Review: Bob Dylan’s “Together Through Life”

Bob Dylan
Together Through Life
3 1/2 stars

Videos by American Songwriter

There’s only been one other Bob Dylan album that was largely co-written with someone else, 1976’s Desire. This album, sir, is no Desire. Instead, it’s another dusty, hard-boiled latter-period Bob Dylan album that you either see the beauty in or dismiss entirely. And while Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter comes along for the ride, his voice is indistinguishable from Dylan’s here, much as Jaques Levy’s is on Desire. Yet, somewhere his words are there, scattered throughout (“a teaspoon of water is enough to drown” feels a little bit Hunter-y.) Together Through Life conjures up the same creaky atmosphere as listening to the 68-year-old music legend’s Theme Time Radio Hour — it’s as if Dylan was supplying the vintage tunes for his show by writing and recording them himself. As on Modern Times, he’ll borrow what he wants to get him where he wants to go. “I Just Want To Make Love To You” becomes “My Wife’s Hometown” through the never-ending folk process, yet the face lift suits it. “One of these days she’ll make me kill some one” sings Dylan, channeling Bela Lugosi. His evil little laugh at the end is worth the price of admission. “If You Ever Go To Houston” is essentially “On Top of Old Smoky.” But it all works. It’s Dylan. He knows what he’s doing.

What are your thoughts on the album? Let us know.


Leave a Reply
  1. i’m just grateful to dylan for the generosity of his later years. the once-secretive bob lays it all out on 100 hours of radio, in his chronicles, and on his last three albums, not to mention countless recent interviews. i enjoy this album. maybe not yet as much as ‘new morning’ or ‘planet waves,’ but all of his albums get better over time. immediately, ‘forgetful heart’ kicks my ass. ‘it’s all good’ makes me laugh. i’m happy to give this latest bottle of wine a chance to age, uncork it, let it breathe. await the magic.
    we’re all honored to go ‘together through life’ with bob.

  2. I honestly think its one of his great albums….vastly better than Modern Times and up there with Time out of Mind.
    Houston is not Old smokey at all- its from Leadbelly’s Midnight Special where there is a lyric that says “If you ever go to Houston”. He takes that one line both word-wise and melody-wise and extracts the max from it and turns it into a whole song- a very good one at that. Shake Mama Shake and Its all Good are excellent tracks. The musicianship is wonderful and a lot more metallic and real than Modern Times which I do like but believe is not as good. The derivations are a bit too obvious on Modern Times and the blues format is a bit too predictable.
    Two things are missing on “Together through Life” but it doesn’t really matter- one is harmonica and the other is the usual slow ballad. The chord progressions are much more imaginative than in Modern Times. There is something Ry Cooderish about the album – perhaps the accordian. It is hard to record accordian and get the balance right since it can overbearingly loud. It helps to be really wealthy I guess, but the accordian on this album is great- maybe its why there is no harmonica. I could swear I heard a violin also but it isn’t mentioned on the sleeve. Now why does Bob need a co-lyricist? Hey Bob obviously is very commercially savvy. Jerry Garcia is gone but there is a vast army of Dead heads who would buy the CD. If the teaspoon of water cliche is from HUNTER well I don’t see much help in that. But it really is a great Dylan album- superior in my opinion to Desire actually. Cup of Coffee and Mozambique and Oh Sister are in my humble opinion nowhere near as good as Together Thru Life. And Isis although lyrically good fails I think musically. No? Well does he do it at any concerts nowadays? Together through Life has no weak tracks at all and usually there are 2 or 3 fillers interspersed among the classics. And the (mighty ) Ted Quinn is right it will grow on the listener- as usual!!

  3. Bob Dylan Sued Over Dignity

    Camden NJ May 18, 2009 -Few artists can lay claim to the controversy that has surrounded the career of songwriter James Damiano. Twenty-two years ago James Damiano began an odyssey that led him into a legal maelstrom with Bob Dylan that, to this day, fascinates the greatest of intellectual minds.

    As the curtain rises on the stage of deceit we learn that CBS used songs and lyrics for international recording artist, Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan’s name is credited to the songs. One of those songs is nominated for a Grammy as best rock song of the year. Ironically the title of that song is Dignity.

    Since auditioning for the legendary CBS Record producer John Hammond, Sr., who influenced the careers of music industry icons Billy Holiday, Bob Dylan, Pete Seger, Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Ray Vaughan, James has engaged in a multimillion dollar copyright infringement law suit with Bob Dylan.

    It is judicially uncontested by Bob Dylan and or Bob Dylan’s law firms Manatt, Phelps & Phillips , Parcher Hayes & Snyder, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, Heck Brown and Sherry and Sony House Counsel that Bob Dylan and people in Bob Dylan’s entourage have solicited James Damiano’s songs and music for over ten years and eleven months, as per the law suit.

    District Judge Jerome B. Simandle states in his decision “This court will accept as true Plaintiff’s allegations that Sony represented to him that he would be credited and compensated for his work if Dylan used it. Judge Simandle also stated in his decision “Plaintiff has demonstrated a genuine issue of material fact as to whether defendants had access to his work.

    Richard Frankel

    [email protected]

  4. Well, I really dig the band, and of course Dylans phrasing. I’ve been a fan my whole 29 year long life… literally. I got every one of his albums (like as in 15 years ago, long before all the new promotion ways) and got my favorites. Albums like “Self Portrait” which were totally panned at the time, happens to be up there PROBABLY as one of my top Five Best Bob Albums… I just dig it. Thats all.
    But this record bothers me in the fact that he blatently lifts not only Music but more importantly LYRICS from other artists and gives no mention of there-of-used. What Bothers me is the fact that Nobody, NOBODY, could get away with releasing an album like this but Bobby.
    Anyway, I’m listening to the record right now, and yea, I’m groovin’ along with it. So Yes, I LIKE It!
    Do buy it.
    Even if y0u spend 15$ at Starbucks for it (yep it’s selling there to. Even Yuppies get the chance to groove every now and then.)

  5. All blues is derivative so the copyright stuff above is nonsense. Did Robert Johnson really write “Love in Vain?”. Because Dylan nods to Johnson by writing Is Your Love n Vain?, does it mean he is lifting his lyrics? Johnson also lifted lyrics, musical phrases and ideas from the great mass of collective PD cultural material out there. Even Beethoven lifted melodies. Shakespeare lifted everything. All art uses previous ideas. As the saying goes good poets borrow but great poets steal. What about the wholesale rip off of Bob’s style over the years?. Did Bob sue Donovan over “Catch the Wind”, an obvious lift from Chimes of Freedom? Because Bob a rich man, some people who have written similar tunes or lifted from the Public Domain somewhat similar tracks, (there will always be whiners) who will always take the opportunity to get some of his money. Even if Dignity is similar to some nobody’s derivation of previous material, it doesn’t mean Dylan owes this nobody anything. Dylan doesn’t need the tune from DIGNITY; he is established beyond any such necessity. I myself wrote certain blues songs 20 years ago (that Bob could not possibly have heard) and exactly THE SAME TUNES turned up on Dylan’s albums years later. That does not mean Dylan ripped me off. There are millions of songwriters on the planet and because perhaps they were influenced by the same songs, came up with tunes very similar to Bob’s. But Dylan could not have heard them; it is a coincidence. As far as borrowing lyrics goes, ALL the great poets did that. All the great painters did it. This whole beat up is a crock.

  6. Yea, Bill Sykes I agree with your assessment. I just spend most of my time writing or reading or thinking bout’ writing. And I guess I got caught up in TODAY’S world where anything anybody does IS going to be looked through & criticized en mass for slightly writing something that is too derivative of something else.

    I just thought it interesting that Dylan lifted the entire Willie Dixon Song and added new lyrics to the Same Melody; cool idea, I guess I could see a time in my life where I could feel like doing something like that for fun… oh I know, how bout somebody take Bob Dylan’s song “Like A Rolling Stone” and puts their OWN Lyrics to it, and record it & put it out for sale! NOT.

    Yes I agree EVERYTHING IS Derivative in many ways. And no there is absolutely nothing wrong with him taking the “If you ever go to Houston…” lyric from the version of “Midnight Special” by Leadbelly.
    Besides, Leadbelly took it from another song etc… That is one of the things that Defines the Blues/Americana Tradition; the way songs are recycled and worked with through the years… so songs live on and are related with other songs.
    But what if a New Artist today took the Entire Song Structure & Melody of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” note for note & Beat for Beat, and then put their own words to it. Or how bout doing that same thing with U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” or newer “Beautiful Day”; Would You want to listen to it? NO obviously not, it would be just stupid and weird; what would be the point in doing a song like that? I basically feel that way about hearing the Willie Dixon song used on Dylan’s record because I listen to the original Chess Records song a lot, versions by Willie & Muddy, and when I 1st put this Dylan CD on I was like “Wait a minute…”.

    Anyhow I’m rambling.
    I guess what I am trying to communicate here is how the Classic Structure of the Song-writing World has changed (maybe… or MAYBE that is only with the Pop/Rock world??). And what Bob has done with this album & the last 2 albums, is PURPOSELY acting like an avatar for the promotion of our Americana History. Which is TOTALLY Cool Actually… it’s like what he’s doing with his Radio Show. I think that that is TTLY Cool. And I will continue to enjoy Albums like this one that We are Lucky enough to have still as he puts them out.

    I wish more people my age would listen to Dylan records rather than all that Terrible stuff you hear on modern “alt-rock” stations; talk about Derivative! Phew! So many alt-“rockers” & Coldplay-clones & Bands that are rehashing the past of the 60’s/70’s/90’s etc… but whom do Not add Anything New to this rehashed ‘vibe’ of those Classic era’s.

    Within the Blues & Jazz Communities, making progress over the years & always inventing new styles & ways of performing not only new ideas & compositions, but new exciting ways of re-doing Classics has always been a Mission for the Greats.
    I guess maybe this is why some music critics have spent time saying things like “Jazz Is Dead”, because these critics don’t see any new Innovation from Musical Acts of the Modern Era.

    So Anyways, as you can see, I think too much about this type of thing.
    I’m just passionate about music/songs/& songwriting.

    And as I said before, yes I DO like this new album by Bob, I really dig it.

  7. Blah blah blah
    Did I just write that?
    Oh the audacity I must have.
    Somebody, somewhere, must have written that before?

    (But did Bob Dylan really steal “Dignity”?)

    Before me? Somewhere?
    But where?
    Wasn’t Blah, blah, blah a line out of a Sha Na Na song?
    They were at Woodstock you know!
    If I change “yip yip yip” to “double dip”
    And “get a job” to “Hit a Bob” (with a law suit)
    Do you think I might have something there?

    I’ll leave it up to collaborative teams of scholars and lawyers to definitively point their judging finger in and out of my waxy ear. And when they pass down their decision.
    I may not agree.

    I got a feeling = John
    How does it Feel = Bob
    A feeling deep inside = John
    How does it feel = Bob

    Wait a minute man, that shit is not from Bob and John. I remember an expert transcriber of ancient Sumerian hieroglyphics that deciphered those same phrases off of a cave wall. And they were found out to be from a cave man named Aug, in like 5000 B.C.

    And the law firm Blah, Blah and Blah aka Brothers Darryl, Darryl and Darryl aka Tweedle-Dumb, Tweedle-Dumber and Tweedle Dumbest, has been retained in behalf of Aug to file their plagiaristic claims.

    Look out Bob!
    And John too, don’t you even think, not for one fleeting moment, that, just because you’re already dead, you are going to get out of this one alive. Johnny Boy.
    evilCoz Aug is dead too!

    You know, maybe old Bob did steal that James Damiano guy’s dignity?
    Because he sure doesn’t seem to have any left.

    Dear Bob,

    Please leave my dignity intact.
    And then I won’t have to sue you.

    Thank You.

    I think Together Through Life is a damn fine album. I especially like Beyond Here Lies Nothin’ and It’s All Good. Everything in-between is like horseshoes and hand grenades.

  8. You know – it’s not about “hitting someone with a lawsuit” to make a bunch of money.

    It’s about 1. integrity – or the lack thereof on Bob Dylan’s part and 2. Giving credit where credit is due.

    Bob Dylan is rich and famous b/c he is supposedly one of the most amazing lyracists of all time. But, he’s really just a common theif. Do we allow people who rob banks to keep the money after they are caught, or do we give the money back to the rightful owners?

    James Damiano deserves the credit, the money, and the grammy nomination for writing the song Dignity.

    The end.

Leave a Reply

American Songwriter Reads The Charts: Eminem Pushes Product