Love and Theft encompasses Dylan's past and future
By LIAM FARRELL
Scene Music Critic
Leave it to Bob Dylan to finally make current music intelligent and satisfying to listen to again.
In his first studio album since the mortality-obsessed 1997 release, Time Out of Mind, and with his first original songs since "Things Have Changed" for the Wonder Boys Soundtrack, Dylan once again shows why he is one of the most inspirational singer-songwriters in music today.
Recorded with the exceptional backing band from his current Neverending tour, Love and Theft is laced with Mike Bloomfield-type riffs and incredible adeptness with all types of musical styles, making this album one of the best of Dylan's career.
Thematically, this album expands on much of what was explored in Time Out of Mind: mortality, death, regret and a seemingly endless search for a faithful woman. What makes this album stand apart from Time Out of Mind, however, is that it is not nearly as depressing. Many of the songs have a sort of tongue-in-cheek humor that gives each song a wry, self- deprecating look in the mirror rather then a graveyard lament.
The album kicks off with "Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum," a country tinged nonsense song, lyrically similar to many of Dylan's earlier songs like "Subterrranean Homesick Blues." Although quickly changing styles into the love-lorn ballad "Mississippi," the album does not bog down in melancholy; even within the context of this song, Dylan knows that "Fortune is waiting/ To be kind."
"Summer Days" is a fantastic old fashioned rockabilly song that sounds like Eddie Cochran in the midst of a mid-life crisis, with the main title working as a metaphor for lost youth.
One of the more interesting aspects of Love and Theft is the different musical sounds Dylan uses throughout the album. "Bye and Bye" and "Moonlight" are jazz ballads about lost love that sound like nothing Dylan has ever done before. These songs share the same space with ballads like "Lonesome Day Blues" and "Cry A While," two rocking blues songs that belong in a roadside bar's jukebox. It all still makes sense in the context of the album however, as these songs simply take different methods of exploring the issues that have consumed Dylan's work in the past few years.
"High Water (For Charley Patton)" sounds like it could have been recorded by Woody Guthrie and is the most socially conscious song on the album, as Dylan reflects on his youthful ideals, when he did not know "You can't open your mind/ To every conceivable point of view." This song is really indicative of where Dylan's music has gone over the years, as politics still takes a back seat in "High Water" to his women problems.
Love and Theft never strays far from Dylan's psyche, and even when his age and his regrets seem to finally be at peace within him, as in the acoustic ballad "Po' Boy (Things will be Alright Bye and Bye)," he remains a troubled songwriter.
The album closes with "Sugar Baby," an incredibly sparse track in comparison to the other layered songs, with a very basic group of guitar, bass and some beautiful accordion work. "Sugar Baby" basically sums up the entire album, as Dylan remains lost in both his love life, "You went years without me/ May as well keep going now" and the theft of his youth, as he now has his "Back to the sun/ Because the light is too tense." Although a very personal and sad way to finish the album, Dylan finally takes with him the knowledge that "Some of these memories you learn to live with/ And some you can't."
Dylan has always been the poster child for ruining your vocal chords, but he seems to have settled into the low growl that is significantly lower then his voice back on his first album. He has always been able to write music that fits his vocal imperfections and that is still the case on Love and Theft. Although its not his best work, musically and lyrically Love and Theft is fantastic — a breath of fresh air among the pathetic music receiving airplay on radio and MTV. And after all, its Bob Dylan— isn't that reason enough to buy it?
All Scene Stories for Tuesday, September 18, 2001