The leading contender for the title of America's greatest living songwriter has been preparing us for some time for the inevitable day when one of the adjectives in that description will no longer apply: "I feel a change coming on/But the last part of the day is already gone," Bob Dylan sings on his 33rd studio album. Yet as he prepares to celebrate his 68th birthday later this month, Dylan is as productive as ever--this is the third self-produced disc in a string of modest but winning efforts that also includes "Love and Theft" (2001) and "Modern Times" (2006)--and in the same tune, he notes, "Some people they tell me/I've got the blood of the land in my voice."
Indeed he does, and while the bard isn't doing any heavy lifting on these 10 tracks--Dylan cedes much of the lyric-writing to Beat poet, non-performing member of the Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia songwriting partner Robert Hunter, which results in much more romantic fare about loves relished and loves lost--it's a joy to hear the favorite son of Northern Minnesota revel in the shuffling blues he does so well ("Shake Shake Mama," "It's All Good," "Jolene," "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'"), especially with the ideal additions of guitar by Tom Petty cohort Mike Campbell and accordion by David Hidalgo of Los Lobos. In fact, after Dylan's voice, Hidalgo's squeeze box is the most prominent instrument throughout, proving to be the perfect sweet to the infamous sour of that legendary rasping croak.
"Together Through Life" isn't perfect--as on "Modern Life," Dylan veers off the road and into the ditch when he pays tribute to the saccharine pre-rock 'n' roll balladry he also inexplicably loves. (The lugubrious drone of "Life Is Hard" is more than enough to make anyone agree with that statement.) Yet overall, while it may not rank on the list of Dylan's 10 best or most important recordings, it's near the top of any tally of his most fun and accessible.