Saturday, June 6, 2009

Bob Dylan: "Together Through Life"

The title of Bob Dylan's 33rd studio album, "Together Through Life," and the couple on the cover feverishly kissing in back of a car might give one the impression that the 10 songs present a warm tribute to love and romance. After one listen, such an impression appears, at the very least, ironic.

The collection acknowledges that love is what we all need–but it's something that usually doesn't last, causes lasting regret and is at most a temporary solace in a troubled world. As "Beyond Here Lies Nothin,' " the opening track, states, "Just as long as you stay with me/The whole world is my throne/Beyond here lies nothin'/Nothin' we can call our own."

As for regret, the songs, written with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, often depict a narrator sifting through fragments of love gone wrong: "The sun is sinking low/I guess it's time to go/I feel a chilly breeze/In place of memories" ("Life Is Hard"); "I lay awake and listen to the sound of pain/The door has closed forevermore/If indeed there ever was a door" ("Forgetful Heart"); "...that moment might have come and gone/All I have and all I know/Is this dream of you which keeps me living on" (This Dream Of You").

On his web site, Dylan stated that he wanted a sound like that produced by the classic rock and blues studios of the 1950s, Chess and Sun records: "I like the mood of those records - the intensity. The sound is uncluttered. There’s power and suspense. The whole vibration feels like it could be coming from inside your mind. It’s alive. It’s right there. Kind of sticks in your head like a toothache." The album does indeed have that raw sound, and Dylan's voice, often wheezy and croaky in this latest effort, is fitting for a song like "My Wife's Home Town." Taking a main riff from Muddy Waters' "I Just Want To Make Love To You," the song presents a hard-bitten view of domestic life: "Keep on walking, don’t be hanging around/I’m tellin' you again that hell’s my wife’s home town." That song, along with "Jolene" and "Shake Shake Mama," make evident the influence of such blues giants as Waters and Howlin' Wolf.

Indeed, since "Time Out Of Mind" (1997), Dylan has been focusing on Americana: blues, early rock, country and old time ballads. This latest album not only continues in that direction, but it even adds a Tejano influence with the accordion of David Hidalgo from Los Lobos. The blues combines with a Tex-Mex drive in the closing track, "It's All Good," a song title as ironic as the album title. Here Dylan repeats the "It's All Good" refrain to a portrait of a troubled land: "People in the country, people on the land/Some of ‘em so sick, they can hardly stand/Everybody would move away, if they could/It’s hard to believe, but it’s all good." The chronicle of troubles in "Together Through Life" does not distract from the fact that Dylan's creativity and inventiveness are as strong as ever.

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