Bob Dylan: Together Through Life

Nearly as interesting as his musical progression is Bob Dylan's vocal progression: the nasal whine of Freewheelin'; warm tones of Nashville Skyline; full-throated roar of the Rolling Thunder/gospel years; the phlegmy throat of Time Out of Mind and thereafter. He's never sounded as ragged as on Together Through Life, which suits its themes of world-weariness, romantic regret and sex perfectly. Dylan is the old guy at the bar talking wistfully about his first love, but still aiming to get into the youthful waitress's pants. The sound of Together is Leonard Chess opening a cantina in El Paso, mostly due to David Hidalgo of Los Lobos' accordion. Unfortunately, it's the weakest of Dylan's last four albums. He shares rare lyrical credit on nine of the ten tracks with Grateful Dead scribe Robert Hunter; the trite words and banal rhymes ("This Dream of You," "Forgetful Heart") do neither man's reputation any good. Dylan also lazily plunders Willie Dixon ("Hell Is My Wife's Hometown") and Leadbelly ("If You Ever Go to Houston," taking a line from "Midnight Special"). And though the crack band includes some of Dylan's road dogs and Heartbreaker Mike Campbell, too often they're stuck on a repetitive, droning groove. Despite a few wonderful tracks — the sweaty, atmospheric "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'," lusty leeriness of "Shake Shake Mama" and hopeful romanticism of "I Feel a Change Comin' On" — Together Through Life is a bit of a letdown. Still, a stumble by Dylan is better than a victory lap from most players.

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