I’ve read Ann Powers, Ben Ratliff and Tom Moon‘s reviews of Bob Dylan’s new Together Through Life and I’d like to hear it like Powers does – but so far, I find it hard to find an interesting handle on it. Much of it I hear as the product of a music fan trying to emulate the bluesmen he loves, down to the curdled humor of “My Wife’s Home Town” (hint: it’s “Hell”), the rump shaker (“Shake Shake Mama”) and the closing time slow dance (“This Dream of You”, “I Feel a Change Comin’ On”).
And maybe that’s the story, but “Beyond Here Lies Nothin'” and “Forgetful Heart” have a pronounced gravity that much of the rest of the album lacks. They suggest there’s more to this than just Dylan’s on-again, off-again relationship with his mysterious woman. Or maybe they just have the most interesting language of the album, and the rest of it feels easy because of its relatively conversational vocabulary and syntax. The album ends awkwardly with “It’s All Good,” with a litany of troubles ironically punctuated by the a pop cultural phrase that already feels as dated as “Talk to the hand.”
It’s possible I’m frustrated by the album because I found a way into Modern Times almost immediately, whereas Together Through Life remains pesky for me after a weekend of listening. Or, perhaps I felt like I had an understanding of Dylan and he put out an album that made me question that take. Or, perhaps after a string of remarkable albums, he paused to take a breath. It’s not like it hasn’t happened before.