Imagine driving down some dusty old Texas road in the middle of summer, and pulling over at a beaten down juke joint in the middle of nowhere to grab a beer. You walk in (to your utter astonishment) to find Bob Dylan and his band tearing through a selection of songs written on the request of a French film director for a movie that no one has seen as a disinterested barmaid washes glasses behind the counter and a ceiling fan lazily twirls overhead. Such is the feeling of Dylan’s new album “Together Through Life.” While not quite on the order of his recent albums like “Time Out of Mind,” “Love and Theft,” or “Modern Times”, it is apparent that Bob has reached a point in his career where he is able to make whatever kinds of music he feels like, and trusts his audience to come along with him. Or not. He doesn’t care.
The genesis of this album occurred when Olivier Dahan, who directed the Academy Award winning film “La Vie En Rose” wrote Dylan a letter asking him for “real songs of the American spirit” for a film he was making called “My Own Love Song” with Forest Whitaker and Renee Zellweger. Dylan took him up on the offer and enlisted the help of Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter as a writing partner, and the two are co-credited on all the songs on the album except “This Dream of You.”
Dylan once again returns to one of his favorite themes on the album — the troubadour wandering the American South, who gets into scrapes and tussles and sings of missed opportunities and lost loves; a sort of romantic pessimism.
The opening track, “Beyond Here Lies Nothin’,’” finds Dylan pleading with a woman not to leave him, as there is nothing left for them except the love they share: “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/
Beyond here lies nothing/Nothing we can call our own.”
The cautionary, “If You Ever Go To Houston,” offers lyrics like, “If you ever go to Houston better walk right/keep your hands in your pockets/hang your gunbelt tight/ You’ll be asking for trouble if your looking for a fight/If you ever go to Houston/Boy you you better walk right/If you’re ever down there/on the Rio del Mar/You better watch out for the man with the shining star.”
Dylan used his regular touring band (which he calls the best band he’s ever had; Take that, uh, The Band) as the primary musicians on the record, but also supplemented them with Mike Campbell from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers on guitar, and David Hidalgo of Los Lobos on accordion.
Dylan is notorious for only recording two or three takes of a song and just using the take he prefers rather than going through the usual overdubbing process, and that really shows on this album.
The album, which was produced by Dylan under his nom de production, Jack Frost, has a rougher feel to it, like even the instruments are old and weathered.
Dylan, who turns 68 on May 24th, still plays over 100 shows a year all over the world, so this is a band that can play pretty much anything, anytime, but still feels genuine and authentic. That authenticity shows in the record, and shows that while there may be many imitators, there is only one Bob Dylan.
Bob Dylan is on tour this summer with Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp.