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.

BnL Live at the Klein, November 2010 – The Weekend Review

Originally posted 2010-11-21 12:24:32. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

See the Set List HERE.

On the heels of my previous BnL concert review, posted little more than three months ago, there isn’t much more that needs to be said, other than to underscore several assertions concerning the Barenaked Ladies.

First, it really can never be too soon to see them play live again.  After seeing them in August with decent seats and having had an outstandingly fun time, I almost considered letting this second New England tour stopover pass me by.

Almost.

Being fortunate enough to live in an area that is located in, as a friend recently referred to it, the “Barenaked Belt,” it simply doesn’t make sense to not take advantage of it.  And, this time around, the venue was considerably smaller – Mohegan Sun Arena being 9500 capacity, and the Klein Auditorium being only 1400.  We sat front row balcony, or “mezzanine” as the theatre people say, and got some performances that probably wouldn’t find their way into a stadium set, songs like the rarely played “Moonstone” and “Tonight is the Night I Fell Asleep at the Wheel.”

A second assertion, and perhaps the main thrust of my August review, is that BnL is every bit as good as they were when Steven Page was in the band.  This is surprising, as he is such a unique talent and a man who brings considerable stage presence and energy to the live shows.

And, for the record, let’s be clear that I would love to see the five-man band reunited at some point down the road.

But, for now, the four-piece Barenaked Ladies are still a force to be reckoned with, and they have apparently decided that no catalog item is off limits, regardless of how much of a “Steven” song it is/was.  Take, for example, the fairly standard middle of their order, a veritable greatest hits of Steven Page tracks: “Sound of Your Voice,” “It’s All Been Done,” “Too Little Too Late,” and “Brian Wilson,” all topped off with the not-so-subtle “You Run Away.”

A third assertion is one that struck me early in the set last night: the Barenaked Ladies are the rare group of men that have gotten cooler as the years pass.  One needs only to compare their image and sound from the excellent and not-to-be-slighted Gordon era with their current stage show in order to appreciate just how cool they’ve become without losing too many fans to claims of selling out.

They have such a vast array of music, and to a certain degree, they allow for it in their set lists.  Although there are certain songs that you can reasonably expect (and in certain orders), there is room for adlibs and unexpected deep tracks, songs like those mentioned above.  Even songs that have been played about ten thousand times over their career, like “One Week,” have taken on a fresh appeal.  With Kevin Hearn singing the Page parts of “One Week” last night, I think they’ve finally perfected their recent live arrangement of this, their best-known composition.  Likewise, Tyler Stewart and Jim Creeggan have stepped up their game, Stewart bringing down the house with his reinvigorated, Jack Black-esque approach to “Alcohol” and Creeggan with his on-stage gesticulations, ear-to-ear grin, and acceptance of the spotlight for tracks like “On the Lookout” and “Peterborough and the Kawarthas.”

Finally, as if it needs to be said, Ed Robertson is a force unto himself.  His white man rapping helped to establish the band’s public image, and he is ever willing to put himself out there for a laugh.

When I choose the words “put himself out there,” I mean that literally.

Last night, as a tribute to their excellent opening act Jukebox the Ghost’s final night on tour, Robertson emerged from backstage with only a towel on.  Then, positioning himself between keyboardist/lead vocalist Ben Thornewill and the audience, he opened his towel so only Thornewill could see him and proceeded to dance to the music.  He moved around the stage and repeated this process for the other two band members.  Meanwhile, the crowd was laughing and clapping and screaming, and guitarist Tommy Siegel laughed his way through his vocals.

As Thornewill pointed out after the song, he could only see Robertson in his peripheral vision at first.  When he reached his hand out to pretend to tickle him, he found that Robertson was indeed wearing only a towel.

Never let it be said that the “Barenaked” part of their band name hasn’t been earned.

Forgive me for getting up on my soapbox yet again, but BnL continues to be one of the most underappreciated rock music acts of the modern age.  If you or someone you know hears “Barenaked Ladies” and instantly thinks “goofy,” “funny,” “If I Had $1,000,000,” and/or “One Week,” then check bnlmusic.com for a tour date in your area.  One show and you’ll be hooked.  Guaranteed.

I’ve been a fan now for over a decade, and they continue to recapture my interest and adoration each and every time I see them live.

As I climb off my soapbox, I bid you good day and hope this review might at least inspire a spin of Maroon or Stunt.  Or Gordon.  Or Maybe You Should Drive.  Or Everything to Everyone.  Or…

Well, you get the idea.

Barenaked Ladies SET LIST – 8/06/2010 at Mohegan Sun, Uncasville, CT

Originally posted 2010-08-07 12:03:57. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Click HERE to read the review!

1)  “Who Needs Sleep?”
2)  “Old Apartment”
3)  “Falling for the First Time”
4)  Improv 1 – “At Mohegan Sun” rap / “Something Tells Me I’m Into Something Good”
5)  “Every Subway Car” (with Angel Taylor)
6)  “Told You So”
7)  “Easy”
8)  “Eraser”
9)  “Another Heartbreak”
10) “On the Lookout”
11) “Sound of Your Voice” (acoustic)
12) “It’s All Been Done”
13) “Too Little Too Late”
14) “Golden Boy”
15) “You Run Away”
16) “Four Seconds”
17) “Big Bang Theory Theme”
18) “One Week”
19) “Pinch Me”
20) “If I Had $1000000”
21) Improv 2 – “Oh, It’s Magic, You Know” / rap / dance number

22) “Alcohol”
23) “Watching the Northern Lights”
24) “Brian Wilson”

Ben Folds: LIVE IN CONCERT – The Shubert Theater, New Haven, CT (March 28, 2009) – REVIEW

Originally posted 2011-01-17 10:00:42. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Jim Fusco:

We now deviate from our regularly scheduled program…

In an unprecedented move, the Laptop Sessions acoustic cover songs music video blog brings you TWO concert reviews in one weekend!  Tonight, I’ll review last night’s Ben Folds concert at the Shubert Theater in New Haven, CT.

There’s so much to say about this concert- really unlike any other Ben Folds experience I’ve had.  For one, he played the entire show (with the exception of a couple of songs in the middle) with a band- something I really haven’t seen before.  Those who know my musical tastes know that having Ben play with a band (rather than just doing the whole show by himself) is definitely preferable.  The songs sounded just like the originals, with the drummer and bassist singing the harmony parts on all the old Ben Folds Five numbers.  There was also another multi-instrumentalist / percussionist and another person I couldn’t see from my vantage point that played keyboards and French horn.

My fiancee and I had a nice night out on the town- the Shubert Theater is in the heart of the city.  And even though the surrounding area is a little…well, not so perfect…the inside of the theater was very nice.  We had GREAT seats, which is funny, because I bought them no more than four days ago online.  We sat in the eighth row on the floor, off to the side a bit.  The tickets were a lean $34.50, plus a TON of taxes and fees that brought them over $45 a piece.

Now, the show Ben Folds put on was great, but getting there wasn’t so much.  He had an opening act- God help me if I could remember the name.  They were okay- kinda quirky and VERY Ben Folds Five-ish.  The problem was that the songs were kind of middle of the road and, more than anything, the songs were WAY too “deep” for an opening act.  I even noted that a couple of the songs had similar lyrics, meaning that the songs came from an album that had a deeper meaning and were meant as part of a bigger picture.  Again, it didn’t really fit well with “opening act”.

They started at about 8:30.  After their set, we waited for about twenty minutes or so, then it was time…

For ANOTHER act to come on first!

This time, it was the “only rock/pop a capella group at Yale” and now I know why.  They were TERRIBLE.  I was embarassed the whole time.  No one there had a good singing voice- the girl they picked to sing the second song of three (who was CLEARLY picked because she was the least “brainiac” looking of them all) couldn’t carry a tune if it was strapped to her back.  They sang two songs no one in the audience never heard of before (complete with two tall Asian guys beat-boxing) and then finished up with a slightly-entertaining version of Ben Folds Five’s “Underground”.  The problem with their version was that no one’s voice was strong enough to really make it sound like the original was sung (the two girls they had singing the chorus were barely audible from the eighth row) and the guy singing lead was annunciating every single word!  It’s not, “And now it has been ten years, I am still won-der-ing who to be.”  You had to be there to get how funny it was, but believe me, it was like a comedy routine.

That was followed by an announcement saying that Ben was coming out with a new album (!!!)…only to get let down by the fact that it’s an album of performances by a capella college groups! Ugh, talk about an album I’ll miss.  I’m almost absolutely certain that this will end up on Chris’ TV stand in the near future, though.

After that act was done…we waited.  And waited.  And waited some more.

Finally, about 9:30 or so, Ben came out on the stage with his band.  The band didn’t really seem into the music all that much, but it’s probably because they were trying to act cool.  Ben was his usual lively self- kicking the piano bench away and singing better than I’ve ever heard him.

He played an interesting set anchored by tracks off his past two albums, “Way to Normal” and “Songs for Silverman”.  He played songs like “Effington”, “Dr. Yang”, and “Free Coffee”, which are NOT some of my favorites.  Although, I do have more respect for “Free Coffee” now because that terrible sound on the piano is actually made by putting empty Altoids boxes on the strings and adding a distortion pedal.  These songs sounded exactly like the recordings.

He also played some better ones from “Way To Normal”, including “Hiroshima” and “Brainwascht”.

His “Songs for Silverman” list included “Bastard”, “Jesusland”, “Sentimental Guy”, and “Landed”.

One thing I noticed about this show was the pre-determined setlist.  He really had it down, like a regular concert.  There was no wasting time after he got on- each song ended, then the next one began about five seconds later, with no introduction.  I mean, he talked enough, though- made a few jokes, had the audience sining (hilariously, at points) on my favorite song, “Not the Same” and “Army”, and seemed very happy.

He looked good, too- not all crazy-haired and everything.  He looked happy and healthy, which is good to see.  His show was an hour and a half, but the encore was only one song (a great one in “Fair”, especially with the band) because he said they ran out of time.  I think the delay from starting the concert may have been from him “dueling pianos” with someone at Toad’s Place in New Haven, which he mentioned a couple times during the show.  I think he came back to the Shubert late!  He had to get a Band-Aid for his finger after playing the piano so hard at Toad’s.  Both Ben and the opening act commented on how great the sound at the Shubert was- said it was the best sound on the tour.  That theater is built for having great acoustics, so I can see why.

It was a great show and everyone left happy.  There were a lot of younger teens there, too, which is nice to see.  Everyone seemed to love the songs off of “Rockin’ the Suburbs” the most, seeing that it was a popular album.  In classic Dylan fashion, he didn’t play his most (and only) famous song, “Brick” or another crowd favorite, “One Angry Dwarf”.  He played a crazy alternate version of “The Bitch Went Nuts”- I never heard it before and the only similarity between the one he released on “Way To Normal” was the title line.  I kinda liked the song he played last night better.

I’ll definitely go see him again next go-around, and I hope he comes out with another album to add even more variety to the setlist.