ADDENDUM!!!! Since writing this review, I must admit that I have been ensnared in the feverish intensity of “It’s All Good”. It pays to go back and listen to albums a second, third and even fourth time!!!!!
I have really enjoyed the last several albums from Bob Dylan. I loved the swing and the vitality and the hoppin’ band. So I was really excited to get the new record TOGETHER THROUGH LIFE. The front cover photo alone is worth the price of admission….young tangled half nekkid love in the backseat of a car (photo circa 1959 by Bruce Davidson). The back cover photo is kinda cool too…giving off a Buena Vista Social club feel except these are Romanian gypsies looking like 1930’s dustbowl out of work musicians getting together for their daily smokes and hang sessions.
So what do the photos have to do with the music inside? The cover speaks of the beginning of a lustful journey; the back of a road wearily travelled. Bob calls this a “romantic” record. I don’t really hear that. It came about because of Bob’s association with a French director who wanted some songs for his movie. On Bob’s website (www.bobdylan.com), he says “the movie’s kind of a road trip of self-discovery that takes place in the American South.” After Bob did the one song to be used in the movie, he just kept on going with the recording and in fact, surprised the record company by turning it in for an early release. The back cover photo is more telling. This album definitely has that bunch of old guys sitting around playing music for themselves and one or two onlookers vibe. Bob describes it as a 1950’s Chess Records blues feel.
The old guys on this record really aren’t THAT old though (Bob notwithstanding!) Mike Campbell, from Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, is here on guitar and mandolin. Donnie Herron (BR549) is represented on steel guitar, banjo, mandolin and trumpet. Tony Garnier, who has played with Asleep at the Wheel and Tom Waits among many others and has played more shows with Bob than anyone else, is here on bass and George Recile, a New Orleans native, is on drums. There’s certainly a touch of Louisiana-ness on a song or two.
More than anything, it is David Hidalgo’s accordion that defines the sound on this record. He manages to squeeze it in pretty much every song. I love David from Los Lobos and on this LP, the accordion adds a soupcon de Paris but mainly takes it South of the Border. But I gotta honestly say that my first reaction was “plop a sombrero on Bob’s head and wrap him in a serape.” I just didn’t hear anything that could distinguish this from any other mariachi band vying for a Cinco de Mayo gig.
I know. I know. Harsh. This is Bob Dylan for God’s sake. And that’s a problem for him. Because he’s actually BOB DYLAN!!!! And that’s why I also don’t get that he brought lyricist Robert Hunter (Grateful Dead) into the project. Why do you need to do that if you’re BOB DYLAN!!!!! It’s not like there’s some major poetic image inducing stuff going on here. There’s nostalgic Bob. There’s sarcastic Bob. He’s been both those Bobs before without needing lyric input from someone else. And also, while we’re talking about somebody elses, did Bob really need to borrow that much from “I Just Want to Make Love to You” for the construction of “My Wife’s Home Town?” (although he does give Willie Dixon musical credit.)
This album just doesn’t move and swing enough for me. It’s Bob’s 33rd studio album (although google him and you’ll find all different counts: 46th! 53rd!) and he really doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone. The fact that he produces his own records under the name Jack Frost indicates he doesn’t need direction from anyone. His gruff rasp of a voice is about as weathered as it can be, just short of needing a squirt of rustoleum. And because he’s BOB DYLAN!!!, we’ll continue to listen and await the next one turn in the road wherever he may travel.