One of the things I enjoy least about Bright Eyes are the Conor Oberst devotees who say things that don’t make any sense, calling him “the voice of a generation” and “the next Bob Dylan.” I could write a doctoral dissertation on how both these assertions are wrong, but instead I will spare Oberst (who I enjoy) and argue that we don’t even need a new Dylan, because the one we have still works just fine, thank you.

It's alright, Ma, it's only aging

On April 28, 2009, Dylan released Together Through Life, a collection of 10 bluesy songs cowritten with The Grateful Dead’s Rob Hunter. The album is sonically a trip down memory lane; the songs drift breezily through 1950’s blues and rock ‘n’ roll, all framed by David Hidalgo’s romantic accordion playing. “Romantic” is kind of a cop-out adjective, but it’s the perfect word not just for the accordion but for the album itself: it is decidedly lighter, both musically and lyrically, than 2006’s Modern Times, and it only further proves that Bob Dylan can still fulfill the role of Bob Dylan like only Bob Dylan could. He foregoes the meditations that have peppered his last three studio albums, instead opting for a more lively, carefree approach both to living and songwriting. The lyrics are a far cry from the surrealism that characterized the best of Dylan’s past work, and are even further removed from his iconic “finger-pointing” songs. Dylan seems to have embraced not only the political world in which he lives, but also the fact that it isn’t the politics that are important. In “It’s All Good,” he smokily croons, “Big politician telling lies/Restaurant kitchen, all full of flies/Don’t make a bit of difference, don’t see why it should,” a sentiment that back in the day would have made Greenwich Village folksters even angrier than electric guitars.

It is this sentiment that makes this album so excellent, and why it has landed itself a spot on my list of the top ten albums of 2009. Instead of speaking for anyone, Dylan once again speaks for himself. He revels in the fact that he is still alive but is sneakily mournful, never once forgetting that he’s old and getting older. If anyone else had written “I’m lost in the crowd/all my tears are gone,” it wouldn’t be as significant as it is coming from an old man whose last decade was characterized by the duende of having to accept mortality. He’s done with being sorrowful; this album is a testament to that. He finishes the stanza: “All I have and all I know/Is this dream of you/Which keeps me living on,” which is exactly what we all need to hear. Here is a man whose well of sadness has dried up, someone who no longer is king of the world and who no longer has the ability to galvanize throngs of adoring fans, bitter former fans, and bemused music journalists. Even though he’s lived a long, exhausting, difficult life, Dylan’s still got his priorities straight. This is an album about love, an album by a man who clearly understands all of our most intimate issues, problems, gripes, and pains, and who still says, “it’s all good” when you have love. Is the album perfect? No. But if it were, it wouldn’t be as charmingly Bob, as devilishly Dylan, as it is.

Score: 7/10

-David

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