Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Together Through Life (Bob Dylan) (2009)

Talking Blues

(a mini review)

In my review for his Modern Times album two years ago, I stated that death was an idée fixe for Bob Dylan but now here he comes, rushing through a new album unto an adoring public, full of, well, the blues.

The album starts off tantalizingly with Dylan rasping over some nifty guitar work on Beyond Here lies Nothing, a track that sets an immediately likable yet casual tone. His supporting band compliments the track with effective accordion and a bluesy atmosphere. It’s a sure-fire hit, the type of song he can pull off in his sleep but for once his voice doesn’t grate as much, thus the track isn’t obscured into some wizened meaning. For those who can’t digest his music because of the voice, no need to worry, this song is just for you.

The only weak moment here, interestingly enough is track two, Life is Hard. The album’s concept was built around it as a single for Oliver Dahan’s upcoming film My Own Love Song. Given how contrary Dylan can be in the eyes of endless analysis, one can deduce that the song’s basic drawl would’ve bored him into an entire new direction. So whereas critics continue to pigeon-hole him into a death phase without really hearing the upbeat sections here, he has simply moved on. Some people they tell me/ I have the blood of the land/ in my voice, he croons on I Feel a Change Coming On, as if to reiterate this point.

Which is not to say he has gone all skylark on us now because beneath this sense of resolve lurks a flinty type of realism and humour. If Time out of Mind through to Modern Times was to sort out his issues with mortality, then Together through Life embarks upon another sort of adventure, one where all restriction is wedged away. Shake, Shake Mama undercuts its stark lyrics with a pop, bluesy shuffle of feet. Dylan has no time for tears or fears this time around, just workman-like fun. Tracks like Jolene and My Wife’s Hometown crackle with wryness and a sharp intent that belies his years.

Of course, to critics, this new-found aimlessness can be a good thing or indicative of the finality of his career that they’ve been announcing since the 1980s. Dylan, as he is wont to do, attaches no weight to either camp but just merely records music and let the chips fall where they may. This is within itself, and I’m sure he is marveling at this feat, is a type of restraint rock musicians can only dare dream about. Love him or hate him, Dylan may be the very first one of them to ascend to this rather fanciful and critically-free ether.

RATING: 8/10

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