Even after his 33 studio albums, Bob Dylan still has not lost his ability to create albums that can entice the listener track after track. Dylan originally returned to the studio to record a single ballad for the film “My Own Love Song,” yet the session proved to be so productive that the band recorded nine additional songs, which now comprise his new studio album “Together Through Life.”
Listening to “Together Through Life,” it’s apparent just how uninhibited Dylan was in creating the album — not one track sounds forced. The album has a relaxed underlying tone that makes the album smooth and easy to listen to, without losing the liveliness of Dylan’s nature.
One of the most remarkable features on this album is Dylan’s vocals, which despite being raspy, off-pitch and out of tune are music to the ears, figuratively and literally. It’s amazing how such seemingly unappealing vocals can work so well in an album. It could be that Bob Dylan has reached such a legendary status that just about anything he decides to spit out is instantly regarded as genius, or it could be that he actually does produce genius work; any way you look at it, his vocals sound spectacular.
The album starts off with the first released track, “Beyond Here Lies Nothing.” The Texas blues-influenced track is a perfect way to start the album; it’s up-tempo yet simple.
The track begins with a smooth bass line that is complimented by hints of accordion from Los Lobos guitarist David Hidalgo to comprise a blues-influenced hook. The smooth blues intro soon leads into Dylan’s vocals. On the first track, Dylan’s ungraceful vocals come as a shock as he sings.
“Beyond Here Lies Nothing” is a good track by any standards, but it is not without its flaws. Dylan’s writing is rather cliché; he sings of romantic nothings such as, “I love you, pretty baby / You’re the only love I’ve ever known.” Anyone familiar with Dylan is aware that he is a much better writer than he portrays in “Beyond Here Lies Nothing.”
The album is consistent with its strengths and weaknesses. For the most part, the tracks are influenced with a south-of-the-border tune, courtesy of Hidalgo on the accordion in the background of most tracks. Unfortunately, the great vocal ability displayed on this track is often used in vain. Despite being co-written by longtime Grateful Dead member Robert Hunter, most of the lyrics in the album are generally uninspiring. The lackluster lyrics actually become a common theme throughout the album.
The 10-track album hits a low midway through the album with “Forgetful Dead.” The title misleads the listener to believe they are in for a treat: a peek into the old Dylan singing brilliantly about death, but that is not the case.
The tone and beat of the track is rather sluggish and it is the first track where Hidalgo’s accordion seems out of place. Also, it is the one track in which Dylan’s vocals seem somewhat wearisome. That being said, the track isn’t bad, but it is merely the most unspectacular ballad of “Together Through Life.”
The album ends at a peak with the best track on the album: “It’s All Good.” Throughout Dylan’s album, the quality of sound is more or less remarkable. Everything is natural, easy to listen to and catchy. To put it simply, it’s great. No one track is significantly better than another. What distinguishes certain tracks from others are lyrics.
Generally, the lyrics on “Together Through Life” are decent at best for a Dylan album; however, “It’s All Good” shows the same politically inspired genius Dylan is renowned for.
This slow Tex-Mex track rants and raves about the problems of contemporary society before sarcastically, yet nonchalantly, claiming, “It’s all good.” Dylan’s political rage is fitting as he sings, “Brick by brick / they tear you down /… it’s all good,” a jeer at the flaws which inevitably caused the housing market crisis.
Dylan’s new studio album is spectacular, as expected from the legend. However, it is by no means his best. Perhaps it is a tribute to his greatness that such a sound album can be so far off from his best work. So for all those who are wondering, Dylan still has it, and it seems like he always will.