Reviewed by Paul Poulton
Age is nothing but a number; yeah, I can see it like that. Bob Dylan is 67 and his inspiration marches on like a league of extraordinary creations. His radio show is fascinating and totally absorbing; his live shows continue to rivet audiences around the world. It's surprising he has the time to write songs let alone record them. His last studio album 'Modern Times' received critical approval from all quarters, and now 'Together Through Life' has taken its place at the top of the UK Album Charts. This is Dylan's 33rd studio album, which shows us that he is never in a hurry to release albums but neither has he been slack in putting out songs. Some artists make a bit of a hotchpotch of releasing albums of half songs and a few ideas that may or may not work; not Dylan, he makes sure each album counts. This latest set was produced by Jack Frost (for those not in the know, that's a pseudonym for Dylan himself.) He's gone for the live band feel not too dissimilar to 'Modern Times', the songs contain an accordion as well as all the regular rock'n'roll instruments. Bob's voice growls a little more but contains a new attractiveness as his years have advanced. Robert Hunter has been working with Dylan on these songs, Hunter is probably best known for writing lyrics for Grateful Dead. Maybe Dylan appreciates a little help these days, but it's Dylan's unmistakeable ideas that make their way to the surface in the songs. "My Wife's Home Town" is a funny song, in which the town turns out to be Hell. Dylan credits Willie Dixon as a co-writer for it, now since Willie died in 1992 this is probably because the tune and arrangement is taken from Dixon's "I Just Want To Make Love To You". The spirituality of Dylan's music is always strong, if Elvis was the king and Dylan was the jester then he's a fool on God's behalf. We hear lyrics saying "Tell her other sister Betsy to pray the sinner's prayer", "You were the answer to my prayer" and "I'll run this race until my earthly death, I'll defend this place with my dying breath". The most talked about song on the album and the strongest song is "I Feel A Change Coming On", its beauty is stark and its lyric intriguing. What does it mean? From whose point of view is the song written? People far and wide have been studying the lyrics and arguing over the words in it. "Well I'm lookin' the world over/Looking far off into the east" (no one can say the word "east" like Dylan). If you look at the song as written from God's point of view, like the Jewish Old Testament writers would prophesy, the song seems to fit neatly into place. If so it's a song about bringing people together; his baby is walking with the village priest. Who is God's baby according to the Old Testament? Dylan is a Jew and his fellow Jews are never too far from his thoughts. The priest represents the Church. The album is about "togetherness", as in the title of the album. "We got so much in common we strive for the same old ends," as in the OT and NT. "I don't have one single rose," just the thorns left and he doesn't have his beautiful clothes. Didn't they take Christ's seamless garment and leave him with thorns? "I'm listening to Billy Joe Shaver and I'm reading James Joyce/Some people they tell me I got the blood of the lamb in my voice." Billy Joe Shaver's last album was a very hot gospel album with startling lyrics, James Joyce is famous for writing Ulysses which follows its main character the Jew, Leopold Bloom. Is there a change coming on? Are Jews and Christians getting closer together, will Jews one day recognise Jesus as Messiah? If so Dylan may prove to be more of a prophet than we knew.
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