Monday, March 16, 2009

Dylan - Together Through Life

Despite waking up and putting on my Marathon Dylan playlist (the master's longest album songs, eight of them, which clock in at nearly 90 minutes), I don't think I can really claim to have any real credit for conjuring the news that his new album now has a name, a face and a release date.

Together Through Life comes out April 28, and it's another "Jack Frost" production, extending this unbelievably strong late-career period for Dylan.

I don't think its any surprise or coincidence that this is his fourth straight album cover to feature black & white photography. The music sort of sounds black & white, with all the throwback Americana that implies. There's certainly nobody else around these days who's making records that sound like this 21st Century Bob Dylan.

In a conversation with Bill Flanagan that's posted online today, Bob talks about his love of old Chess and Sun records. It's not as memorable as the "thin, wild mercury" quote Bob gave about Blonde on Blonde, but I love his description of the sound of the old rock, country and R&B records that sort of inspired and encouraged him on this new one:
I like the mood of those records - the intensity. The sound is uncluttered. There’s power and suspense. The whole vibration feels like it could be coming from inside your mind. It’s alive. It’s right there. Kind of sticks in your head like a toothache.
The Dylan-as-chameleon notion has always been an interesting one in my mind. He's had so many twists and turns in his career, with so much excellent music at every phase, that he's left more entry places than any other musician. The variety is only exceeded by his consistency.

I can remember how thrilled I was when Time Out Of Mind came out, and how much it meant for me personally to have a Dylan classic for my listening era, my fandom. And this new one I'm sure will make four classic albums.

Dylan himself covers some of this same ground, recognizing that each album must necessarily continut to push the envelope, and that his fans stopped coming at him from any one main direction a long time ago:
I think we milked it all we could on that last record and then some. We squeezed the cow dry. All the Modern Times songs were written and performed in the widest range possible so they had a little bit of everything. These new songs have more of a romantic edge.
How so?
These songs don’t need to cover the same ground. The songs on Modern Times brought my repertoire up to date, and the light was directed in a certain way. You have to have somebody in mind as an audience otherwise there’s no point.

What do you mean by that?
There didn’t seem to be any general consensus among my listeners. Some people preferred my first period songs. Some, the second. Some, the Christian period. Some, the post Colombian. Some, the Pre-Raphaelite. Some people prefer my songs from the nineties. I see that my audience now doesn’t particular care what period the songs are from. They feel style and substance in a more visceral way and let it go at that. Images don’t hang anybody up. Like if there’s an astrologer with a criminal record in one of my songs it’s not going to make anybody wonder if the human race is doomed. Images are taken at face value and it kind of freed me up.
So Dylan keeps going, and his fans keep following. When I was 18, Time Out Of Mind became the first Dylan classic for my era, and Together Through Life will be the first Dylan album of my 30s. And, I suppose, so it goes.

Bob Dylan - Lily, Rosemary & the Jack of Hearts (outtake)

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