of joy and fun across the album, but the singer never fails to twist a word here or delay a beat there in order to remind us of another possible meaning in what he is saying. You can hear the regret in "Life is Hard." It holds a touch of sadness but is never overwhelmed by it. You can almost hear the intimacy Bing Crosby would bring to the song as the singer pulls you into what he feels. Dylan pauses a second before he says the final “near “ and you can feel the space fill with is own wishes for a different ending.

Writing with Robert Hunter, Dylan knows what he wants to say and seems to enjoy the weight that a writer of Hunter’s caliber takes off of his shoulders. The inference of mortality and the passing of time, along with the encompassing feeling of both that permeates the album are balanced by the fun and life in other songs. In "My Wife’s Home Town," he may have created a slow blues with a slightly odd accordion interlude, and I may have half-heard it before, but it still cracks me up.

The expectations for a Dylan album are always stratospheric. Everyone wants the Dylan they imagine, the Dylan they demand. Myself, I prefer the Dylan I get. This time out I got a great music lesson, a few laughs and something to think about. That’s a lot more than 90% of what I hear anywhere else does for me.

It’s been a few  months since the album's release and I still have it in heavy rotation. It is turning into an odd sort of summer album for me. From the strange feeling of being at a small town fair that runs through "If You Ever Go to Houston" and "Jolene" (I can’t explain the feeling, it’s just there!) to the way a turn of the phrase jumps out at me on the fourth listen (“I don’t want to believe it, but I keep believing it” from "This Dream of You"), I keep finding new things inside the music. There is a touch of slide in that same song that recalls George Harrison and a Hawaiian afternoon in one fell sweep. This is an album full of subtle and wonderful surprises.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 



 
     
     
     

 

 

   
 
     

 

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"Even though most of the people I knew in my youth are gone, I still reach out to them..." Norman Maclean - Paraphrase

"...we should enjoy every sandwich." -- Warren Zevon
"Buy the ticket, take the ride." -- Hunter S Thompson
"...you best wake up 'fore tomorrow comes creepin' in...: -- Mark Farner (Grand Funk Railroad)
"We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be." -- Kurt Vonnegut
"Because they wouldn't let me go for three..." -- Woody Hayes (OSU)
"Show me peaceful days before my youth has gone" -- Neil Diamond (Serenade)