Album: Bob Dylan, Together Through Life (Columbia)

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The Independent Culture

In a recent interview on his website, Bob Dylan expresses his enduring love for the sound of old records on the Sun and Chess labels, from the roots of rock'n'roll and urban blues.

It's all about mood and intensity, he believes: "The sound is uncluttered. There's power and suspense. The whole vibration feels like it could be coming from inside your mind." Small wonder, then, that for Together Through Life, he returns to the fruitful well of the blues that has stood him in such good stead over the years, and particularly through the last decade. This time, though, it's not wielded in the slick, focused, well-thought-out style that characterised Modern Times, but more in the impromptu manner he so admires in those Chess records, and which characterises his approach to live performance.

Accordingly, the ghosts of the great Chicago bluesmen haunt these song structures, whether it's the updated, itchy echoes of Muddy Waters in "Shake Shake Mama" and "It's All Good", the rolling R&B flavour of Otis Rush's "Homework" ingeniously trussed up with horns and accordion in "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'", or the enervated adaptation of Willie Dixon's "I Just Want To Make Love To You" that furnishes the undercarriage to "My Wife's Home Town". But these are no mere exercises in pastiche, a fact that becomes clear through the almost constant presence of David Hidalgo's accordion, which seeps into the blues songs like an emotional stain, its fluttering tones leavening the bitterness of "My Wife's Home Town" and lightening the dark heart of "Forgetful Heart", a haunted return to "Love Sick" territory which finds the singer once again at the end of his tether: "We loved with all the love that life can give/What can I say? Without you it's so hard to live".

The same sentiment recurs in "Life Is Hard", where "from day to barren day, my hopes just rot away". Commissioned to accompany a film by Oliver Dahan, it proves an incongruent trigger for such a bluesy album, its lap steel and mandolin carrying one of Dylan's most uncomfortably pitched croons. More amenable is the lovely "I Feel a Change Comin' On", a wedding song of balmy contentment which nevertheless contains some of the album's oddest non sequiturs, such as: "Some people they tell me I got the blood of the lamb in my voice".

Together Through Life, then, features Dylan in fairly relaxed, spontaneous mood, content to grab such grooves and sentiments as flit momentarily across his radar. So while it may not contain too many landmark tracks, it's one of the most naturally enjoyable albums you'll hear all year.

Download this: "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'", "It's All Good", "I Feel a Change Comin' On", "Forgetful Heart", "My Wife's Home Town"