Last year Bob Dylan was awarded a special Pulitzer Prize for his “profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.”
The only surprise was that it took the Pulitzer people so long to recognise music's most studied lyricist. But even those as adept with verse need help. And on this, his 33rd studio album, Dylan shares songwriting duties on all but one song with the poet Robert Hunter, perhaps best known as the ‘non-performing' member of the Grateful Dead.
A sign of the creative juices running dry or a clever collaboration? It's probably a bit of both.
The starting point was Life Is Hard — now one of the album's high points, but which started out as a stand-alone composition written on request for French film director Oliver Dahan. It is set to appear in the soundtrack for Dahan's forthcoming film, My Own Love Song.
Dylan apparently adored Dahan's previous film, the Edith Piaf biopic, La Vie En Rose, and suitably moved by its bittersweet story, intended Together Through Life to be his “romantic album”.
Opening song, the upbeat vaudevillian Beyond Here Lies Nothing, finds Dylan in contemplative mood: “I don't know what I'd do without her.” It's just one of the tender quotes that pepper the album. This Dream of You — a shimmery, summer night waltzing tune — is as soft-focus as Dylan gets.
For the most part, his band, with David Hidalgo of Los Lobos particularly impressive, provide a teasing jazz-blues soundtrack.
The music is firmly within Dylan's comfort zone, but with that voice “of sand and glue” — as David Bowie so memorably opined — as rich as ever, it hardly seems to matter.
Burn it: Life is Hard; This Dream of You