Rock and roll is a young man's game. The same can't be said for the blues, which is why it's hard to blame 67-year-old Bob Dylan for fashioning himself as an ornery bluesman for much of his newest album, "Together Through Life."
Tight-pantsed, hip-swiveling rockers risk severe embarrassment as they get older. Yet for some reason it's beyond cool to be a grizzled old blues codger, even if your lyrics and delivery show a lust for life that could put many 22-year-olds to shame.
Uncorking his now-familiar late-period phlegmy growl, Dylan spends about half of the album ripping through blues cuts frequently flavored with accordions and Tex-Mex touches. These songs are fine for what they are, but there are already plenty of even older guys on labels like Fat Possum making blues with hotter licks and more lyrical vitality. For a singer and vocalist of Dylan's myriad gifts, these tunes amount to treading water.
While they may not grab the ear as instinctively as Dylan's rowdy blues, the best songs on "Together Through Life" are the more contemplative numbers that lie in the same vein as most of his best efforts from the past decade, like 2001's "Mississippi" or the tremendous "Red River Shore" from last year's collection of rarities, "Tell Tale Signs."
In particular, "I Feel a Change Coming On" and "This Dream of You" are perfectly rambling and wonderfully meditative, allowing Dylan to spin his tales in a way that maximizes his lyricism as well as the marvelously subtle modulations of his voice. These songs feel effortless, too -- not in the tossed-off sense, but rather in the manner of witnessing a master's easy grace.