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Bob Dylan, ‘Together Through Life’ (Columbia)

In any deconstruction of Bob Dylan’s epic career, 1997’s moody Daniel Lanois-produced masterpiece Time Out of Mind marked his late-career resurgence. But it was 2001’s self-produced Love and Theft that defined Dylan’s current aesthetic — the aural equivalent of his pencil-thin mustache, cowboy suit, and carnival-barker hat: creaky blues harking back to an America that may or may not have ever existed. Even the title of his last album, 2006’s Modern Times, was a wink.

Together Through Life resides in that sepia-toned world; the biggest flourish is the omnipresent accordion, courtesy of Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo, which only adds to the air of dusty antiquity. The 12-bar shuffles come in slow, midtempo, or jaunty; and the waltz-like “This Dream of You” wouldn’t sound out of place on a Venetian gondola. Having long since traded abstraction for irascibility and wistfulness, Dylan still offers flashes of black humor (“Hell is my wife’s hometown”) over the ten songs, but the fatalism that’s marked much of his recent work is in short supply. Even the line “Sun is sinking low / I guess it’s time to go,” from “Life Is Hard,” feels more about heartbreak than mortality. The songs’ characters are restless; the songs are not.

Which raises the question: Do we harshly judge the elder Dylan for luxuriating in an era before his innovations happened? Whatever the answer, he couldn’t care less.

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