When the world is going to shit teetering on a global depression, Dylan heads South of the border with a stack of old Chess records and memories of a lost companion.


“Some people they tell me I’ve got the blood of the land in my voice.” Dylan sings on the track “I Feel A Change Comin’ On” off his latest album Together Through Life. A line that couldn’t be more appropriate for Dylan’s voice these days. His once nasally croon has given way to a ravaged tobacco scarred rocks and gravel bark that sounds like it has been receding further into the pits of hell for the past two decades now. Dylan’s venomous growl however has suited his recent albums and recordings well. It certainly hasn’t diminished his ever brimming brilliance and genius that has percolated through out his last three studio albums Time Out Of Mind, Love & Theft, and Modern Times as well as his latest fantastic bootleg collection Tell Tale Signs. Dylan is in the midst of his third or fourth career renaissance now. He’s been on an improbable, some would say impossible creative roll for the past 12 years now, and Together Through Life suggests that he isn’t letting the foot off that pedal in the foreseeable future.

The architecture of Together Through Life is similar to its two predecessors Love & Theft and Modern Times. The polished muscular sound of his ace touring band with the music investing its time heavily on archaic forms of music. What’s interesting about Dylan’s records of the new millennium is how much they owe to early 20th century genres of music. Dylan was once considered a pioneer musically and sonically during his first run on Mt. Olympus. Releasing music that was advanced ahead of the rest of the field. Now Dylan has almost seemingly done a 180 turn. No longer fascinated with groundbreaking frontiers of music that sound like they’re from the future, Dylan has retreated back into the musical realms that influenced him. The early patriarchs of rock and roll, but also the archetypes of country, swing and parlor music, and especially Mississippi Delta blues. The result was overwhelmingly successful for Dylan. He not only made these seemingly ancient forms of music seem fresh and vital, but Dylan himself was now sounding like one of those old ghosts from the times, a grizzled shaman truth-seeker preaching of a troubled world.

The main difference this record has from his last two though is the addition of the accordion played by Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo. Played on every song, it feels right at home with Dylan and the rest of his band. The addition of the accordion gives the whole album a distinct feel that sounds like Dylan and company strolled down South of the border to a Tequila parlor in Juárez and set up shop as the bar’s band for the night. Nowhere is this more prevalent than on the fiery samba opener for the record “Beyond Here Lies Nothin’”. Dylan spits out the opening lines like a jalapeño pepper loaded cobra, “Oh how 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 nothin’/ Nothin’ we can call our own.” As Dylan saunters down “Boulevards of broken cars” his band swings like a red-hot tango conjured in the fires of hell. Along that boulevard Dylan laments about the one he adores. Love and relationship loss being other prominent themes on the album especially in the simmering desert sunset ballad “Life Is Hard”. Rumination on the fading existence of a previous lover, this track was actually where the genesis for the album took place as Dylan wrote the tune for director Oliver Dahn’s movie entitled My Own Love Song. Whatever kinetic sparks my have been created during the recording, Dylan felt the sessions were lively enough to continue and cranked out an album’s worth of material manifesting in Together Through Life. Dylan tips his cowboy hat to blues legend Willie Dixon by reworking his song “I Just Wanna Make Love To You” into the slow burning blues romp “My Wife’s Home Town” (Literally giving co-songwriting credits  to Dixon). The accordion takes on the guise of a sauntering Chicago blues harmonica. Dylan seems wry as ever as he spins the tales of a woman and for that matter the world gone wrong with lines like, “State gone broke, the county’s dry/ Don’t be lookin’ at me with that evil eye.” Dylan even musters a few devilish cackles before fading away. Its uncanny how at times Dylan sounds like blues legend Howlin’ Wolf on the track as well. Most of his career it seems as if he was chasing the status of a hardened blues veteran, and with a monolithic back catalog that has leaned heavily on the blues it would seem as if Dylan has finally achieved that status in some sense. Dylan also cuts loose in the Chicago blues vein on other tracks like the dance hall shuffle of “Jolene” and trotting ramshackle of “Shake Shake Mama”. One of the centerpieces of the album is the decidedly breezy “If You Ever Go To Houston”. A beautiful catchy waltz of accordion sets the backdrop as Dylan follows his muse through the South, specifically the cities of Texas. He even channels the ghost of Sam Houston whom the city Houston was named after when he croons “Well I know these streets, I’ve been here before/ I nearly got killed here, during the Mexican war.” “I Feel A Change Comin’ On” may seem like a tribute to newly elected president Barack Obama, but in all actuality its another twilight cantina ballad of Dylan’s longing for the one he adores. Could it be a Dylan album without any political or social commentary? That’s what it looks like until the album’s closer as he rears back and unleashes his potency. While he may not write such biting protest songs anymore on the level of “Masters of War”, “The Times They Are A-Changin’”, or “With God On Our Side”, he still has his state of the union commentary in “It’s All Good”. Dylan almost seems jubilant in his defiant rasp as he kicks into the roadhouse romp singing, “Throw on the dust, pile on the dust!” From there, Dylan’s world, like so many others of his as we know them is once again unraveling rapidly. Just as sure as “Big politicians tellin’ lies/ Restaurant kitchen all full of flies” it’s also a fact that “Wives are leaving their husbands, they’re beginnin’ to roam/ They leave the party, and they never get home.” In a land where “A teacup of water is enough to drown,” Dylan seems to bask and revel in the turbulence even letting out more maniacal cackles under his breath as a “Cold blooded killer” stalks the town. “Buildings are crumblin’ in the neighborhood/ But there’s nothing to worry about, cause it’s all good!” As Dylan’s sinister carnival pulls out of town it’s clear which side he stands on, and that’s his own. He’s always shunned the title of “Voice of a Generation”, and even though his body of work may inspire protest, or change, or challenge authorities around the world, he’ll be the first to tell you those are just songs. It’s a suggestive piece that the world is crumbling so you’ve got to look into some deep dark alleys for those good times.

On the surface, Together Through Life is one of the most disarming records Dylan’s made in decades, and its Tex-Mex charm separates it from of its other predecessors. While it may not have the gripping grim mortality fix of Dylan’s comeback album Time Out Of Mind or be on the level of his latter day masterpieces Love & Theft and Modern Times, it is another great and welcomed addition to his rich canon. Many would have predicted Bob was in the twilight of his career over twenty years ago, but with the recent surge of incredible material, at 67 nearly 68, the road worn nomadic bard still has the sand to keep up with and topple competition to his perch. It’s hard to say when this old drifter will finally slow down, but for the moment he still has some stories to tell and tricks up his sleeve.

1. Beyond Here Lies Nothin’*

2. Life Is Hard

3. My Wife’s Home Town*

4. If You Ever Go To Houston*

5. Forgetful Heart

6. Jolene*

7. This Dream Of You

8. Shake Shake Mama

9. I Feel A Change Comin’ On

10. It’s All Good*