The bard, at his most
pugilistic, crotchety best, navigates his muddiest mixed waters yet.




From the first strains of Together Through Life, Dylan’s 46th release, the song “Beyond Here
Lies Nothin’,” Bob Dylan seems to offer the words of a romantic in the rasp of
a slapped stupid wrestler. Fans of Mickey Rourke’s recent Oscar nominated role*
will find delight in the manner in which “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”
comes tumbling through the
tune’s dicey blinking bossa nova swing. Dylan holds each couplet of love’s
lacing in his mouth as if he’s rolling the blood between his tongue, gums and
teeth. If he wants you to stay pretty baby, you better find your own cushion.


That’s not the worst of it, really. And all that kicked and
corroded romance isn’t necessarily a bad thing according to Bob. He had it
rough all this (nearing age 68) time and he turned out OK.


Lady, you’ll be fine.


Again produced by Dylan’s not so ego-filled alter ego Jack
Frost, Together Through Life treks
its crotchety best through his muddiest mixed waters yet. Once more – that’s
not necessarily a bad thing.


His usual touring crew, abetted by star guests, backed him
up on this effort and everyone seems to churn and kick quickly, as if these
were pre-show improvisational run-throughs. At a time when too many albums
sound hermetically sealed (I’m looking at you,
U2), the frantic murk of Dylan’s mix is sort-of refreshing. The rust-belt bolts
of guitar courtesy Dylan and Heartbreaker Mike Campbell, the last waltzing
accordion of Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo – when those wheezing snaking noises
knock on the window come closing time at the Texican saloon of “Forgetful
Heart” (“If You Ever Go to Houston” sounds similar), and when Dylan mumbles “I
lay awake and listen to the sound of pain/ The door has closed forevermore/ If
indeed there ever was a door,” you’ll need a stiff drink.


And fast. Fast because even when tunes like “I Feel a Change
Comin’ On” linger languidly, they still seem slap-dashed. Then slapped again. Though
pensive and slow “Life Is Hard,” seems a quick read, as if a jaw-gnawing Dylan,
atop yawning pedal steels and shuffled softly drums, is coming down off blow
while enunciating carefully the phrase “Ad-mit-ting life is hard/ With-out you
near me.”


Lyrically too, Dylan seems in a hurry. The bluesy “My Wife’s
Home Town” and the juke-dis-jointed “Shake Shake Mama” are spit-fire and
chatty, as if he read his stinging indictments, first take, into a tape
recorder and just added instrumentation as an after thought. (That’s a
compliment, incidentally.)


“If you’re goin’ on home/
Better go the shortest way.”


Why not? Dylan did.



*The Wrestler, 2008,
dir. by Darren Aronofsky



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