(Note: As I don't consider myself a true Dylan afficianado, I'm curious as to what those of you who do consider yourself as such think of his latest- Scott)
For the first time in a decade, Rolling Stone has NOT given a new Bob Dylan album a five star review and hailed it as the best album of the year (but the year isn’t over yet); in fact, the review gives the album *GASP* a mere four stars! But don’t let this fool you, the review itself is mostly glowing (In part I think this is because it’s David Fricke who loves EVERYTHING... or at least always manages to find the silver lining on the cloudiest of albums). Well, the album is not an instant classic, nor is it the best album of the year. However, it is quite good.
I am no Dylan scholar, my favorite albums are his mid-sixties trilogy (Bringing it All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde), beyond that, my knowledge is pretty sporadic: I know the ‘hits’ of his folk era, I like the John Wesley Harding Album, I’m familiar with Blood on the Tracks and Desire and a few songs here and there in between and, lastly, I own his last three albums and I was quite fond of Modern Times.
However, it would seem to me that the only time in his career that Dylan was truly innovative and groundbreaking is when, with those mid-sixties albums, he forged the way for rock music entering its adulthood (The Beatles and Stones helped in this transition as well… but Dylan was a BIG part of this). This is not to say that nothing else Dylan ever did was any good, just that this is the only time he really seemed to be a trailblazer. Together Through Life, along with his previous two albums, Love & Theft and Modern Times, seem to be less concerned with rock’s future than they are with its past; the albums steep themselves in the sounds of the boogie-woogie, blues and country music that were the predecessors of early Rock N’ Roll. However, unlike, say, the White Stripes or, even, T-Bone Burnett’s recent collaboration with Robert Plant and Alison Krause, Raising Sand; Dylan does not seek to contemporize this sound so much as re-create it (In fact, Dylan hasn’t seemed to have much interest in sounding contemporary since Time Out Of Mind).
Keep in mind, I do not intend this as criticism, merely as an observation; the tunes themselves are great. Dylan’s wit as acerbic as always; particularly on the ditty “My Wife’s Home Town” (which turns out to be Hell in case you’re interested). Other highlights include the album opener, “Beyond Here Lies Nothing”, and the darkly driven “Forgetful Heart”; the latter also being the most modern and, therefore, the freshest sounding track on the album.
As always, Dylan has assembled a tight backing band, including Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers' Mike Campbell on guitar, to bring these songs to life and they manage to create a sound that would almost feel more at home in a 1940’s juke joint than a 21st century arena. The band’s secret weapon may, in fact, be (and I can’t believe I’m saying this) the accordion playing by Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo. I’m not sure how to explain, but it adds an interesting, almost exotic quality to the arrangements.
So, in short, I don’t think Dylan is breaking any new ground here, nor is this by any means among his best albums…. Or even the best of his recent albums (Modern Times was much better) but it is pretty darned good.