Music Review: “Together Through Life” by Bob Dylan

Originally posted 2009-05-04 23:29:25. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

RATING:  3.5 / 5 stars

By Chris Moore:

For many avid music listeners, it feels as though Bob Dylan has indeed been together with us through life.

He started out simple in the sixties — just an acoustic guitar, harmonica, and his aged-before-its-time voice.  By the end of the decade, he had gone electric, gone back to acoustic, and gone to Nashville to aid in the popularization of country rock.

Before the seventies were out, he recorded covers, rediscovered rock, discovered female background singers, and found God.  The next two decades were hit and miss — although any true Dylan fan will tell you that even Knocked Out Loaded has its charms…

Since 1997, Dylan has released what many refer to as his comeback trilogy (Time Out of Mind, Love & Theft, and Modern Times), although he has cryptically referred to Love & Theft as the first in a trilogy.

Now, less than a year away from a new decade and one more than that from his 50th anniversary in the recording business, Dylan has released his most fun and accessible album in years.  “Together Through Life” may have the nostalgic sound and rusted, creaky voice that has been characteristic of Dylan’s recent work, but the subject matter and the tone of the songs is refreshingly light…

…for Dylan, that is.

Upon first glance, the title of the third track – “My Wife’s Home Town” – suggests a song of fond recollection about a spouse’s origins.  And yet that is not the case at all.  As Dylan repeats in the chorus, “I just want to say that hell is my wife’s home town…”

The song concludes with a chuckling sound from Dylan that is reminiscent of the gutteral laugh in Elvis Presley’s Christmas classic “Santa Claus is Back in Town.”  This song is a prime example of the alteration in tone on this most recent Dylan release.  As the cover would suggest, love is a recurring topic that is approached with directness and a sense of humor that wasn’t evident on Modern Times.

For many reasons, Modern Times is a technically superior album — lyrically, instrumentally, and in terms of overall progression.  That being said, Together Through Life is perhaps the most accessible of Dylan’s post-millenium recordings.  The songs are short — most are in the 3-4 minute range — and the album only gets better as you listen, track after track.

“Beyond Here Lies Nothin’,” the album starter, is a nice opening that lyrically toys with the listener, seeming at its face to be a song about a dedicated relationship.  Dylan sings, “As long as you stay with me, the whole world is my throne.”

“Beyond here lies nothin’,” he continues, “Nothin’ we can call our own.”

By the end of the song, you are left to wonder whether the narrator is staying in his relationship for love — the kind of love that reduces all outside elements to “nothin'” — or because there is simply nowhere else, nowhere better, to go.

The true highlights come during the second half of the album (side B, for those of you who purchased the vinyl edition).

“Jolene” fits firmly into my long list of favorite songs with a girl’s first name for a title — BnL’s “Maybe Katie,” the Beach Boys’ “Wendy,” and Fountains of Wayne’s “Hey Julie” to name a few.

Likewise, “Shake Shake Mama” is perhaps the most rockin’ number on the album, although it is a fairly standard blues progression.

Finally, “I Feel a Change Comin’ On” is the best song on the album.  Lyrically, instrumentally, and compositionally (a middle AND a solo!), this song has a catchy chorus and comes as a bit of a surprise as the ninth and penultimate track.

“Life is Hard” and “It’s All Good” act as bookends of sorts to the album as a whole, the former setting the theme early on and the latter bringing it all to a conclusion.  As is typical of the album, Dylan plants his tongue at least lightly in his cheek and turns a cliched phrase into the perfect chorus.

At the end of the day, Together Through Life will not be remembered as one of his best albums.  In a sense, though, it was never intended to be.  It came on quickly, surprising even me when its existence was announced a month before its release in Rolling Stone.  Apparently, Dylan hit upon inspiration after co-writing “Life is Hard” with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter for the Olivier Dahan film My Own Love Song.

Dylan’s spacing between album releases has been 4-5 years for as long as I can recall, and this one came a mere three years after its predecessor.

While the time between releases is a unexpectedly brief and the fact that he collaborated on all but one song (“This Dream of You”) is surprising, it was perhaps not a shock that Hunter is the collaborator.  After all, Dylan and the Dead have a longstanding relationship and mutual respect.  Truly, according to Dylan, his tour with the Dead in the eighties revitalized his passion for performing at a time when he was losing that particular spark.

Now, like an all-star pitcher who is starting on fewer days’ rest than usual, Dylan’s performance on Together Through Life may not be epic, but it is still amazing.

Reflections on Rock Music: How to Become a Songwriter…

Originally posted 2009-04-20 23:38:17. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

Regardless of which genre of rock music you listen to, chances are that you are a fan of songwriters.  As recently as the fifties and even into the sixties, it was considered par for the course to have the songwriting separated from the performance.  For instance, consider Lieber and Stoller’s contributions to Elvis Presley’s catalog.  Johnny Cash wrote some of his songs, but he certainly covered more than he wrote.  And this was an understandable system.

Somewhere along the line, the singer/songwriter became a closely watched and more appreciated commodity.

It really began in the sixties, predominantly with Dylan and the Beatles.  Both acts began by playing traditional music and covers before they started writing their own music.  Whatever it was, something struck them, and from that point forward, it only made sense to record their own material.  This most likely contributed to the legendary heights that sixties rock music reached.  Consider Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde, Dylan’s groundbreaking records that truly sounded like nothing that had come before.  Take Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the Beatles’ experimental and, in the case of the latter, concept albums that literally changed the texture of album making as we know it.

Meanwhile, don’t forget all the other singer/songwriters who emerged during that period and since.  Brian Wilson went so far in the mid-sixties as to stop touring and devote his attentions one hundred percent to songwriting and arranging lush, complicated — and, of course, beautiful — background tracks, perhaps best showcased on Pet Sounds and the finally-released SMiLE (the latter of which literally drove him crazy).

Since then, some of my personal favorite bands and individual artists have been, first and foremost, songwriters.  Take Warren Zevon’s unique brand of songwriting, particularly his dark humor and literary references.  Or R.E.M. and their contributions to the genre now known as “alternative rock,” wherein Michael Stipe purposely cut out electric guitar solos and — at least in the band’s early work — muffled the lyrics so that there was no single set of understood words for each song.  It was literally left up for interpretation.

Later acts have split off in a range of directions.  For instance, acts like Ben Folds, the Barenaked Ladies, and the Wallflowers have clearly taken their lead from classic sixties songwriters and then added their own unique lyrical and instrumental twists.  Other bands, such as Pearl Jam and Wilco (to name only a couple), continue to make music that stretches and redefines the boundaries that have previously been set for rock music and songwriting in general.  (This is a painfully short list of five contemporary bands that I love, but they are enough to provide fodder for conversation…)

So, based on this, how does one become a songwriter?

If you’ve always wanted to be a songwriter but were never sure how, or even if you’ve just been curious, then this list is for you…

1)  Rebel Against Something

This is a requisite coming-of-age process for all you prospective songwriters who hope to make it to the big time.  Whether you have grown up in suburbia or on the streets, there are always reasons to rebel.  For Bob Dylan, it was the dull realities of daily life in a dying mining town in Minnesota that caused him to see music as an escape.  He has described his exhilaration as he tuned his radio in to whatever distant stations he could pick up.  Others, such as Eddie Vedder, found music as a way to channel their emotional reactions to what they experienced and witnessed around them.  Vedder reflected on such experiences from young adulthood as abusive relationships, dysfunctional people, and secrets being kept from him.

2)  Show Your Distaste for Tradition and “The Man”

Once you’ve begun the process of rebelling (and perhaps even winning over the masses), it’s time to stick it to “the Man.”  The Beatles’ history epitomizes this development.  They certainly didn’t go from “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” to “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “Happiness is a Warm Gun” overnight, but one thing is certain: the more they rebelled, the more fans flocked to Beatlemania.  Bob Dylan brought a giant light bulb to a press conference, refused to communicate in a straightforward manner with any member of the press, and plugged in — full volume — at the Newport Folk Festival.  The Moody Blues promised they would record a classical album, then turned around and used the studio time alotted to them to record their own original material for Days of Future Passed.  Pearl Jam fought the good fight against the “convenience charges” implimented by Ticketmaster, and Eddie Vedder, after a fan threw a copy of Rolling Stone onstage during a concert, wiped his butt with the magazine, explaining to the crowd that RS printed a cover photo of him without the other members of his band in the shot.  When Trent Reznor tired of record label interference and corporate nonsense, the Nine Inch Nails frontman began releasing his music online — including his 2008 album The Slip — for free.

And the list goes on…

Perhaps the best example of the importance of this step in the successful songwriter’s career is found in the Beach Boys’ decision not to play at the 1967 Monterey International Pop Festival.  For the late 1960s and well into the 1970s, they were labeled as “them” instead of “us” by many music fans.  It is arguable that the Beach Boys’ clean cut image that skyrocketed them to success in the early sixties ultimately led to the band’s decline in popularity.  Ah, the irony…

3)  Go Through Rehab

This sounds like a terrible and heartless suggestion to make to you.  Yet, while there are some artists who have not gone through rehab, there are indeed many great musicians and songwriters who have had to face their addictions and other demons at some point in their careers.  Recently, Jeff Tweedy underwent rehabilitation to deal with an addiction to painkillers.  He, like many other artists in the past, was asked what the effect would be on his music.  (I was delighted with his reply — essentially, he said he was feeling better than ever and that his state of mind can only have a positive effect on Wilco’s music.)

Dylan’s 1966 motorcycle crash was asserted by many to be his way of stepping back from the spotlight after a wild tour overseas where he was known to take downers before the acoustic half of his show and then take uppers during the intermission before coming out with the Band.  He was quickly setting a precedent that no individual could survive.  Brian Wilson, of course, withdrew from music and life in general for decades after failing to release SMiLE; it is apparent to anyone who has seen him recently that he still battles with those personal demons.

If not rehab, then every songwriter certainly needs to undergo a period of reflection after a fall from grace.  Take the case of the Barenaked Ladies’ Steven Page, who recently left the band in the aftermath of his cocaine bust.  To read many so-called fans’ scathing rants against him online, you would think you had stepped back into Puritan times.

(Still, I can imagine that he will only be stronger for the experience, and I can’t wait to hear what his next album will be like…)

4)  Have a Family Period

As a songwriter, you may lead the life of a rock star for a matter of years, but eventually everyone has to bring it all back home.  This is the point at which you must find a wife, have one or more kids, and attempt (probably unsuccessfully) to live an ordinary, anonymous life for a while.  The most notable example of this truth is Paul McCartney whose utter failure to accomplish domestic normalcy has been given a name.  It’s called Wings, his band for much of the seventies.  The lineup, much to the chagrin of his earlier fans,  included his wife, Linda.  The lyrical content was often nonsensical enough to make even the most gullible, innocent three year old ask, “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”  And yet this is a rite of passage for all music fans, as well.  We’ve all gone through a Wings phase.  Go on, you can admit it…

The Barenaked Ladies have been in a family phase for years, evidenced most recently by the masterful Snacktime.  Ben Folds briefly indulged in the “normalcy” of family life, recording such simple, touching songs as “Gracie,” but his 2008 album Way to Normal strongly suggests that he’ll be a bachelor for some time to come.  Dylan’s so-called family period lasted from the aforementioned motorcycle crash until about 1974 when he apparently got the itch to tour and record music again.  As he sings in the Planet Waves deep track “Something There Is About You,” “I can say that I’ll be faithful.  I can say it in one sweet, easy breath.  But to you that would be cruelty, and to me, it surely would be death.”

Pretty much speaks for itself…

5)  Um… Continue to Write Songs!

So, after all these steps, phases, and experiences, what’s a songwriter to do?

Continue to write songs, of course!

At this point, you can pretty much choose career paths from a plethora of options.  For instance, you could “find religion” and record a series of records devoted to expressing your spirituality.  You could get more personal and vulnerable by going acoustic for an album, or for that matter, turn to harder rock and roll to showcase your newfound rage over a breakup.  Why not record music for a different genre?  (I would recommend country music, as that seems to be the going trend these days.)  Oh, and don’t forget to release an album exclusively through Wal-Mart, although that’s probably best reserved for a planned reunion or comeback album.  In the meantime, you can always record four non-album tracks per release and split them up, offering one exclusively at iTunes, Target, Best Buy, and Wal-Mart respectively.  It may seem like you’re screwing the fans at the time, but don’t worry; you’ll eventually release a rarities CD that will contain all the non-album tracks.  Put your heart into those non-album tracks now, as there’s nothing more disappointing — and perhaps more predictable — than a sub-par rarities compilation.  Consider it an investment in the future… a future in which you may be writing songs more slowly than ever and yet still be in need of a record to satisfy your contract.

If none of that works, you can take a break from writing for a while to work on covers.  Record a traditional album?  Contribute to a compilation of covers for a famous artist?  Join a supergroup?

The opportunities and options are endless…

Whatever you do, don’t stop caring about what you’re writing and recording, because you’ll always have a fanbase out there that will buy whatever you put out, be it a masterpiece or a recording unworthy of serving even as a paperweight.

So, good luck, and we’re all counting on you!

“Here Comes Santa Claus” by Gene Autry & Oakley Haldeman – Chords, Tabs, and How to Play

Originally posted 2009-12-19 12:30:15. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

“Here Comes Santa Claus”
Gene Autry & Oakley Haldeman

F
Here comes Santa Claus!
Here comes Santa Claus,
C7
Right down Santa Claus Lane!
Vixen and Blitzen and all his reindeer are
F
pulling on the reins.
Bb                       F
Bells are ringing, children singing;
Gm7                  F
All is merry and bright.
Bb                                     D7
Hang your stockings, and say your prayers,
D7        C7                              F
‘Cause Santa Claus comes tonight.

Here comes Santa Claus!
Here comes Santa Claus,
Right down Santa Claus Lane!
He’s got a bag that is filled with toys for the
boys and girls again.
Hear those sleigh bells jingle jangle,
What a beautiful sight.
Jump in bed, cover up your head,
‘Cause Santa Claus comes tonight.

Here comes Santa Claus!
Here comes Santa Claus,
Right down Santa Claus Lane!
He doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, for he
Loves you just the same.
Santa knows that we’re God’s children,
That makes everything right.
Fill your hearts with Christmas cheer,
‘Cause Santa Claus comes tonight.

Here comes Santa Claus!
Here comes Santa Claus,
Right down Santa Claus Lane!
He’ll come around when the chimes ring out; it’s
Christmas morn’ again.
Peace on Earth will come to all if
We just follow the light…
Let’s give thanks to the Lord above,
‘Cause Santa Claus comes tonight.

** These chords and lyrics are interpretations and transcriptions, respectively, and are the sole property of the copyright holder(s). They are posted on this website free of charge for no profit for the purpose of study and commentary, as allowed for under the “fair use” provision of U.S. copyright law, and should only be used for such personal and/or academic work. **

“Beyond Here Lies Nothin'” by Bob Dylan – Chords, Tabs, and How to Play (Lyrics from “Together Through Life”)

Originally posted 2009-03-30 06:33:41. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

For the cover song music video, CLICK HERE!

” Beyond Here Lies Nothin’ ”
Bob Dylan

Am – Am – Dm – Am – E – Am

Am
Oh, well, I love you pretty baby;
You’re the only love I’ve ever known.
Am                                  Dm
Just as long as you stay with me,
Dm                               Am
The whole world is my throne.

Am                      E
Beyond here lies nothin’…
E                                      Am
Nothin’ we can call our own.

Well I’m moving after midnight
Down boulevards of broken cars.
Don’t know what I’d do without her,
Without this love that we call ours.

Beyond here lies nothin’…
Nothing but the moon and stars.

(SOLO)

Down every street there’s a window,
And every window’s made of glass.
We’ll keep on lovin’ pretty baby,
For as long as love will last.

Beyond here lies nothin’…
But the mountains of the past.

(SOLO) x2

Well my ship is in harbor,
And the sails are spread.
Listen to me, pretty baby:
Lay your hand upon my head.

Beyond here lies nothin’…
Nothin’ done and nothin’ said.

Am

** These chords and lyrics are interpretations and transcriptions, respectively, and are the sole property of the copyright holder(s). They are posted on this website free of charge for no profit for the purpose of study and commentary, as allowed for under the “fair use” provision of U.S. copyright law, and should only be used for such personal and/or academic work. **