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Bob Dylan, "Together Through Life" (Columbia) [3.5 STARS]

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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.

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I like to think that if Dylan could do an album as good as Love & Theft at age 60, he should be able to do a much better album than Together Through Life at age 67. It smacks of something rushed off just to adjust the balance sheets because of recent bad economics. Bob, did Bernie Madeoff get to you too?

Well, I certainly find it refreshing to not have another "masterpiece." Dylan fans can relish in the fact that Dylan has made another workingman's album with a few treasures and a few lowlights, like most of his career. Weve been quite spoiled lately. This album will hold its own over time. Nashville Skyline got poor reviews for Christ sake.
By the way Rogatis, his last album was titled "Modern Times" and not "Modern Life" as posted in your review. I know you know though.

Jim: Do you really mean that ALL pre-rock balladry is only good for tossing into the trash? I can understand the idea that Dylan's voice isn't well-suited for that type of song (though I'd disagree with that statement) but to sweep away a whole type of songcraft? I don't see it.

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This page contains a single entry by Jim DeRogatis published on April 29, 2009 11:14 AM.

Leonard Cohen, "Live in London" (Columbia) [3.5 STARS] was the previous entry in this blog.

Metronome Celebration announces acts, June 6 & 7 is the next entry in this blog.

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