If you’ve ever seen Bob Dylan live, you know he’s a different kind of performer. He doesn’t look at the audience. He won’t tell you what song he’s playing next. He’s not going to thank you for coming a dozen times. And he doesn’t have to — he’s Bob Dylan. He can do whatever he wants.
On his new album, Together Through Life, Dylan does exactly that, once again challenging our conventions of producing, songwriting and even what one of his albums should sound like. His devil-may-care attitude pervades these tracks. They are not stoic ballads, nor are they full of anger or despair. Instead, you can almost picture him singing them with a scheming glint in his eye.
As a social critic of the past few decades, Dylan has been documenting social unrest through his realistic and reflexive songwriting. Now our country is in crisis, and Dylan’s at it again.
Together Through Life was produced by Dylan himself under his pseudonym Jack Frost. At times, the album sounds like it could have been recorded at a performance in a bar, but that same gritty intensity gives Together Through Life much of its appeal.
The album’s opener “Beyond Here Lies Nothin'” is a rocking zydeco shuffle indicative of many of the tracks that follow. Dylan’s gravelly rasp crackles over bass drums, accordion and scorching guitar. Immediately, the song titles reflect hard times.
Next, the guitar shimmers and slides over Dylan’s short, heavily accentuated vocals on the swaying ballad “Life Is Hard.” The song, written for French film director Olivier Dahan’s new movie “My Own Love Song,” was Dylan’s original inspiration for a new album. Dylan co-wrote almost all of Together Through Life with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, making the project his most significant collaborative effort in over 30 years.
The dark and humorous “My Wife’s Home Town” is a bluesy track on which Dylan croaks like a hardened old geezer, “Hell is my wife’s hometown.” Even though much of the album offers up a grim view of love, this mysterious, iconic master of Americana still seems to be laughing at something we can’t quite grasp. In fact, between some of the tracks he actually does laugh, another act you probably would not witness during a live performance.
“Forgetful Heart” is a wistful yet blustery song about lost opportunity. “The door has closed forevermore/ If indeed there ever was a door,” Dylan sings on the track.
And yet, he doesn’t sound tormented. As clich? as it might sound, at 67-years old and with 33 studio albums to his credit, Dylan’s songs are still sexy. Groovy tracks like “Jolene” and “Shake Shake Mama” are full of lust. (And the album’s cover photo — two half-naked bodies entwined in the backseat of a car — is not exactly a picture of innocence, either.)
But Dylan has reinvented himself so many times, it’s hard to define a typical Dylan sound. Together Through Life delivers a well-rounded mix of gritty ballads and bluesy, zydeco-infused rock songs. Not every song is perfect, and with a repertoire as diverse as Dylan’s, these 10 tracks will probably not become immediate classics. However, Together Through Life is enjoyable listening that could solidify Dylan’s reputation as one of the great rock ‘n’ roll voices of our generation, not just our parents’. Dylan’s folk roots may run deep, but Together Through Life succeeds because it’s just a little more rock ‘n’ roll.
4 1/2 stars out of 5.