By James Calemine
Bob Dylan produced Together Through Life, his 33rd studio album. Dylan utilizes his rhythm section of Tony Garnier on bass, George Recile on drums, multi-instrumentalist Donnie Herron along with guest musicians Tom Petty’s guitarist Mike Campbell and Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo on accordion and guitar as his studio group.
Dylan wrote all of these songs except one with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. The CD cover of Together Through Life is the exact same cover of one of Dylan’s favorite writers Larry Brown’s Big Bad Love.
For the most part, this is a laid back CD. There’s a Chess Blues thread running through these songs. Only Hidalgo’s accordion gives certain songs a Tex/Mex flavor; the only instrument which changes the blues musical landscape. The opening track on this 45-minute CD, “Beyond Here Lies Nothing” classifies as a swinging blues song reaching Zydeco and jazzy terrain. This song gives the disc a heavy-lidded groove.
“Life Is Hard” sounds like a soundtrack while sitting at an outdoor borderline cantina in the middle of the day. Bob sings in his gravel-voice: “I’m always on my guard/Admitting life is hard,” a tune reflecting on lost love. “My Wife’s Hometown” serves up a hybrid mix of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon where Dylan sings: “She’s got stuff more potent than a gypsy’s curse”, which resonates like a shot of high-grade bourbon.
“If You Ever Go To Houston” stands as a simple tune that evokes Dylan’s romantic Nashville Skyline. “Forgetful Heart” may be the only song that could do without the accordion. It’s a dark tale on the gritty realities on fading love. “Jolene” contains a T-Bone Walker feel. You have to give it to Dylan’s band—they can morph into any genre or style at the drop of a high-hat.
“This Dream of You” sounds like a Cajun waltz played by a mercurial band at some backwater fish fry where lovers gather to smell the swamp lilies. “Shake Shake Mama” returns to the old blues groove and would sound best in some dank juke joint where beer is sold out of a cooler. Dylan ruminates on changes looming in “I Feel A Change Coming On” where he sings “I’m listening to Billy Joe Shaver/I’m reading James Joyce/Some people they tell me/I’ve got the blood of the land in my voice.”
The final cut, another blues ditty, “It’s All Good”, retains a damn the torpedoes sentiment where one must forge on, not sweating the small stuff and never looking back. The CD package also comes with a CD containing 14 songs from Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour that includes T-Bone Burnett, Jerry McCain, Porter Wagoner, The Rolling Stones and Hank Williams. Together Through Life sustains Dylan’s ongoing musical journey. It’s worth the ride…