David Gahr
Clark Collis
April 28, 2009 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Together Through Life

Current Status
In Season
Bob Dylan

We gave it an B-

Should you ever start a band that performs only Bob Dylan’s songs about death, you’d have no shortage of ?material. But the sound of scythe-sharpening is particularly loud on this follow-up to 2006’s majestic Modern Times. On ”Life Is Hard” and ”Forgetful Heart,” Dylan sings from the perspective of someone biding his time before the embrace of the grave. Elsewhere, he tells of murders either threatened or just escaped, as on ”If You Ever Go to Houston” and ”My Wife’s Home Town.”

While Dylan’s grim-reaper ruminations are familiar territory, Together Through Life does offer some surprises. Produced, like his last two albums, by Dylan ?alter ego ”Jack Frost,” it prominently features south-of-the-border-style accordion (courtesy of Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo) throughout, which handsomely frames the guitar playing of Tom Petty sideman Mike Campbell. Then there are the lyrics. All but one of these 10 songs were co-written by longtime Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. Alas, the pair have come up with some desperately uninspired stuff, such as the ”fun”-and-”sun”-rhyming blues of ”Shake Shake Mama,” or ”Jolene,” another unmemorable boogie shuffle (unlikely to be confused with the iconic Dolly Parton tune).

Even so, Life does feature some quality material. On the truly touching ”Forgetful Heart,” Dylan croaks about the door having closed on his emotions, ”if indeed there ever was a door.” And the set is nicely bookended by the funky ”Beyond Here Lies Nothin’?” and the rockabilly-inclined ”It’s All Good,” which Dylan performs with gleeful sarcasm. Unlike with his last few albums, however, you shouldn’t consider buying this a matter of life and death. B?

Download This: Listen to the song ”Beyond Here Lies Nothin”’ on the artist’s MySpace

See all current music reviews from EW

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