I ascended to the streets of Chinatown from the subway below listening to Together Through Life for the first time. On my way to work, I was wearing my traditional Dylan CD release attire: business suit, Jerry Garcia tie, headphones. I passed by folks wearing surgical masks – Pig Flu Pandemonium debuted in New York, although this mysterious virus didn’t faze me, I’ve been through worse on Dylan CD release days.
I moved to The City in September of 1997. On my second day as a copier salesman at Alpha Business Machines, Time Out Of Mind hit the shelves. I split work early and scored Dylan’s latest at Nobody Beats The Wiz in Herald Square. Strutting down Sixth Avenue clutching a CD walkman in my right hand, Dylan’s voice pounded through my head: “Walkin’ through streets that are dead/ Walkin’ with you in my head/ My feet are so tired, my brain is so wired/ and the clouds are weepin’.” Dylan was The Man, again, and so began my journey in New York.
Still selling office equipment to CFOs in the Garment District, I purchased Love & Theft at the same Wiz, on the morning of 9/11 after watching a hijacked plane fly into the second tower as I stood on the corner of 29th st. and Sixth Ave. In days that followed, Love & Theft was the only thing that made sense. I quit my day job.
No Direction Home, The Bootleg Series Volume 7, came out a day after Katrina, the day the levees gave way and Lake Pontchartrain poured into New Orleans. Nobody died from a natural disaster or terrorism on that September morn in 2008 when Tell Tale Signs, The Bootleg Series Volume 8, was released, but Wall Street suffered its worst week ever. In an ill-timed career move, I had just become a salesman again in the summer of 2008. My commissions decreased, but at least I could live on rice and beans and adore “The Girl from the Red River Shore.”
After a month of listening, I’m apathetic towards Together Through Life – it’s a bore compared to “The Girl from the Red River Shore.” Usually, after romancing a new Dylan album for a month, I become more excited by them every day. Even albums I didn’t fully appreciate at first, like Down in the Groove and Under the Red Sky, became essential listening. Not hearing them three times a day triggered separation anxiety. In the six months that followed the release of Modern Times in 2006, I listened to it start to finish at least 200 times – each listen more rewarding than the one before.
I’ll keep on digging Together Through Life, enjoying it for what it is, but wishing it were more. Lacking the unforgettable, none of these songs are candidates to break into Dylan’s top 100 greatest jingles of all-time. There are charming lines like, “I’m listening to Billy Jo Shaver/ I’m reading James Joyce/ Some people they tell me I got the blood of the land in my voice.” However, there’s not one song on here that lyrically stands up to the best of Modern Times: “Ain’t Talkin,” “Thunder on the Mountain,” “Workingman’s Blues,” “Nettie Moore.”
Here’s the song by song skinny:
1. Beyond Here Lies Nothing – A rumba, West Side Story meets Thunder on the Mountain – Dylan howls, “Oh how I love ya pretty baby.” Yes! But mysteriously, the rest of the song just crawls along in repetitive fashion – nothing exciting lyrically – Thunder on the Mountain ending. I want to like this song more than I do.
2. Life’s Hard – A haunting memoir with a slick musical arrangement. Dylan’s vocal performance is mesmerizing.
3. My Wife’s Hometown – Dylan’s voice is seething, bravo. Unfortunately, the arrangement has too much accordion and not enough vigor. Think of the power of his blue remakes from Modern Times.
4. If You Ever Been To Houston - Dylan’s voice drags, the accordion is too dominant and the riff is boring. There’s some good lines wasted in this Texas half step. I think I hear Robert Hunter’s influence on the lyrics.
5. Forgetful Heart – At last, we get that haunting “Love Sick” kind of thing going on. Together Through Life takes off.
6. Jolene – Informal ‘50s rock with Dylan’s voice more time-battered than before. Sweet and sour simplicity. The band clicks into a nice jam as the song fades out – a shame.
7. These Dreams of You – Love the melody – sangria for the soul – Romance in Durango-ish. Hildalgo’s accordion fits like a glove. Sparse lyrics that kick back like spicy salsa: “All old things become knew again/ But that moment might have come and gone…shadows dance upon the wall/ Shadows that seem to know it all/ Am I too blind to see? Is my heart playing tricks on me?”
8. Shake Mama – Wow! Phenomenal power. I envision Dylan: black cowboy hat, truculent smirk, wide stance behind the organ. His down-singing vocal inflections are captured in all their booming, earth rattling glory. Another rocker that fades out too soon in my opinion. Together Through Life resembles an hour of Theme Time Radio – a university of cultural perversity.
9. I Feel A Change Coming On – One of the most upbeat Dylan tunes, puts a smile on my face.
10. It’s All Good – A cross between “TV Talkin’ Blues” and “You Wanna Ramble.” An entertaining a romp, but it seems like a path Dylan has gone down before, it comes off a touch mechanical.