5.05.2009

Back on the Boulevard: A Review of Bob Dylan's Together Through Life

Together Through LifeMemory and forgetfulness...the varying international rhythms of an accordion, sometimes street French but often Mexican...chilly breezes and open streets...that gravely voice...here now are locked hearts, emptiness, but we find here too, among other things, a break-out jazz number with the swish of the drummed downbeat and the lowest note any troubadour can reach...Many dualities are at play in the new Dylan, Together Through Life, his 33rd solo album, but there's always an articulated wisdom of the street: "I know the streets. I've been here before," he sings. He has walked the sad boulevard a million times, this Bob Dylan, but now a chill is in the air, and the sun is sinking lower.


Bob Dylan is no flaneur, with a top hat and cane, but he has always expressed the sensibility of a street-wise boulevardier. While in real life we've lost him to an estate in Malibu, New Yorkers can take pride in Dylan's formative years on the streets and avenues of Greenwich Village. Here, at the crossroads of American blues, jazz, roots music, and folk, Dylan let the cross-cultural winds blow right through him, always the weatherman, arriving on the corner at just the right time to fuse poetry with the beat. And while we hear little of the genius lyricist in this new work, and indeed most all are co-authored with Grateful Dead's Robert Hunter, the sometimes prosaic lyrics actually serve to underscore the pedestrian dream theme of this album. They're not half bad these lyrics, taking them in context. The music is energetic, happily raw and not processed, singable, and often fun.

In some songs, it's possible to hear echoes of Jacques Brel's solitude, with striking similarities. The most flaneur-like, in terms of theme and Brel, is the jazzy "Life is Hard," about a man strolling down the street. Passing the old school yard, remembering a lost love, he feels emptiness - "I walk the boulevard, admitting life is hard." With other songs, like "This Dream of You," the melancholy of Willie Nelson's Teatro comes across, like he's reached his personal bottom, drowning in tequila at the border cantina.You expect Emmylou to pipe in, but instead, the "voice" on all the tracks is adeptly provided by the lead guitars. Snap out of it, Bob. Walk it off. And, yes, a song of reawakening soon follows. "I Feel a Change Comin' On - an autobiographical song - must be! -expresses a younger Dylan awakening in an old body, "listening to Billy Joe Shaver, and I'm reading James Joyce." Turning 68 at the end of the month, Dylan sings of "the full part of the day is already gone." But, he's not dead! And when the troubadour breaks into the snarling sarcasm of the final cut - "It's All Good," an indictment of indifference in a troubled world, we know the young man who lived on 4th St. and cared about the world is positively still there. Walking the proverbial boulevard, old troubadours know, always leads back into insight and rejuvenation.

Image by Walking Off the Big Apple, also growing older but still on a journey, somewhere on the streets of the SoHo neighborhood in New York City.

Related posts:
Freewheelin' Jones Street
"Froze Right to the Bone:" A Musical Interlude with Bob Dylan

1 comment:

Terry B said...

What a thoughtful, thought provoking review, Teri! I must admit, Dylan's quintessential album for me, the one to which no other will truly compare, is one you've written about before, "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan." But you make this one sound like it's definitely worth giving a listen to. Thanks!