Bob Dylan: The Judges’ Verdict

Today: the judges discuss Bob Dylan's "Together Through Life".

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Today: the judges discuss Bob Dylan’s “Together Through Life”.

Tony Wadsworth: I love it, Bob Dylan is my default setting at the best of times. I love the sound of it, what David Hidalgo’s accordion brings to it.


Mark Cooper: I know what Tony means about the sound of it, Dylan’s always been very good at creating a whole sound for an album, in the way that Desire has its own sound, or John Wesley Harding has its own sound. Having said that, it’s what I both love about the album and slightly miss about it. I love it, but maybe it won’t stand up alongside the great Dylan records. It’s very hard to judge Dylan in a field like this, because Dylan is Dylan. I think it being in the final eight for this award made me realise how much I like it, and I enjoyed listening to it more than I might have done otherwise.

Rachel Unthank: With it being in the final eight, I probably gave it more attention than I would have any other new Dylan record, and it did grow on me. I agree with Mark, in that I really enjoyed it but I don’t think it brought me anything new in my appreciation of Dylan. I would want to listen to it again, but I wouldn’t want it to win.

Bob Harris: It’s funny, because I really loved the last Dylan album, Modern Times, but for me, for some reason, this one just got lost on the conveyor belt. I don’t know why, but it seems like this album has just come alongside everything without really breaking through into my consciousness. I’ve always started listening to it and then thought I’d better get on to listening to other stuff.


Tony: Maybe you were enjoying yourself too much!

Bob Harris: I’m really going along with both Mark and Rachel by saying, yep it’s great, it’s Bob Dylan, I didn’t not like it, but in terms of what we’re doing here and picking out something really outstanding, it doesn’t strike me as being the great album of 2009.

Dave Robinson: Bob Dylan is probably the singlemost thing that I got off on at a very young age. I remember trying to play his early records to Irish showbands and influencing them into changing their entire outlook, and them thinking I was a complete nutter. I just think he’s phenomenal, I love everything about him, but I think this record is completely naff. It’s fine, but it’s a kind of a 12-bar outing that any number of people could have trotted out. I’ve spoken to several musicians who’ve played with him in the past, people I’ve got out of retirement homes in Nashville to play on sessions for records I’ve been involved with, and they all say that the thing with Bob was that they’d do a rehearsal and then two days later the recording would start, by which time Bob would have changed the rhythm, he would have changed the timing, he’d have changed the whole ethos of the song. Basically, he wanted them to make it up, he wanted that kind of vibe, but on this record I don’t think he did that. I think everyone just played what the songs were. They’re fine, there’s nothing wrong with them, but there’s nothing spectacular about them, and in this particular context of an award for the best record of the year it doesn’t really hold up. I’ve never given Dylan a two out of five in my life, but this is a two.

Billy Bragg: When you make as many albums as Bob Dylan does, every now and then you’re gonna make one that’s a bit pedestrian. I have nothing but respect for him, whatever it was that drove him to make those incredible albums, those incredible bursts of inspiration in the 60s still drives him. You can’t expect him to reach those heights time and time again, but the very fact that he’s out there, still making records, still engaged, is great. His radio shows prove that, and (to Bob Harris) he’s totally stolen your presentation style – another Whispering Bob! I always like to listen to Bob Dylan, but where he is and what he’s doing doesn’t really fit into this company. Where he was and what he did do is great, but that’s not what we’re judging here. I don’t think this particular Dylan album really does it.

Allan Jones: In comparison to some of Dylan’s latterday work this album has a really kind of stoic feel to it, it’s like ‘we’re all gonna fucking die, so let’s have a good time’. It has a rambuctious feel to it. He wrote the songs in ten days, went in and knocked the album out very quickly.

Billy: It’s an incredible way to work, nobody else does it. He’s keeping a flame alive that the rest of our industry has lost, and he deserves our respect for that. It doesn’t make it record of the year, though.

Mark: What I think is incredible about this record is that there’s probably one song here that’s got more chance of becoming a standard than anything on any of the other albums. It’s incredible how he can come up with something like “Life Is Hard” that almost any other singer can sing. I don’t think there’s another song on all these records that somebody else will sing in about ten years.

Billy: I was watching Smokey Robinson at the Electric Proms the other night, and there’s an artist of a similar stature who wants you to love him. It’s all about love, I felt really connected to him. Dylan dares you to hate him. How many young bands would go out there after you’ve paid your money and more or less tell you to fuck off? Nobody else does that, he’s still got that edge. He pisses you off, just like the Pistols.

Mark: Well, there’s a difference between pissing somebody off and bad art.


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