There’s a funny thing that happens whenever Dylan releases an album that the critics like (I think it averages out at one every three releases). When they fall all over themselves praising an album, as they did 2006’s Modern Times, you know it doesn’t matter what the next album is like, they’re not going to like it. So I shouldn’t have been surprised by the negative reviews I’ve seen for Together Through Life in the music press. I don’t know what they were listening to. Together Through Life isn’t the same as Modern Times (and thank God for that), but it’s just as good in its own way. I’d almost say it’s apples and oranges, but Together Through Life is really somewhat of a companion piece to the earlier album, still exploring the old blues vibe, but this time with more of a Southern Cal/Tex-Mex border influence (much of that courtesy of Los Lobos’ David Hildago on accordion and guitar, and Donny Herron’s trumpet).
Dylan’s voice is so rough by now that he’s beginning to sound like one of the old bluesmen whose spirit he invokes in these grooves–particularly Willie Dixon who gets name-checked as a musical collaborator, which I thought was a nice touch. The lyrics, mostly in collaboration with The Grateful Dead’s Robert Hunter, are sharp and to the point, telling stories of love and heartache and the mess of the world using those smart turns of phrase which we always associate with Dylan. And there’s still room for humour, albeit dark, as in “My Wife’s Hometown” (which is Hell, in case you were wondering).
Personally, I find something worthwhile in every one of Dylan’s studio albums, even those that are entirely made up of covers, like 1973’s Dylan. So I have no hesitation in recommending this new release to you. The real question is what version is the best bang for your buck?
It’s not the 2 disc + DVD + poster + sticker version. The bonus CD is just the “Friends & Neighbours” episode of his Theme Time Radio Hour show with some great tunes by the likes of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Howlin’ Wolf, and the Stones, but nothing by Dylan. The DVD is a short “lost interview” with Roy Silver with him basically telling us a number of times about how he “discovered” Dylan. The “poster” (it’s only 14″ X 14″) is the album cover and the sticker is only the name of the artist and album.
A much better version is the 2-LP vinyl set which sounds better and, for those of you also wanting more modern technological conveniences, comes with a CD version that you can rip for your MP3 player.