What does Bob Dylan mean to me? Glad you asked! As a baby I was fed a steady diet of breast milk and Bob Dylan. While my milk supply was cut off some time ago, I still help myself to almost daily helpings of Bob. I love all Bob Dylan, and I'll be the first to admit the love hasn't always come easy. There have been some pretty shaky albums through the years, and some that are just downright confusing. Still, even on the very worst there is something worth listening to, a hidden gem you may not notice the first time around. Or the second. The reality is that, if Bob Dylan put out a $300, ten-disk instrumental concept album featuring him playing the kazoo, I'd rush to the nearest store. If I didn't have the money, I'd sell a kidney.
As a registered lifetime Bob Dylan Superfan (you get a little laminated card and a secret decoder pin), I feel qualified to set something straight: Bob Dylan is NOT a poet. That is not to say he doesn't write poetry; check out his book of verse, Tarantula, if you want to read a little Dylan. I guess you can call his songs poems, but I lose patience with people who say, well, he's a great poet, as if his prodigious gift for writing lyrics somehow covers up for his other flaws, as if he has achieved his estimable position in music history in spite of himself.
That's a lot of horseshit. Bob Dylan is a musician through and through, a singing, guitar picking, piano playing, harmonica blowing, melody making, all-around musical genius. He is the Beethoven of our time, a master of the total song, not just the lyric. He has influenced folk, rock, country, gospel, R&B, blues and countless other styles. He has been covered by just about everyone. You may want to check it out, because I'm pretty sure your mom has covered a Dylan song.
Together Through Life may not be Dylan's best-written album. As far as songwriting is concerned, I'd rank his previous two albums slightly higher. But like I said, he's not a poet, and there is so much to judge. Like that voice! That band! Those arrangements! Sure he was lost in the wilderness for a while in the 80s, churning out the likes of Down in the Groove and Knocked out Loaded, but for about a decade now he's been making music as good as any. Together Through Life marks his fourth straight masterwork.
Sometime back in the early nineties, after billions of songs sung and cigarettes smoked, Bob Dylan's vocal chords broke down. This was a good thing. Always a great (and I mean great in the sense that Louis Armstrong was a great trumpet player) singer, the newly acquired instrument became something like a cross between a phlegmy cough and a groaning rusty hinge. Leather, rust and grit. The songs sound like they're coming from heaven and hell simultaneously, but mostly from hell (where all the good music comes from anyway). There is simply no other instrument like it on earth, and it is sounding with all its growling and cackling glory on Together Through Life.
I'm not going to go through the songs one by one, but I will say that you won't find a dud on the album. No wasted space, just track after track of genius music. Another gift from a guy who by rights could have called it a day 40 years ago, when his legacy was already secure. He didn't, and the songs keep on coming.