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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, May 21, 2009


Here is a less lovely story than the one about Bob visiting John Lennon's boyhood home. I hadn't meant to start writing about the new album yet, but...

Maybe this is a stronger sign than the album that Dylan is moving into a new phase of some spikiness, and therefore we should be interested and paying attention... but taken as a one-off, it seems simply to be attaching a small and very predictably Hollywood-conventional movie sequence to a recording so that we encounter something by way of a story (though only the violence gives it drama) and some suspense, so giving vicarious dark meaning to a Dylan track that in itself holds none at all.


Blogger revdrron said...

With reference to the "Alongside Here Lies Nothing" mini-movie, it seems that the difference between her and him on the point (not the knife) is that she is afraid of Nothing and that he thinks there is nothing to be afraid of. After all death is hardly a proper object of fear. I favor to song. As to the min-movie: reductio as absurdum!

10:44 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd might comment on the mini-movie if I had even the inclination to watch it. Love the album, have a stronger urge to listen than with any of the last three. Pat Ford

12:31 am  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

Dear revdrron (Rev. Dr. Ron?): I'm not clear what you're saying here. I understand the Latin - it's your English I don't understand.

Dear Pat
What I can't understand in your comment is how you might prefer it to "Love and Theft" (if indeed that's what you're saying - because after all, you could just mean that now that you've heard the others so much more, your urge to listen is inevitably more towards the newer, because less familiar, album).

1:07 pm  
Blogger Judas Priest said...

The video is nonsense but the album itself is excellent. Probably too soon to say if it is definitively better or worse than the last two but my early impression is it will proove to be at least in the same ballpark. While the writing isn't as clever or witty as L&T, this shouldn't for a moment mask the fact that the album has a wonderfully coherent feel and is an highly satisfying listening experience. It already feels (despite the cowriting credit) like a real Bob Dylan album and the prevailing school of thought that it is an enjoyable collection of minor songs without any one particular standout to rival the peaks of the last two seems to me to completely miss the inherent beauty of "This Dream of You" which to my ears is the equal of anything on MT or L&T and in terms of its core and emotional resonance reminds me of Not Dark Yet. Lyrically simple with a pure and measured economy that packs an emotional punch that cannot be ignored.

3:50 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It could be as simple as the sequencing that makes the album move along.
For example as superb as the playing and songs were on Love and Theft there were a couple of stumbling blocks for me. It might sound ridiculous but Honest With Me grated on me entirely because of the repetitive slide lick, Five and a half minuets of it no less. I always have the urge to skip it, but the album works better structurally with an uptempo song there. In this day and age I wonder how many people care about sequencing, and if it even matters anymore?
The lesser songs on TLT rock a little harder and are to the point. Several of the songs have really grown on me especially Beyond Here Lies Nothing.
Pat Ford

8:30 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Judas is correct in thinking "This Dream Of You" is top shelf Dylan. Great song, superb arrangement. I also think very highly of "Life Is Hard" it reminds me of Rodgers/McWilliams and I love the fearless, "screw it. I know that road is washed out, but I'm going for it," vocal.
Vocal on My Wife's Hometown is just plain strong.
"It's All Good" is about as good as anything. Again a really good song with a strong performance.
Remind us again who is Judge Simpson? I know we've heard from him before. Pat Ford

4:44 am  
Anonymous Bev said...

I like the album, but don't beleive it as good as any of the last three... It feels a bit like Bob wasn't aiming as high with this one, as if he just wanted to relax in the studio with some good musicians and see what happened. Which is fine. But the lyrics could maybe have done with a bit of spit & polish before going out into the world.

11:27 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just watched 'Of Human Bondage' 1934, with amongst others Bette Davis.

The hero of the story is sitting at one point in a restaurant, he makes a sketch of Bette Davis the waitress. She doesn't like it much, and throws it back at him, she turns her back and hero exits.

The rest of the film (book) studies the horrific relationship that these two have, not totally unlike the content of this video.


10:01 am  
Anonymous Lee Morgan said...

Together Through Life has been a fixture on the player for over a month now and, during that time, my feelings toward the album have flitted around somewhat.

I reacted negatively to its first two releases. I disliked Beyond Here Lies Nothin’ and was indifferent to I Feel A Change Comin’ On.

Then came the album in its entirety and my first response was: ‘Okay, this seems easy enough on the ears.’ The accordion gave it a summery lilt and, while no song could stake a claim to being major, it seemed to make for a pleasant and fairly cohesive listen. But since then, through repeated listens, Together Through Life has fallen largely out of favour.

Beyond Here Lies Nothin’ mentions a ship, but the song is plainly an empty vessel. There is no insight or humour, no line that leaps out and grabs you in the way an opener should. Its misery has been compounded by the release of the music video, which could have been made by a 6th form student caught up in a Tarantino phase. Predictable, tawdry, childishly violent, and reeking of a publicity stunt which ultimately got very little at all.

Life Is Hard I like. It is slow and sad, but with an acoustic jangle that makes it lighter than the opener. It functions nicely as a dusty, old fashioned love ditty. Dylan is actually putting thought and effort into his vocal too, which is always nice to hear.

He continues to apply himself on My Wife’s Hometown. While it can be derided as a note-by-note copy of Muddy Waters’ I Just Want To Make Love To You, he is having such a blast that I find it hard to criticise. He sounds happier and more alert than at any point on Modern Times, and this song alone contains more authentic personality than anything on that album.

If You Ever Go To Houston is a strange one. I like the general premise, and the final verse with the neat line: “If you ever go to Austin, Fort Worth or San Anton/ Find the barrooms I got lost in and send my memories home.” But the accordion is way too high in the mix, drowning some interesting guitar picking and interplay, as well as his voice. It drones on and on and it’s a shame because, with more selective bursts, this could have been a decent minor song (and my, how this is coming off as very faint prase).

Forgetful Heart sounds like Ain’t Talkin’ but thankfully is a third of the length. Disposable lyrics give way to a strong last line, and it would be nice to imagine Robert Hunter penning the bulk of the lyrics with Dylan diving in for the pay offs; a deliberate device to make his own words stand out more. Nice to imagine, but almost certainly not the case.

Jolene is dreck. I have heard part-time bands play my local pub with more gusto. Including a line from The Art of War does not make it any more interesting.


2:48 am  
Anonymous Lee Morgan said...

The song being singled out by most as a masterpiece is This Dream Of You. It is clearly not a masterpiece (and if it's to be considered such, my how standards have slipped). It is melodic, pleasant and has one great line delivered to perfection: “There’s a moment when all old things become new again, but that moment might already have been and gone.” For the rest of the song though, he garbles his words, singing much too low. It has a real sense of missed opportunity; one that might have been remedied with a couple more takes.

Shake Shake Mama is more shameless filler: Jolene Part 2.

I Feel A Change Comin’ On is a nice listen, but I’m still unsure about the Billy Joe Shaver line. His delivery seems uncertain and slightly out of synch with the rest of the song. For some reason, it puts me in mind of: ‘Have a bunch of kids who’ll call me pa.’ Like Sign on the Window, I still enjoy this song as a whole.

It’s All Good is musically sturdy but seems so safe, so done before: Dylan-by-numbers.

And so ends a review that I never intended to be quite so long or critical. It is just that, in the same decade we received “Love and Theft”, I know Dylan is capable of so much more. The reason I rate that album so highly is that it obviously comes from the same astute mind that gave us so many brilliant albums in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The same wit, warmth and keen observational eye is there, flowing through every song.

While I am sure Together Through Life will be played many times over in future, it is sad that these same qualities exist in it only as a rare glint.

2:52 am  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

Many thanks for all these comments. I've been so preoccupied with my own tour of talk-events that I've been reluctant to try to find the time to write a sustained assessment. But now the tour is over - I got back home this afternoon - so tomorrow I'll do my best to assemble some kind of coherent critical prose about the album.

One small trailer of my general stance on it: while I enjoyed a pleasant conversation with Judas Priest at my Dublin gig - and I believe he may even have bought me a drink - reluctantly I have to demur from the judgments he offers . . . and find myself not only grateful for, but largely in agreement with, the views Lee Morgan expresses above. I think he's right, not least about the slippage of Bobcat standards.

7:32 pm  

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