Together Through Life (2009)
Oliver Dahan, who directed the Edith Piaf biopic La Vie En Rose, which Dylan is purportedly a fan of, asked Dylan to write the score for My Own Love Song, a roadtrip drama with Renee Zellweger and Lawrence Fishburne. Dylan wrote up a song called “Life Is Hard” and, en route to recording it, met up with Robert Hunter of the Grateful Dead, who he enlisted for help to write the lyrics to the rest of the tracks. Dylan and Hunter had previously worked together for two songs on Down In the Groove. When they left the studios, not only had Dylan recorded two or three songs with vocals for the film, as well as several instrumental tracks, but also recorded a whole album of new material, almost all of it co-written with Hunter.
Together Through Life is alright if you don’t take it too seriously, and don’t expect anything too heady. After the last several Dylan albums, which were filled with deep meditation, this mostly breezy jaunt is only meant to be fun. It isn’t meant to be shallow I don’t think, though it is, but once you accept that you can find some things to like. “I Feel A Change Comin’ On” was one of two songs previewed before the album’s release, and from the title people expected a comment on the state of the nation, and much has been made of lines about walking with the priest and “the fourth part of the day” already being gone. This is the deepest song on the album probably, but I think its just a love song, and one with a nice feel to it. “If You Ever Go To Houston” is a fine extension of “Wanted Man,” a song Dylan wrote for Johnny Cash and never recorded himself. “Beyond Here Lies Nothin’” includes the most effective use of horns in a Dylan song and “Forgetful Heart” is richly ominous, even if it leaves you wanting for more. Also, the playing is fine throughout, featuring David Hidalgo (of Los Lobos) on accordion and Mike Campbell (of the Heartbreakers) on guitar.
Best song: Shake, Shake Mama – Based on a Mance Lipscomb song of the same name, Dylan took the verse about Judge Simpson out of Canterbury Tales. In addition to the tightest groove in any Dylan 12-bar blues, this song also features several hilarious blues couplets.
Worst song: Life Is Hard – The lyric is nearly just a list of clichés, the melody is tired, and Dylan shouldn’t even be attempting to hit those high notes.
Live version: Forgetful Heart – On the record, you can imagine this song working well life, and it does. The record has a more pronounced presence of the bass, while the live version makes more use of the violin, courtesy of multi-instrumentalist Donnie Herron, previously of BR-549.
Rhymes: this/exist (“My Wife’s Hometown”); forevermore/door (“Forgetful Heart”); spark/dark (“Jolene”); stuff/rough (“Shake, Shake Mama”); east/priest; James Joyce/voice (“I Feel A Change Comin’ On”)
Images: “boulevards of broken cars” (“Beyond Here Lies Nothin’”); “your gun-belt tight;” “a restless fever burnin’ in my brain” (“If You Ever Go To Houston”); “a curtained gloom” (“This Dream of You”); “cop cars blinking” (“It’s All Good”)
Axioms: “hell’s my wife’s hometown” (“My Wife’s Hometown”); “if you want to live easy, baby pack your clothes with mine;” “dreams never did work for me anyway, even when they did come true;” “I got the blood of the land in my voice” (“I Feel a Change Comin’ On”); “a teacup of water is enough to drown” (“It’s All Good”)