We have a new occasional reviewer (yes another one). Please give a warm welcome, to The Real Cock n’ Cola. Err….yes. That’s his name. He brings opinionatedness (is that a word?) and his own musical knowledge and experience to thatdoesntsoundright. Enjoy.
You had better believe it. He is back. His mercurial wordplay sparkling, his June-born neverwhere-everything brimming over and the laughter you can almost hear in his voice (well, almost) cocked high. But then again, is he? Rather is it him, really? Sixty-seven albums, recordings and compilations later, folks I know, they insist on seeing the last century’s greatest troubadour as either of two avatars. Pre-1965/Pre-Bringing It All Back Home/Pre-Newport Folk Festival/Folk Bard and Post-The-Same/Electric Musician. Other folks I know, they say it all changed with 1967, after that fateful motorized mishap, following which John Wesley Harding and such materialized, with stoic contemplation of mundane comforts replacing all traces of social consciousness and spokesmanship (willing or otherwise) hitherto on display. Now I don’t know about them any more than I do about you, but what I do know is, show me someone who understands Bob Dylan, and I’ll show you Bob Dylan. Or, better still, show me someone who likes Bob Dylan in all his avatars, and I’ll show you a phoney. Me, I don’t care about stylistic changes much, or topical songwriting.
Where I stopped listening to Dylan was with Shot of Love. It was still excellent songwriting, and arrangements are arrangements, electric or not. I just lost it with the voice that Dylan had. See, Dylan had forsaken smoking, and he sounded, well, normal. Never a Caruso, Dylan had a voice of grit, gravel and gravity well beyond his years, and a rasp that sounded like he really, really meant things. Without a healthy layer of silt on his lungs, he sounded better, of course, but just not good enough. So, on ’Together Through Life’, the first remark springing is, ‘The Rasp is Back!’, and much, much more. Here is the intellectual critique of modern times in ‘Beyond Here Lies Nothing’. Here is the soulful, broken-hearted-ballad, ‘Life is Hard’ and of course, the romantic, wrathful, ‘Jolene’, with the topical, thematic approach that somehow still hasn’t won Dylan the inevitable Nobel laurel. One moment, though. This isn’t the voice I expected though, inasmuch it is not him, though unquestionably his. Truth be told, this is not as much passionate as it is plain phlegmatic. And, prejudice there is, but the overtone is still, very 1980 and thereon. Absent are the chords, the progressions of which may best be described as geometric. No trace of the uber-psychedelic Hammond-Fender-Rhodes-Vox arrangements. Where did the harp go? And why am I not smiling?
The only two pieces off this that will mean anything to me ever are ‘Beyond Here Lies Nothing’, with its wonderfully intricate underlying melody and the endless, endless ornamentation, sourced to David Hidalgo’s (of Los Lobos) accordion and the inimitable Mike Campbell (of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers) on electric guitar, and the shamelessly danceable ‘Shake, Shake Mama’. ‘My Wife’s Hometown’ has its moments, but it does not transport me to the actual geography of it, nor does ‘Forgetful Heart’ impress or overwhelm me as did, say, ‘Don’t Think Twice (It’s Alright)’. The closing piece, ‘It’s All Good’ has a Chicago-shuffle-skiffle-bar rhythm section with lyrics both abstract and temporal, as only Dylan can provide, which is a relief. Irrespective of any and all other ‘transitions’, what Dylan has not lost is his ability to simply say things. “If you ever go to Austin, Fort Worth or San Antone, find the bar-rooms I got lost in and send my memories home’ croons he, on ‘If You Ever Go To Houston’, trumping introspection and poetic ability in one smooth typewriter stroke. He promptly destroys it with the silly sappiness of ‘This Dream of You’ with its opening blunder, “How long can I stay in this Nowhere Cafe before night turns to day.”
The upside of everything on ‘Together Through Life’ is the answer to The Band. Campbell and Hidalgo are resplendent, and Donnie Herron is a straight-up, back-up entity of solidity. It must be fulfilling for Dylan, to finally have three multi-instrumentalists supporting him, leaving him be to speculate and introspect unworried, especially considering Dylan’s touchstone, his voice is no longer the dominant force behind his music (though the literature still remains) and is better drowned down by electric washes and accordion licks than it would with a stripped-bare acoustic guitar and harp.
The record is not contrived, no. Nor is it unintelligent. What it is not is Bob Dylan, circa 1970 (substitute with era of preference). Be that as it may, it may still appeal to fanatics and men of poor taste and poorer information. I would consume it surely (classify in aforementioned segments as observed) but to recommend it is another question. The answer is not pleasing.
– The Real Cock n’ Cola
Electric or not, it’s still Folk Music. More of that, HERE.