I'm an album guy. I'm also an artist guy. I listen to records straight through, and I let the artist take me where they want me to go.
Bob Dylan has been plugging away at this music thing since his 1962 self-titled debut. He is the preeminent scholar of the American songbook. I stopped trying to figure out his lyrics along time ago. Dylan's references go too deep, get too personal. So too with his music: blues, folk, country and early rock and roll show up in his songs. A new Dylan album is a journey of which I always love to hitch a ride.
Together Through Life is a bluesy, country-tinged journey through the Southern Delta and Texas. It's there in the mandolin, steel guitar, accordion, and guitar. The album sounds like it was recorded at sound-checks and stolen moments backstage. It feels intimate, like you're in a roadside bar with a beer and pulled-pork sandwich.
The album starts abruptly with Beyond Here Lies Nothin', a rhythm-driven small-stage affair exploding outward, setting the tone for the rest of the record. Dylan moves through these songs, old-style and heart-felt, sometimes cynical (My Wife's Hometown, Forgetful Heart), sometimes touching (the beautiful waltz-like This Dream Of You), all delivered with sharp arrangement, and Dylan's characteristic wit. No one makes social commentary (It's All Good) like Dylan. It's enough to make you smile.
At the end of Together Through Life is a studio rehearsal of Lay, Lady, Lay from 1969's Nashville Skyline. It is somehow appropriate that Dylan closes an arc of music nearly 40 years long. When the rest of his generation of musicians were moving into the sprawling aftermath that was the 1970s, Bob Dylan stepped back, dug deep, and came out with a beautiful, authentic country record. Bob Dylan still travels that road, grown over with weeds with old oaks hung over, dapples of sun breaking through the branches. It's a journey worth joining. To hell with the destination.