Saturday, May 16, 2009

Bob Dylan Warms Our Lives...

We earlier posted three separate reviews of Bob Dylan's latest album, Together Through Life, and expected that this would be the end of our highlighted reviews... Until we came across this review by Bob Lines - abridged here - published in the UCLA Daily Bruin on Tuesday, May 12, 2009.

From the Daily Bruin to Troy Bear:

Bob Dylan achieved his fifth Billboard No. 1 last week. His 33rd studio album, "Together Through Life," beat the soundtrack from "Hannah Montana" to claim the top spot.

Excuse me while I briefly celebrate. It's not that I have anything against Hannah Montana per se (I'm sure the soundtrack's great), but it's a moment for small jubilation when, in the age of Miley Cyrus, the music of Bob Dylan reaches a large audience.

That said, "Together" is probably the weakest of Dylan's albums since his stellar comeback in 1997 with "Time Out of Mind" - but this is hardly a criticism. It's just that the sound of the latter-day Dylan is fairly familiar to his fans, and here Dylan doesn't do much new. He sings with the same grit and wheeze and employs the same mix of jazz, spiritual and blues, just without as many good songs.

At its worst, "Together Through Life" feels humdrum and turgid. The finger-picked electric guitar and staccato organ work well on the good tracks but feel bland on the weak ones. The album's opener, "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'," a low-key blues turn almost slides into pastiche, heavily influenced by the songs of Chuck Berry and Little Richard.

"If You Ever Go to Houston" could have been cut from the final track list: the song feels like a cut-and-paste of the blues ballads of the '50s that Dylan plays so regularly on "Theme Time Radio Hour." The lyrics, co-written by former Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, are similarly lackluster.

Nevertheless, the album is a welcome addition to the Dylan catalogue. "Life is Hard" is a sweet melancholy ballad, originally written for Olivier Dahan's upcoming film "My Own Love Song." The gentle slide guitar accompanies Dylan's straining voice. As Dylan stretches his vocals to (the) breaking point, he sounds more vulnerable than ever.

The penultimate track, "I Feel a Change Coming On," is both a nod to the presidency of Barack Obama and a mischievous and wistful ode to an old lover. Add into the mix a cheeky reference to James Joyce, and you're left with Dylan at his best on "Together..." Here, David Hidalgo's organ-playing alongside Dylan's affectionate vocals is a welcome addition.

While the album doesn't reach the heights of "Love and Theft" or "Modern Times," it's still a pretty good effort from the nonstop touring 67-year-old. Dylan could have easily not released anything for the last 20 years. If he had died sometime after "Blood on the Tracks," his reputation would have been firmly cemented with Lennon, Hendrix and the other members of rock royalty who have sadly passed on.

Dylan was never one to spend retirement pottering around the garden. Now the challenge for both Dylan and his fellow rock elder statesmen is how to mellow into old age without declining into parody or Starbucks-promoted cheese.

Dylan has done neither, but then we wouldn't have expected him to. His late career return to form has been more than we could ever have hoped for. As such, every record he gives us should be savored like the final days of a wonderful summer - it will be cold when he's gone.

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