Bob Dylan - Together Through Life

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There are so many talented musical artists these days.  The affordability of home studios, the ease of digital editing, the abundance of indie record labels, and the alternative distribution networks found via the Internet all contribute to the most expansive and diverse musical banquet for those with a desire to search.

Like everyone, I have my favorites, many of whom will likely never find placement on a radio playlist or enjoy any commercial exposure.  It makes me wonder how many artists are out there that are deserving of a wider audience that will remain a MySpace footnote or otherwise be lost in the void.

On the other end of the spectrum, I can't help but wonder that if Bob Dylan wasn't, you know, Bob Dylan, would this 67 year old with his singular voice find his way among or above the voices of so many others?  Would there be an audience?

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Well, it is a rhetorical question.  After all, he is Bob Dylan, and he proved when it mattered that his voice could be heard amongst and above better singers and more popular musical genres.

In fact, it says something that Dylan's trademark nasal delivery has moved anatomically downwards about 6 inches, to his throat, where the frogs croak, without becoming a parody of himself.  In fact, since 1997's Grammy winning "Time Out of Mind," Dylan has been recording some of the consistently best material of his career.

Part of his success in recent years has been to surround his "experienced" voice with music that doesn't try to distract from it, but rather accentuates it.  That trend continues with "Together Through Life," his 33rd original recording.  Age and cigarettes take their toll, and it's more than fitting that a strippeddylan cover down, Chess-era electric blues sound carries his gravely voice and lyrics wherever they must go. 

On guitar he's borrowed Mike Campbell from the Heartbreakers, who adds a crisp, fairly restrained, and pointed emphasis to the songs.  As compared to previous releases, a difference here is the inclusion of David Hildago, from Los Lobos, who plays an accordion which is featured centrally in many of the songs.  For me, it took a few listens to come to terms with it, but it works well with the overall mood of love gone right/wrong and, more importantly, resists sounding like "accordion music."  Give it time.

The CD would have been helped with included lyrics, but there's few issues with deciphering what Dylan is saying.  Gone are the days when people found meaning behind every phrase, but he remains a colorful writer and sharp observer of what it means to be human.  A favorite stanza, from "I Feel a Change Comin' On,"

“Well now what’s the use in dreaming/You got better things to do/Dreams never did work for me anyway/Even when they did come true"

The lyrics remain typically Dylan: critical, amusing, cynical, honest, fair.

I prefer "Time Out of Mind" or "Love and Theft" for latter-era Dylan, but this is good stuff throughout.  Also, it's clear that he's not just going through the motions but enjoying himself.  And that's a worthy reminder regardless of how old we are, or how old we think we are.

Rating: 4 stars

Recommended songs: "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'," "Forgetful Heart," "I Feel a Change Comin' On," "It's All Good."

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