Label: Columbia Records
Released: April 28, 2009
When Bob Dylan released Love and Theft back in 2001, it seemed that he had more good music left in him than anyone expected. Five years later, Modern Times said otherwise (though many surely disagree). It was tired and old and adult. Now, in 2009, Dylan offers up yet another late career album that will perhaps give a clue as to which of the previous two albums reflects his true state.
One thing that’s been interesting about Dylan is that his voice, far from technically pristine, has always been, in a sense, an act of rebellion in and of itself. Even as it’s changed a bit over time, it has always been something that makes his music happen on his terms. At times on Together Through Life though, Dylan’s voice loses its personality and devolves into kind of a Tom Waits shtick. That’s a shame, because Waits as a performer is almost pure novelty. This isn’t the nod of master to student, but more the master caving in to a caricature of himself.
Still, Together Through Life is a loose, old-timey album. It doesn’t quite have the urgency or poetry that marks his best work, but there is a certain spontaneity that refreshes the album whenever it’s on the verge of really dragging. What really made this album interesting though was David Hidalgo’s presence on accordion. It seems odd that a background instrument used sparingly would have such an impact on a record, but it’s perfect in the arrangement and Hidalgo’s playing is incredibly emotive, supporting the songs where Dylan fails to do so. It would be noticeable even on a great album, but really stands out on something more middling like Together Through Life.
This latest offering from Dylan falls somewhere in the middle of his catalog quality-wise. There were times when it reminded me of his mid-80s output (Empire Burlesque rang in my ears at times) and that’s good stuff, just not on par with his prime (or with Love and Theft for that matter). Unfortunately, falling right smack in the middle, it gives little indication whether Love and Theft or Modern Times was the anomaly.
The vinyl release is particularly nice. Despite being a standard length album at around 45 minutes, it’s issued on two slabs of 180 gram vinyl in heavy stock inner sleeves. The artwork isn’t quite amazing, but well worth seeing in the larger format. For convenience, a copy of the CD is thrown in as well.
If you’re curious about my rating categories, read the description.