Whitesburg KY

Reviewer: Dylan’s latest ‘plods’

Audio review

Bob Dylan, “Together Through Life” (Columbia). The curse of Bob Dylan’s bootleg series is that you might start thinking of his official releases as first drafts.

Dylan has been on a roll this past decade, staring mortality in the face and wringing memorable music from it. The “Tell Tale Signs” disc of outtakes and reimaginings proved just how sturdy the work is. It also contributes to making “Together Through Life” a letdown.

This is a batch of mostly pedestrian compositions in a bluesy style, with Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo’s accordion giving several of the cuts a Tex-Mex feel. “My Wife’s Home Town” (that would be hell) with blues maestro Willie Dixon getting a co-writing credit, and “It’s All Good” best flash a nimble wit.

Robert Hunter, known for his songwriting with the Grateful Dead, co-wrote lyrics for eight of the 10 tracks with Dylan, and while the love-gone-wrong songs match Dylan’s haggard voice, they offer little real insight or emotional tug. The style of “Shake Shake Mama,” repeating a verse’s opening line, sounds stale.

A lyric like “I walk the boulevard, admitting life is hard, without you near me,” could have come from anyone. Dylan’s not anyone.

Perhaps producer Jack Frost could have pushed harder (yes, we’re aware that Frost is a Dylan pseudonym, but producer doesn’t serve the artist here). “If You Ever Go to Houston” and “Forgetful Heart” simply plod along.

Enjoyable moments, like the repeated guitar riff on “Jolene,” are clustered in the disc’s second half. In fact, the last two cuts on the album, particularly the darkly funny “It’s All Good,” are the best.

It’s hard not to wonder what life may eventually be wrung out of these songs. Maybe some time on the road, with a rewrite or two, will make them feel less like first drafts. Maybe there are outtakes, better versions or better songs, that somehow got left off the disc. It’s happened before.

Let’s hope so, because otherwise “Together Through Life” counts as a minor disc in Dylan’s remarkable career.

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