Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

The Chieftains: SAN PATRICIO – meeting of Irish and Mexican music / encuentro entre música irlandesa y mexicana

I draw your attention to the remarkable new album by the veteran Irish folk group the Chieftains, SAN PATRICIO (Blackrock Records, 2010, HRM-31321-02; This group, who earlier entered into dialogue with Galician music in their 1996 album SANTIAGO, now turn their attention to Mexico and revive a forgotten chapter of history linking Ireland and Mexico. During  the war between the US and Mexico of 1846-1848, a group of Irish soldiers switched sides, going over to become part of the Mexican struggle against the invader, as the Batallón de San Patricio (St Patrick’s Battalion). The US won the war and the Irish ‘deserters’ were captured, cruelly punished and in many cases executed. Their memory is now revived through the Chieftains’ music-making, reaching out across cultural barriers. The album – co-credited to Ry Cooder, the US guitarist famous for his work with the Cuban musicians of Buena Vista Social Club – features another celebrated US artist, Linda Ronstadt, today a major promoter of mariachi (see article on this blog for 24 September 2008), as well as a host of Mexican musicians including Los Tigres del Norte, Los Camperos de Valles, Lila Downs, the Veracruz harp player La Negra Graciana, and the 92-year old Chavela Vargas. The musical fusion is stunning, and I cannot recommend this album highly enough!


Llamo a vuestra atención el fenomenal álbum, recién salido, del veterano grupo de música folk irlandesa, los Chieftains, bajo el título SAN PATRICIO (Blackrock Records, 2010, HRM-31321-02; Este grupo, que ya dialogó con la música de Galicia en su obra de 1996, SANTIAGO, ahora dirige su mirada hacia México para revitalizar un capítulo olvidado de la Historia que une a Irlanda con México. Durante la guerra de 1846-1848 entre EE UU y México, un grupo de soldados irlandeses decidió cambiar de bando y hacerse parte de la lucha mexicana contra el invasor, bajo el nombre del Batallón de San Patricio. Ganó la guerra el lado estadounidense, y los ‘desertores’ irlandeses fueron capturados y cruelmente castigados, siendo mucho de ellos ejecutados. Su memoria se rescata ahora a través de la música de los Chieftains, más allá de las barreras culturales. El álbum – firmado conjuntamente con Ry Cooder, el guitarrista norteamericano conocido por su colaboración con los músicos cubanos de Buena Vista Social Club – tiene la participación de otra célebre artista de EE UU, Linda Ronstadt (hoy día embajadora de la música mariachi – véase entrada en este bitácora del 24-IX-2008), así como de toda una pléyada de músicos mexicanos, entre ellos Los Tigres del Norte, Los Camperos de Valles, Lila Downs, la arpista veracruzana La Negra Graciana, y (a sus 92 años) Chavela Vargas. La fusión de músicas es abrumadora, y difícilmente sabría yo brindarle a este álbum todas las alabanzas que merece.



An official course on Bob Dylan, entitled “Bob Dylan, el poeta del rock and roll”, is under way at the University of Seville, Spain. Details may be found in an article by Neftali Caballero in “El Correo de Andalucía”, 21 February 2010, ‘130 alumnos de la Hispalense se matriculan en una asignatura sobre Bob Dylan’ (‘130 Seville students register on a course on Bob Dylan’):


and on the university’s website:


(programme: )


The course organiser is Mario Ernesto Ríos, a student at the university’s law faculty, and 130 students have enrolled. It is actually the second such course to be held in Seville, building on the success of an initial event last year. The programme comprises 15 lectures, from 23 February to 29 April 2010, by Spanish Dylan experts, including the novelist Benjamín Prado and the veteran rock journalist Jesús Ordovás. This course follows on from similar events held in the last couple of years in Peru and Bolivia (see entries on this blog for 26 Sept 2007 and 9 July 2009), and further consecrates Dylan’s academic status in the Hispanic world.




Un seminario de carácter oficial dedicado a Bob Dylan, bajo el título “Bob Dylan, el poeta del rock and roll”, está en curso en la Universidad de Sevilla (España). Se puede hallar información detallada al respecto en un artículo de Neftali Caballero en “El Correo de Andalucía”, 21 de febrero de 2010, ‘130 alumnos de la Hispalense se matriculan en una asignatura sobre Bob Dylan’:


y en el sitio web de la Universidad:


(programa: )


Organiza el curso Mario Ernesto Ríos, alumno de la Facultad de Derecho sevillana; se han matriculado 130 universitarios. En realidad se trata del segundo ciclo dylaniano que se celebra en esa universidad, ya que un primer ciclo, menos ambicioso, fue montado el año pasado. El programa se compone de 15 conferencias, del 23-II al 29-IV-2010, dictadas por destacados dylanianos hispanos, entre ellos el novelista Benjamín Prado y el veterano periodista rock Jesús Ordovás. Este curso sigue en la línea de eventos semejantes que tuvieron lugar en el último par de años en Perú y Bolivia (véase en esta bitácora: entradas para 26-IX-2007 y 9-VII-2009), y marca un paso más en la consagración del estatuto académico de Dylan en el mundo hispanohablante.




I have been asked by several people for my take on Bob Dylan’s new album CHRISTMAS IN THE HEART (cf. post on this blog, 26 Aug 09), and I have to admit that complying is no easy task. However, here, for what they are worth, are my decidedly non-expert seasonal comments! (also posted on the Bob Dylan Critical Corner site at:


I have been assisted in reaching a few conclusions by a number of sources: the “Dylan Christmas interview” which has been widely syndicated on the Web; the multi-author symposium on the album, with contributions from Toby Thompson, Sean Wilentz, Todd Harvey, and others, published in THE BRIDGE, No 35, Winter 2009, pp. 45-81; Michael Gray’s review on his blog; and some comparative listening to similar Yuletide material by Dean Martin, Nat King Cole and Elvis Presley. So from one or other of these sources I know that 13 of the album’s 15 tracks were recorded by Bing Crosby (thanks, Sean); that Elvis did ‘Here Comes Santa Claus’, Dean did ‘Winter Wonderland’ and Nat did ‘The Christmas Song’; that ‘Must be Santa’ is a polka; and that Dylan doesn’t know whether Christmas Island exists (it does; it’s an Australian dependency in the Indian Ocean).


The question I have been repeatedly asked is: what is the point of this album?, and to that we can add: what is it doing in the canon? My first reaction is to take it as some kind of freak or sport, only very tenuously connected to anything he’s done before, and in all probability to anything he’ll do in the future. Attempts to link it to earlier Dylan albums don’t seem to get too far. It connects back to, if I mistake not, a mere two original songs in the canon that mention Christmas, ‘Three Angels’ from NEW MORNING and ‘Floater (Too Much To Ask)’ from “LOVE AND THEFT”.  It contains not a single Dylan composition and thus aligns itself with GOOD AS I BEEN TO YOU and WORLD GONE WRONG, but those are acoustic albums containing mostly folk and blues material, not retro pop songs. Insofar as Christmas is a Christian theme, it connects to the SLOW TRAIN COMING – SAVED – SHOT OF LOVE trilogy, but it has no evangelical pretensions and the music isn’t gospel. The retro arrangements hark back to elements on the last three albums of originals, but this is an album of covers. The revenues will go to charity and the album might be considered a (successfully achieved) commissioned job, which could link it to PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID, but, despite Pretty Boy Floyd and his gifting of Christmas fare for the families on relief, outlawdom and Santa don’t have that much in common.


An album replete with 15 cover versions will certainly give Derek Barker some homework for any future new edition of his encyclopaedic THE SONGS HE DIDN’T WRITE: BOB DYLAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE (even more so as Dylan fails to give any credits in the packaging); and conversely, won’t have anyone excavating for hidden quotations or crying wolf over alleged plagiarism. There is Eleven of the songs covered are Christmas pop songs; four – ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’, ‘The First Noel’, ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ and ‘O Come All Ye Faithful (Adeste Fideles)’ – are carols proper, regularly included in officially sanctioned events like the famous King’s College Cambridge Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols; the last-named offers the novelty of Dylan singing in Latin in the first verse, following his official ventures into Spanish (‘Romance in Durango’ and ‘Spanish Is The Loving Tongue’) and Italian (‘Return to Me’).


I have enjoyed listening to this album, though once the festive season 2009 is over I will probably put it on file till Yuletide 2010. I certainly find it more listenable than either MODERN TIMES or TOGETHER THROUGH LIFE, and I believe other Dylan commentators join me in this. Perhaps we could see this album as the equivalent in the Dylan canon to A CHRISTMAS CAROL in the work of Charles Dickens, a beautifully polished minor gem, sentimental certainly but at the time dedicated to the best of sentiments – to the Christmas spirit of which Dylan sang in ‘Floater’, ‘all the ring-dancing Christmas carols on all of the Christmas eves’ ….

BOB DYLAN CRITICAL CORNER SITE: relaunched with new url

The Bob Dylan Critical Corner site (BDCC),
founded in 1996, has now been relaunched.
The migration was necessitated following the closure
of the site’s previous host, Geocities.

New urls – site:
– articles page:

The new BDCC includes a blog which will
be frequently updated, and as always will
welcome article submissions.

Do visit us!!
Christopher Rollason and
Nicola Menicacci
for BDCC

Hugues Aufray revisits Bob Dylan – ‘New Yorker’, 2009

Recently released in France is NEW YORKER (Mercury, 2009, 532 279 8 –, the third album of Dylan covers by the veteran French singer Hugues Aufray (the previous two are AUFRAY CHANTE DYLAN, a single album from 1965, and AUFRAY TRANS DYLAN from 1995, a double CD featuring re-recordings of the 1965 songs plus new material).


This time too, Aufray has for the most part chosen the re-recording route, but introducing a new element in the form of duets, with well-known singers, French or France-resident (or in one case, a trio). The songs are, as before, in Hugues Aufray’s own French-language adaptations. The album consists of 13 tracks, of which the opener, ‘New Yorker’, is a prose narrative by Aufray himself, the closing track, ‘Cloches sonnez’ (‘Ring Them Bells’), features Aufray solo, while of the rest the trio is ‘Nous serons libres’ (‘I shall be releaesd’), with Pep’s and Wasis Diop, and the remaining 10 are duets. Of the 12 songs proper, 10 have already appeared in French translation on AUFRAY TRANS DYLAN (one of them on AUFRAY CHANTE DYLAN too), the ‘new’ songs being the above-mentioned ‘Cloches sonnez’ and ‘Tout comme une vraie femme’ (‘Just Like a Woman’, with Jane Birkin). Of the remaining 9, ‘Au coeur de mon pays’ (‘Heartland’, with Arno) is only dubiously by Dylan, who is generally believed to have confined himself to contributing the music for Willie Nelson’s words for that song, on which the two duetted on the latter’s 1993 album ACROSS THE BORDERLINE.


The remaining 8 are: ‘La fille du nord’ (‘Girl from the north country’), with Eddy Mitchell (this is the song that features on all three Aufray albums); ‘N’y pense plus, tout est bien’ (‘Don’t think twice, it’s all right’), with Carla Bruni); ‘Mr l’homme orchestre’ (‘Mr Tambourine Man’), with Laurent Voulzy; ‘Knock Knock, ouvre-toi porte du ciel’ (‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s door’; retitled from 1995’s ‘Knock-Knock ouvre-toi porte d’or’), with Bernard Lavilliers; ‘L’homme dota d’un nom chaque animal’ (‘Man gave names to all the animals’), with Alain Souchon; ‘Tout l’monde un jour s’est planté’ (‘Rainy Day Women Nos. 12 and 35’), with Didier Wampas; ‘Dans le souffle du vent’ (‘Blowin’ in the wind’), with Francis Cabrel; and ‘Jeune pour toujours’ (‘Forever young’), with Johnny Hallyday. Some of the songs have snatches of English, notably Birkin’s contribution to ‘Just like a woman’.


An ‘authentic’ feel is given to the album by the participation of American musicians associated with Bob Dylan himself, including Charlie McCoy, Larry Campbell and David Hidalgo.


The packaging includes the full text of Aufray’s French adaptations, plus brief texts by Aufray himself and … Bob Dylan, who reminisces on times passed with Hugues Aufray in Paris (‘Hugues introduced me to all the sights: the Bastille, the Cathedral at Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe … He showed me where Marat had lived and Robespierre … I told him that if he came to New York, I would show him where Alexander Hamilton and Poe lived’).


The general quality of the interpretations is high: Aufray has lavished care on this recording. A question mark hovers over Carla Bruni’s presence: she sings beautifully on ‘Don’t think twice’, but what would the Dylan of 1965 have said about a song of his being performed by the French president’s wife? I only ask ….

BOB DYLAN: my/Nicola Menicacci’s work/ORAL TRADITION, analysed in Iowa and Finland

I am pleased to note the choice of the issue of ORAL TRADITION (22, 1, March 2007 – – see entry on this blog, 27 June 2007) containing the proceedings of the symposium ‘Bob Dylan’s Performance Artistry’ held in 2005 at the University of Caen (France) (see this blog, 30 September 2005) as the main subject-matter for the 6 October 2009 session of ‘After Postmodernism’, an seminar for anthropology majors at Grinnell College, Iowa, USA, taught by Prof. Katya Gibel Mevorach:


For 6 October, students are asked to prepare, read and take part in a roundtable discussion, ‘focusing on the broad themes in each article related to ethnographic representations’, of the following articles from the Dylan issue of ORAL TRADITION:

(i)                Désveaux, Emmanuel. “Amerindian Roots of Bob Dylan’s Poetry.”

(ii)               Rollason, Christopher.  “Sólo Soy Un Guitarrista”:  Bob Dylan in the Spanish-Speaking World––Influences, Parallels, Reception, and Translation.”-; see this blog, 30 September 2005

(iii)             Thomas, Richard F. “The Streets of Rome: The Classical Dylan”


I am of course enormously flattered and grateful to find my own work being the subject of such close and detailed analysis in a college classroom.




I add that I have, furthermore, just discovered that my article on Dylan in the Spanish-Speaking World was *also* discussed and quoted at length, in the version appearing on the Bob Dylan Critical Corner site, in a text which appeared on 23 August 2007 in NY TID, a long-established and prestigious Swedish-language weekly based in Helsingfors, Finland (author: Sven-Erik Klinkmann; In the same piece, Klinkmann also discusses the book by Nicola Menicacci, ‘Bob Dylan, L’Ultimo Cavaliere’ (see this blog, 27 September 2005), reviewed by myself, again, on Bob Dylan Critical Corner. Not knowing Swedish, I have had to rely on Google’s rough machine translation into English to get a general idea of this article. However, it is clear that the author sees both Nicola’s analysis of esoteric and elements in Dylan’s work and my suggestion of a link between Federico García Lorca and Dylan’s ‘Standing in the Doorway’ as examples of Dylanological ‘overinterpretation’, of enthusiastic Dylan scholars ‘reading too much’ into the song texts. Be that as it may, it remains gratifying to find my work and Nicola’s examined at such length in a well-respected newspaper, and I am very grateful to Sven-Erik Klinkmann for his attention!



The latest Bob Dylan news is that 13 October 2009 will see the US release of a new album called "Christmas in the Heart". Yes, this really will be a Bob Dylan Christmas album, with covers of such Yuletide standards as: "Must Be Santa", "Little Drummer Boy", "Winter Wonderland" and "Here Comes Santa Claus".
Many long-term acolytes will no doubt feel ambivalent about this, though those who cherish his radical past might recall that, on his own admission in the song "My Back Pages", Dylan hasn’t been a protest singer since … 1964. Meanwhile, the new album will presumably take its place as his *fourth Christian album*, following the trilogy from his late 70s / early 80s born-again epoch.
He has earlier mentioned Christmas in his songs "Three Angels" (on "New Morning", 1970) and "Floater (Too Much To Ask)" (on ‘"Love and Theft"’, 2001
Note added 26 Dec 09: I have put a seasonal post here on this blog with some impressions of this album!

My review of THE CAMBRIDGE COMPANION TO BOB DYLAN, ed. Kevin J. Dettmar

On-line on my Yatra site at:

is this review:


‘Big universities to study in’: Review of

THE CAMBRIDGE COMPANION TO BOB DYLAN, ed. Kevin J. Dettmar, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009, soft covers, xvii + 185 pp., ISBN 978-0-521-71494-5




Bob Dylan allowed academia a brief look-in on his very first album, informing the world in his spoken intro to ‘Baby, Let Me Follow You Down’ that he first met the blues guitar-player Eric von Schmidt ‘in the green pastures of Harvard University’; years later, in ‘Foot of Pride’, he berated those who ‘like to take all this money from sin, / Build big universities to study in’. Dylan’s relationship with the groves of academe is vexed but is also indisputable, as this multi-author volume now arrives to testify. The Cambridge Companions are an established series of study aids aimed in the first place at undergraduate students, covering a wide field of mostly literary subjects, ranging from Greek Tragedy through Ovid, Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe and Virginia Woolf all the way to Modern British Women Playwrights, even taking in the likes of Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. The arrival in 2009 of a Cambridge Companion to Bob Dylan among this distinguished company is first and foremost further evidence, were it needed, of the ever-growing academic respectability of Dylan studies. However, the pretensions of such a volume are one thing, and the reality another, and my aim in this review will not to be question whether Dylan’s work merits substantive academic attention (there is more than enough evidence for that by now), but to examine this particular study guide with a view to determining whether it is up to the job.


The volume, though published in the UK, is decidedly American in cast. The editor, Kevin J. Dettmar, is chair of the English Department at Pomona College, California. The contributors (nineteen, five of them women; two of the contributions have two authors) are almost entirely fellow Americans, either academics from departments of English or American Studies or professional writers, the one exception being Lee Marshall, senior lecturer in Sociology at Bristol University, England. Strikingly absent are the major names in Dylan criticism: there is nothing from Aidan Day, Michael Gray, Greil Marcus, Christopher Ricks or Stephen Scobie, though there is a piece by Eric Lott, the professor of American Studies from the University of Virginia whose book on blackface minstrelsy, Love and Theft, famously supplied Dylan with an album title (Lott’s contribution is, suitably enough, a discussion of … “Love and Theft”).


The book consists of: an editor’s introduction; a Dylan chronology; nine general articles, all titled using the formula ‘Bob Dylan and/as …’, grouped under ‘Part I: Perspectives’; eight album studies grouped as ‘Part II: Landmark Albums’; a bibliography; and an index. The general studies are on: Dylan and ‘the Anglo-American tradition’, ‘Rolling Thunder’, ‘collaboration’, ‘gender politics’, ‘religion’, and ‘the Academy’; and Dylan as ‘songwriter’, ‘performer’, and ‘cultural icon’ (the room for overlap between some of these categories should at once be obvious). The eight albums allotted chapters are: The Free-Wheelin’ Bob Dylan, Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde, The Basement Tapes, Blood on the Tracks, Infidels and “Love and Theft”. Despite the 2009 publication date, the book is in fact up-to-date as far as Modern Times, coming too late for Tell-Tale Signs (listed in the chronology as ‘announced’) and Together Through Life




Note added 21 December 2009: This review has now been published in the British Dylan magazine THE BRIDGE, No 35, Winter 2009, pp. 108-114.

BEYOND HERE LIES … NOTHING? – algunas impresiones del álbum TOGETHER THROUGH LIFE (2009) de Bob Dylan

Traducción por Carla Vanessa Gonzáles (Perú), de mi original texto inglés (disponible en esta bitácora en la entrada del 3-VI-2009 y publicada en la revista dylanita THE BRIDGE, Reino Unido, No 34 (Verano 2009), 49-51). Esta versión en lengua castellana también se ubica en la bitácora de Carla, en:


Nota: BEYOND HERE LIES NOTHIN’, título de la primera canción del álbum, significa: MÁS ALLÁ DE AQUÍ NO HAY NADA. Sigue la traducción de Carla.


El álbum TOGETHER THROUGH LIFE ya ha producido una nueva cosecha de logros para Bob Dylan. Ha sido el primer álbum de Dylan en alcanzar el número 1 tanto en EE.UU. como en el Reino Unido, y lo ha convertido en el artista vivo más antiguo en alcanzar el top de los charts británicos (una hazaña que él ya había alcanzado en EE.UU. con MODERN TIMES), y de nuevo en el Reino Unido, en el artista distinguido – si esa es la palabra- por más largo intervalo entre sucesivos números 1. De hecho, probablemente sólo los enciclopédicos de Dylan habrán sabido que antes de este álbum, había tenido 4 números 1 en su país natal y 6 números 1, todos diferentes, en las listas británicas. El éxito sin precedentes de este álbum, entonces, sugiere que debe haber un consenso en el aire acerca de algo.

Sin embargo, en el caso británico, exámenes más detenidos revelan que los 3 previos números 1 dylanianos fueron NASHVILLE SKYLINE en 1969 y SELF PORTRAIT más NEW MORNING in 1970 –todos decididamente trabajos menores. Antes de esos 3, él se había situado durante 13 semanas en el número uno en ese país en 1968 con JOHN WESLEY HARDING, un álbum generalmente considerado un gran logro artístico pero cuyo éxito comercial tuvo mucho que ver con la oleada de solidaridad que creció con su famoso accidente de motocicleta que le hizo rozarse con la muerte. ¿Sería el éxito comercial de TOGETHER THROUGH LIFE, como el de MODERN TIMES antes de ese, menos un reflejo de la calidad del álbum que un análogo voto de simpatía, provocado por la edad del artista y la certeza de que no estará con nosotros por siempre (« it’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there » – aún no está oscuro, pero no tardará) ?

Mi sensación por ahora es que estamos tratando con un « Dylan álbum » que es  musicalmente agradable, con una producción limpia, y perfectamente escuchable, pero no uno que esté diciendo mucho de interés acerca de algo en particular. En cuanto a los discos que nos ha ofrecido Dylan en este siglo XXI, estuve y me mantengo altamente entusiasta sobre ‘LOVE AND THEFT’ (y escribí extensamente sobre ese álbum en THE BRIDGE, No 14) pero aún no estoy convencido por MODERN TIMES; e intuyo que, por todo el calor latino del acordeón de David Hidalgo, líricamente la nueva oferta tardará buen tiempo en ganarse mi aprecio.

El hecho de que todas, excepto una de las canciones son producto de la colaboración de Robert Hunter, no ayuda a la evaluación de este como un Dylan álbum, pero al igual que con sus anteriores esfuerzos de colaboración en conjunto con Jacques Levy y Sam Shepard, debemos suponer que la mayor parte del proceso de escritura ha sido del mismo Dylan (después de todo, este es, como DESIRE, lanzado como un « Dylan álbum ») pero de eso no debemos concluir obligatoriamente de que las canciones resultantes tienen que ser a priori brillantes.

L a simplicidad parece ser un sello en este álbum pero, como con NASHVILLE SKYLINE y PLANET WAVES (la última, incidentalmente, siendo otro de los números uno de Dylan en EE.UU. ) un signo de interrogación flota en el aire sobre si es la simplicidad de la feliz iluminación o la ingenua simplicidad de lo banal. Técnicamente, las canciones están construidas alrededor de claros esquemas-rimas (esto puede ser el trabajo de Hunter), son (y menos mal) más cortas y más económicas que las difusas, enmarañadas canciones de MODERN TIMES. Sin embargo, en una actual mayoría de pistas, la escritura aparece como un aguachento e insípido caldo. “Jolene” es apenas un trozo plano y sin rasgos de country blues, y (lo siento, Bob) de lejos menos memorable que la canción del mismo nombre de Dolly Parton. “Shake Shake Mama” es un etiquetado número de blues en el indistinguible molde de “The Levee’s Gonna Break”. No veo lo interesante en líneas como “Shake shake mama like a ship going out to sea” [menéate nena como un barco navegando] (¿en dónde está el parecido?) o “Down by the river Judge Simpson is walkin’ around / Nothing shocks me more like that old clown” [al lado del río Judge Simpson camina / nada me molesta más que ese viejo payaso] (quien quiera que sea Judge Simpson, es una pálida sombra de los inolvidables magistrados de canciones como « [Most Likely] You’l Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine » o « Jokerman »). Lo que se presenta como crítica social en ‘It’s All Good’ es simplemente anémico al lado de, por decir, “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding”’ o aun God help us, ‘Slow Train’. La única canción que se ubica específicamente en algún lugar, “If You Ever Go To Houston” (la que Dylan eligió para estrenar el nuevo disco en vivo en Dublin el 5 de mayo de 2009, y la cual parece como si pudiese tratarse sobre algo), sí, puede ser una crítica del estado de Texas de George Bush o a la Segunda Enmienda de la constitución norteamericana, y tiene un anacronismo potencialmente interesante en la referencia a la guerra con México del siglo XIX, pero cualquier impacto que pueda tener se ve socavado por la gran inutilidad de una línea como “Mister policeman, can you help me find my gal?” (señor policía, ¿podría ayudarme a encontrar a mi chica?).

Con todo, luego de escucharlo algunas veces, comienzo a preguntarme si Dylan habría posicionado la primera canción del álbum ‘Beyond Here Lies Nothin” como una advertencia al oyente, de no esperar … nada.

 ¿Deberían los oyentes futuros tarde o temprano honrar algunas de las pistas como redimiendo este álbum líricamente decepcionante? En dicho caso, yo daría medio cobre o un centavo (“a nickel or a dime”) por  “Forgetful Heart”, y quizás “This Dream of You”. En ambos, encontramos una astilla de intertextualidad interactuando con alguna tal vez rescatable escritura. En la primera, las líneas “Forgetful heart / like a walking shadow in my brain / All night long / I lay awake and listen to the sound of pain” (olvidadizo corazón / como una sombra caminando en mi cerebro / Toda la larga noche / Me quedo despierto y escucho el sonido del dolor) recuerdan a “Macbeth” de Shakespeare (‘Life’s but a walking shadow’) (la vida no es sino una sombra que camina) y a “El cuervo” de Edgar Allan Poe, y también hay una puerta kafkiana que puede no haber existido jamás. La segunda ofrece otra vez la imaginería de Poe: ‘shadows … on the wall / Shadows that seem to know it all’ (sombras en la pared / Sombras que parecen saberlo todo). En estas dos canciones hay, quizás, un ligero parpadeo de la antigua fuerza del maestro, de las “flames in the furnace of desire” (llamas en el horno del deseo) – y, sin embargo, y sin embargo, seguramente en esta etapa de la carrera de Dylan, ¿realmente deberíamos quedarnos así, preguntándonos si acaso este álbum llega al nivel de … NASHVILLE SKYLINE?! Bob, sean cuales fueren los colores que tengas en la mente (« whatever colours you have in your mind ») , ¿no podrías habernos mostrado uno o dos más en este álbum?


BEYOND HERE LIES … NOTHING? – some impressions of Bob Dylan’s album TOGETHER THROUGH LIFE



If nothing else, TOGETHER THROUGH LIFE (2009) has produced a new crop of firsts for Bob Dylan. It has become his first-ever album to reach number one in both the US and the UK, and has made him the oldest living artist ever to top the British album chart (a feat he had already achieved in the US with MODERN TIMES), and, again in Britain, the artist distinguished, if that is the word, by the longest time-gap between successive number one albums. Indeed, probably only fact-file obsessives will have known that prior to this album Dylan had had four number ones in his home country and/but six totally different chart-toppers across the Atlantic. The new album’s success does, then, suggest there must be a consensus in the air about something.


However, in the British case further examination reveals that Dylan’s three previous number ones were NASHVILLE SKYLINE in 1969 and SELF PORTRAIT and NEW MORNING in 1970 – all decidedly minor works. Before those three, he had spent 13 weeks atop the UK chart in 1968 with JOHN WESLEY HARDING, an album generally considered a major artistic achievement but whose commercial success had much to do with the groundswell of sympathy arising from Dylan’s near-brush with death in his famous motorcycle accident. Is the commercial success of TOGETHER THROUGH LIFE, like that of MODERN TIMES before it, a reflection less of the album’s quality than of a comparable sympathy vote, brought on by the artist’s advancing years and the realisation that he won’t be with us forever – that ‘it’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there’?


My own feeling at this stage of the game is that we are dealing with a musically agreeable, cleanly produced and perfectly listenable Dylan album, but not one that is saying anything much of interest about anything in particular. Regarding Dylan’s 21st-century output, I was and remain highly enthusiastic about ‘LOVE AND THEFT’ (and wrote at length about that album in THE BRIDGE, No 14), but have yet to be convinced by MODERN TIMES; and intuit that, for all the Latin warmth of David Hidalgo’s accordion, lyrically this new offering will have a hard time winning me over. The fact that all but one of the songs are the product of collaboration with Robert Hunter doesn’t help the evaluation of this as a Dylan album, but as with the earlier joint efforts with Jacques Levy and Sam Shepard, we may suppose the bulk of the writing process to have been Dylan’s own (after all, it is, like ‘Desire’, billed as a Bob Dylan album) while not concluding therefrom that the resultant songs must be a priori brilliant.


Simplicity appears to be this album’s hallmark, but, as with NASHVILLE SKYLINE and PLANET WAVES (the latter, incidentally, being another of Dylan’s US number ones), a question mark hovers as to whether this is the simplicity of blissful enlightenment or the naïve simplicity of the banal. Technically, the songs are carefully constructed around clear rhyme-schemes (this may be Hunter’s doing), and they are (mercifully) shorter and more economical than the diffuse, rambling MODERN TIMES songs. Nonetheless, on an actual majority of tracks the writing comes over as thin and gruel-like. ‘Jolene’ is a flat and featureless slice of country blues, and (sorry, Bob) far less memorable than the Dolly Parton song of the same name. ‘Shake Shake Mama’ is a clichéd blues number in the undistinguished mould of ‘The Levee’s Gonna Break’: I fail to see the interest of lines like ‘Shake shake mama like a ship going out to sea’ (where is the resemblance?) or ‘Down by the river Judge Simpson is walkin’ around / Nothing shocks me more like that old clown’ (whoever Judge Simpson may be, he’s a pale shadow of Dylan’s grudge-holding and stilt-walking or false-hearted and web-spinning magistrates from the past). The would-be social criticism on ‘It’s All Good’ is simply anaemic by the side of, say, ‘It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)’ or even, God help us, ‘Slow Train’. As to the most place-specific song, ‘If You Ever Go To Houston’ (the one Dylan chose to bring out first in live performance, in Dublin on 5 May 2009 – and which does look as if it might perhaps be about something), yes, it may be a critique of George Bush’s Texas or the Second Amendment, and it does have a potentially interesting anachronism in the Mexican War reference – but any impact it might have is undermined by the sheer bleating pointlessness of a line like ‘Mister policeman, can you help me find my gal?’.


All in all, after a few plays I began to wonder whether Dylan had positioned the album’s opening track, ‘Beyond Here Lies Nothin”, as a warning to the listener, to expect precisely … nothing. Should future listenings sooner or later honour any of the tracks as redeeming this album’s lyrical blight, I might just about hand a nickel or a dime to ‘Forgetful Heart’ and, perhaps, ‘This Dream of You’. In both, we find a sliver of intertextuality interacting with some just-about rescuable writing. In the first, the lines ‘Forgetful heart / like a walking shadow in my brain / All night long / I lay awake and listen to the sound of pain’ recall both Shakespeare’s Macbeth (‘Life’s but a walking shadow’) and the Edgar Allan Poe of ‘The Raven’, and the song also has a Kafkaesque door that may never have existed; the second offers, again, Poe-like imagery – ‘shadows … on the wall / Shadows that seem to know it all’. In these two tracks, there is, perhaps, a faint flickering of the old ‘flames in the furnace of desire’ – and yet, and yet, surely at this stage in Dylan’s career, could we not have been given a bit more to reflect on than whether or not this album is up to the standard of … well, of NASHVILLE SKYLINE?!! Bob, whatever colours you have in your mind, couldn’t you have shown us one or two more of them on this record?



NOTE added 28-VIII-2009:

This review is also on my Yatra site at:;


It has been published, as part of a critical forum on the album, in the UK Dylan magazine THE BRIDGE:

 No 34 (Summer 2009), 49-51.


Hay una versión española de este texto, traducida por Carla Vanessa Gonzáles, en la entrada de esta bitácora correspondiente al 25-VI-2009.