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the pioneer of Dylan Studies; writer, public speaker, critic; became a Doctor of Letters in 2015 (awarded by the University of York, UK)

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Thursday, April 16, 2009


It’s very bad news that almost all the new album’s songs are co-written with Robert Hunter. Last time they co-wrote we got ‘Silvio’ and, worse still, ‘The Ugliest Girl In The World’…

And not only is that bad news in itself, but it's also been done a bit sneakily.

As ISIS, which broke the news, notes : "It is somewhat strange that, with the steady flow of pre-publicity over recent weeks, there has been no mention of this Dylan-Hunter collaboration." Indeed.

And the strong odour of sneakiness has been summed up so well by one of my readers that I reprint most of his or her comments here. (They're to be found in full in the Comments at the end of the "BOB'S NEW ALBUM" entry a few entries ago - along with other new comment.)

... How does this news strike you? I can't help but feel this is a letdown from an artist who's always been such a singular, idiosyncratic voice. Maybe it will be just a fun, throwaway bunch of songs, but I can feel my anticipation of the album ebbing away. If the publicity had played on this as a feature, perhaps it would have been easier to warm to the idea. Instead, they seem to have avoided it, possibly knowing what a dampener it would be on the enthusiasm of the "target market".


Anonymous Lee Morgan said...

I agree that Dylan co-writing with Robert Hunter is bad news for the album. If Together Through Life didn’t already have the fading scent of a minor work, it certainly does now.

It’s not that I am averse to Dylan sharing song writing credits (had he announced a collaboration with Sam Shepard I would be far more optimistic). It’s that I can’t believe he would look back on previous meetings with Hunter and think they yielded something worth returning to. 'Silvio' and that other song were, simply put, the ugliest in the world.

I think what amazes me most though, is that the lyrics we’ve heard so far are the product of two minds, not one.

5:46 pm  
Blogger Frank Black said...

Dear Michael,

I'm not sure I share this growing disquiet about the Dylan-Hunter collaboration. Firstly, the album isn't even out yet, so let's hear it before we condemn it out of hand. Secondly, I don't think admirers of a great poet or playwright would be so prescriptive; why should Dylan have to conform to some kind of preordained creative template, established by his fan base? Great artists are usually great because they do what they like, when they like - and that includes enjoying the freedom to fail. Thirdly, Dylan has already been 'collaborating' with the blues, folk and country lexicon over the last few albums, as well as plundering numerous literary sources, largely WITHOUT attribution,so this sharing of the creative spotlight with Robert Hunter actually feels like a logical extension of the late Dylan writing style. Finally, my hunch is that Together Through Life is not meant to be a 'major statement' album - rather, a loose, freewheeling musical diversion. And if it's only SLIGHTLY better than the soporific Modern Times, I for one will be more than happy.
Terry Kelly

10:22 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We don't even know the extent of their collaboration. It almost certainly wasn't under the same circumstances as "Ugliest Girl" and "Silvio."

Perhaps Bob just said, "I've got these songs. Can you can help me arrange them into something more coherent?"

If your initial impressions of the songs were positive, I see no reason why this should change things.

2:21 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's no let down to me. Dylan does what he does, and I listen to it and enjoy it. If he was going to change the world it would have happened long ago. Pat Ford

4:11 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's simply ridiculous to judge songs before they are heard. Who writes this kind of tripe - junior high-schoolers?

10:31 am  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

I agree with you all. Perhaps especially with Pat and Terry. But it's no good telling people off for expressing disappointment at advance news of something that's coming along soon. First, that's being prescriptive too. And second, don't you think Dylan's office and record company have been encouraging advance speculation. If we'd all sat in zen-like silence forbearing to comment anywhere in the media or blogosphere, no-one would have been unhappier than Dylan's suits.

12:05 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't give Dylan a pass on everything. I enjoy him on piano or organ on occasion, but to largely put aside the guitar for 7or 8 years? This is comming from someone who thinks the playing on GAIBTU and WGR puts Eric Clapton's baby oil offerings to shame. Pat Ford

3:37 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, come on! We didn't know that Dylan cooperated with Jacques Levy before Desire came out. And, even if it wouldn' have leaked, we would know that Dylan co-wrote with Hunter since last weeks part 5 of his interview with B. Flanagan. So let's just wait another week and then listen to TTL for a few times and t h e n judge it.


8:30 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

well, listening to it now, i'd say it's fine - no grand statement, but better for that in many ways. more easy and together than mt though lacking really intriguing songs or rounded statements. it's good as it is - somewhere between: light, mellow, sombre. better than the 80s nadir, certainly. less forced than mt. nothing as significant as lat but fine. somewhere between jwh and ns? it will be more listenable over time than any album since desire, i'd guess. not to say it's better than others. it just hangs together well and will not offend. it's much better than the omens suggested - i agree the hunter news was initially off-putting, but also that you'd have to be an idiot to expect anything from dylan; he never has done what anyone else seemed to want him to do. the fact that clinton heylin is down on it is a good sign that it might be good, since he constantly exhausts himself proving how terrible dylan is. it is not at all like time out of mind to anyone with ears to hear. i like most of what dylan does and i like this. if it were a miraculously hidden bootleg, we'd be going raving mad to hear it.
r lodge

8:40 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lovely version of "Return to Me" from the recent Paris show posted on u-tube by a Scott Miller. Sweet and pretty despite the poor quality of the recorded sound and video. P. Ford

9:41 pm  
Anonymous McHenry Boatride said...

Having seen recent reports that Dylan's favourite songwriters include Billy Joe Shaver, John Prine, and Guy Clark (who Emmylou Harris calls the song doctor) I'm inclined to think that he knows a good song when he hears it.

I think that I'll reserve judgement on the new album until I've actually heard it.

9:54 pm  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

I am reserving judgement till I've heard it. I just said it was bad news that he's collaborated with Hunter on so many of the songs, given their previous joint efforts. It was news, and it was bad. I'm not pre-judging the album.

Interesting comments from R Lodge, who has heard the whole album. And then the Rolling Stone review by David Fricke is very well written and attributes many things about the album's general roughness and gloom to Dylan having his uniquely prescient finger on the pulse of an ever-darker and more ragged America: but it's also the kind of review that could so easily be - I say, could be - an elegant defence of something slapdash and ill-sung.

9:14 am  
Blogger Ross McCague said...

On a quick listen from the German site that had the album up, I found the song he wrote by himself, "This Dream of You", to be the most magical, the one I wanted to hear again. Unfortunately, it's already down. It's marked by Dylan's genius even on one listening, and suggests he can still work by himself without a drop in power. There are other worthy songs and his musical exploration continues to be fascinating.

5:18 am  
Anonymous Lee Morgan said...

Having listened to the full album at last – not just individual tracks or voiceover interrupted radio streams – I still believe Together Through Life is a very minor work; thankfully though, it is a rather fun one at that.

The lyrics are nowhere near the standard of "Love and Theft", light years apart in fact. The melodies are few and far between, tending for the most part towards simple blues patterns. However, unlike Modern Times, these patterns are bouncy, light in tone, making this a more likeable and engaging a listen than that particular album.

What jumps from the recording is how relaxed Dylan is, and how much fun he seems to be having. Aside from the laughter which is peppered throughout, he seems to take great delight in straining and manipulating his voice to strange and prickly heights, then dropping it off to incomprehensible lows.

The high register of 'Life Is Hard' gives way to the blues barking of 'My Wife’s Home Town', and what for me is one of the album’s high points; his delivery on the following line: “One of these days, I’ll end up on the run/ I’m pretty sure she’ll make me kill someone.” His singing here contains more authentic personality than anything on Modern Times.

The band is in good, loose form, with the only major complaint being that – occasionally – the accordion overwhelms some interesting stuff in the background. This is the case on 'If You Ever Go To Houston', where the guitar picking is totally overpowered.

The songs will mean very little on their own, but the album works nicely as a concept piece. Dylan might be desperately short on new ideas, but the difference between this and his last album, is here he isn’t trying to compensate for the shortfall with false gravity and seriousness.

I am sure I will check back in once I’ve had a week or more to let it breathe, but at the moment, I am quite enjoying Together Through Life for its ramshackle and rather unassuming simplicity.

4:44 pm  
Blogger Pete said...

Their last collaboration may have been a disaster, but let's not forget that Robert Hunter is an accomplished lyricist and has been responsible for some terrific Grateful Dead songs.

1:46 am  
Anonymous Einar Stenseng said...

It's not a bad album; about as good as Modern Times or "Love and Theft". Overall you could say that the lyrics seem less laboured over than some of the songs on those records, but if "labour" means merely grabbings lines from Ovid, I think "co-labouring" with Robert Hunter is just as good.

3:48 am  
Blogger Sean McA said...

I've lived with it for the past few days. Here's what I wrote on my blog:

It sounds good, feels good and it swings; but this is a lightweight collection of songs. There is little that is lyrically interesting and most of the tunes and melodies have been heard before. The back-to-back songs "Shake, Shake Mama" and "Feel A Change Coming On" provide the best moments. I also have to say that the addition of accordion is a plus and gives the cd it's signature sound. So, overall, an enjoyable listen but it won't demand your attention.

By the way, this album along with "Love & Theft" and Modern Times form a more likely trilogy than the Time Out Of Mind/"Love & Theft"/Modern Times suggestions ever did.

4:25 am  

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