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Published:May 17th, 2009 18:59 EST
Bob Dylan`s Together Through Life is A Guidebook Of American Music!

Bob Dylan`s Together Through Life is A Guidebook Of American Music!

By John G. Kays

"I feel a change comin` on, and the better part of the day is already gone." On a first listen to Together Through Life, Bob Dylan newest release, one might suspect that it was slapped together haphazardly. After a third or fourth listen you recognize how carefully crafted each word, note, and performance truly is.

Together Through Life


It is as if Bobby took frequent visits to the vaults of lost American Music, and decided to share his miraculous discoveries with us peasants. I`m calling this his `Depression Era` record where hobos and drifters tell their sorted tales and hope for the best. It is as if Dylan had rolled up some old pennies many moons ago, and is just now cashing them in to his nearest Stop and Go, and gettin` a Big Red and Moonpie for the road-there`s a wide grin on his weathered face!


What we have here is not a `failure to communicate`, but rather a victory with a capitol V. Yet there`s a good amount of bitterness and grit here, like your swallowing salt water.Bob`s an old oak tree firmly rooted, maybe he`s the one Sam Houston rested under at the battle of San Jacinto. Or he`s an antique Colt 45 revolver stashed away in the Ranger`s Museum in Waco, Texas, but brought out to view again by millions of visitors. Don`t know where I`m goin` here, so I`ll just shovel some dirt on the songs.


Beyond Here Lies Nothin` jumps off the start line from the catalog of Classic Blues, but with Zydeco zest and Existential angst, mimickin` Albert Camus sittin` in a lonesome café in Paris. But things are lookin` bleak yet clear as the Chevy cruises down Highway 61.  This blues shuffle motif is a stored template in the public domain, but there is a freshness to it now with the words and delivery given.


Life Is Hard is one of the most tender and melodic songs ever written by Bob Dylan. With twanging steel guitar and feeling flutters of mandolin one might imagine that you are on a gondola ride in Venice. There`s so much hurt the voice. "Since we`ve been out of touch, I haven`t felt that much. From day to barren day, my heart stays locked away." Anyone have any Kleenex?


If You Ever Go To Houston is my favorite song on the album, being a Texas boy and all. These events takes place in the rough and tumble days of the Wild West, Ed Bartholomew`s world, from what I can tell. Some of it takes place in the days of Sam Houston and the Mexican War.


I lived in Houston in the early sixties, and it was `handgun city` back then. This gives it a touch of `Realism` for me. The dude talkin` in the story is some kind of outlaw, like Sam Bass or John Hardin. David Hildago`s accordion carries a rhythm/lead through the song that flavors it nicely.


Forgetful Heart is a smoky blues recitation that longs for a more graceful past state of love realized. "Can`t take much more, why can`t we love like we did before."  Time makes this love disappear, that moment is no more. Bob`s voice sounds scratchy, like course sandpaper buffed against pine. This song has a crawling, brooding feel to it, contemplative or sorrowful in an Existential kind of way.


The ending is inconclusive and caustic, as if love could have ever have opened a window of light. "I lay awake and listen to the sound of pain, the door has closed forevermore, if indeed there ever was a door." Good intonation and enunciation of words. It is impossible to reconstruct this love lost.


The random snapshot that is the cover of the album, that shows lovers kissing, a Bruce Davidson photo from 1959, has a beatnik feel as you can see the wide-highway unfolding before your eyes through the windshield. "You know something is happening here, but you don`t know what it is, do you Mister Jones?" The black and white back photo is much in silhouette with Romanian musicians, all with cool hats, warming up with trumpets, accordions, and drums. Veteran musicians engaged to the T, squeezing out some savored sounds.


Jolene is a feel good, R & B number, with an easy going, rambling feel, even a touch of `carnal knowledge`. There are Bar-B-Q juke joint smoke stains on this 45 vinyl. "Jolene, Jolene, baby I am the King and you`re the Queen." Some of the lines are delivered with a Muddy Waters declarative stance. The band is tight with a bitin` middle guitar lead from Mike Campbell. An ambling hook is inserted on the third beat, and accents each measure twice.


Jolene is some kind of carnie or roaming dame of sorts. The character in this story uses her as an anodyne, but there are traces of heart-felt romance that sticks. "Those big brown eyes they set off a spark. When you hold me in your arms, things don`t look so dark." The character is some kind of outlaw on the run like that bad guy in A Good Man Is Hard To Find. He`s on the prowl, up to no good, but has good times with Jolene.


This Dreams Of You is a romantic ballad, that reminds me of some former rapturous strains of Doug Sahm and/or Flaco Jimenez. David Hildaldo`s accordion, quivering mandolin, and twittering fiddles give it a mariachi fullness; the bass of Tony Garnier thumps lyrically on the tonic. A telling line is "There`s a moment when all old things become new again, but that moment might have come and gone." It`s freshness is transient, like all things.


The accents of the squeeze box make perfect the mood of this song. This straggler lingers in a Mexican café near dawn, in a melancholic haze, tuned in on a forgotten memory of amour. A little sad "I recall Romance in Durango from Desire, one of Dylan`s moodiest offering, a Sam Peckinpah period. Hot chili peppers in the blistering sun." There is hurt, sincerity, and resolve in this voice. Shadows that know it all." We are in a dark spot here with the ghosts of the past hovering over, yes, the twilight of the day casts a shadow, but it`s Vincent Van Gogh`s golden wheat fields!


Shake Shake Mama is a comic account told by a drifter about the going-ons at some makeshift hobo camp. It`s clear he wants to go up the hill to the ladies tent for some fun. This skid row ode is delivered with Chester Burnett verve, talky/sing in a gruff, lusty throat. "Down by the river Jud Simpson walking around, Nothin` shocks me more than that old clown." Lots a shifty characters lollygagging about. A colorful street scene and a visit to a brothel is what I get out of this. Only one section exists with a call and response between vocal and instruments; Howlin` Wolf is the best example of this form.


I Feel A Change Comin` On best fits in the Nashville Skyline period. It`s an easy going slidin` glidin` country-rock sort of thing. The chord progression is G Bm C D and the beat hits on 2 and 4. Bob casually recalls his career and sheds a bit of bitterness, but if he can pull off this change, he will be able to pull back up to the surface, where clear blue skies can cheer him up. He confesses to never makin` it as one of the `Beautiful People`; he never got even one rose. "Some people they tell me I`ve got the blood of the lamb in my voice." Dylan is aware, though, that some still see him as prophet of our times.


It`s All Good is a cryptic ode to a fallen land, a dilapidated America. Like Master`s of War, it`s a death knell to the land and reveals all the ills and plague that linger like a bad fog on the American landscape. Nothin` is left out; corrupt politicians, adultery, poverty, violent crime, filthy restaurants, and a crumbling infrastructure are all dealt with sarcastically here.


"Cold-blooded killer stalkin` the town, cop car blinkin` something goin` down." Things are foooked up! I see the point of view as another wanderer tale of toasted over times. The vitriol is classic Dylan ala You Go Your Way and I`ll Go Mine (Blonde On Blonde). There`s just one boogie riff that recalls Canned Heat`s On the Road Again. Obviously, Bob is really saying `things could not be any worse`! 


Together Through Life is a trip back into the belly, the remotest guts of American Music`s past. It is also a journal of Bob Dylan`s current state of mind, with some romance, regrets, and humor galore dished out with fanfare. It is also a careful study of American genres, such as urban blues, country blues, folk rock and just plain-simple-entertaining-storytelling. Each song is a clairvoyant tarot card of Americana; or conceivably a juke box 45 waiting to spin when the Nichol hits the cylinder! Look at R. Crumb`s Heroes Of Blues, Jazz & Country sometime, alotta greats have almost been forgotten.