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Printable Version
Reviewed by -
Grey Cavitt
Bob Dylan
Love and Theft
Released: September 16, 2003
Origination Year: 2001
Time: 57:37
Tracks: 12
Produced by: Jack Frost
Style: Studio / Reissue
Format: SACD
Enhancement: DSD: Stereo/MC
Label: Columbia Records

Track Listing
  1. Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum
  2. Mississippi
  3. Summer Days
  4. Bye and Bye
  5. Lonesome Day Blues
  6. Floater (Too Much To Ask)
  7. High Water ( For Charley Patton)
  8. Moonlight
  9. Honest With Me
  10. Po' Boy
  11. Cry a While
  12. Sugar Baby

Bob Dylan

Dylan tried to create a masterpiece with Time Out of Mind. In fact, he tried a bit too hard. While his careful crafting did create his best album in quite some time, the self-conscious atmosphere and heavy importance often left the work sounding more like a stab at arty brilliance than an actual brilliant disc of art.

About a year before that album's release, I bet a friend who dismissed Dylan as a washed-up relic that the man still had a comeback brewing, that he still had some great music in his gut. After Time Out of Mind, he was ready to pay up, but I refused. It was a good album, but arriving from the artist who gave us Blonde on Blonde and Blood on the Tracks, it was hardly a true return to form.

After several spins of Love and Theft, I took his money without a tinge of guilt.

Apparently, Dylan has struggled with what often has seemed the burden of his past classics. Love and Theft is peppered with lines such as, "You can always come back / But you can't come back all the way." Maybe those awards relieved him of that load somewhat, because here, he seems to shrug off any expectations. When told, "As great as you are, man / You'll never be greater than yourself," he reacts by answering that he, "didn't really care." Musing that, "The girls all say you're a worn-out star," he doesn't give a flip. In fact, he crows, "Feel like a fighting rooster / Feel better than I ever felt," and promises, "Stick with me anyhow / Things should start to get interesting right about now."

Sure enough, Love and Theft proves that shedding the artistic demands of his legendary past has set him free to make his strongest album since his best, Blood on the Tracks. Rather than laboring over songs, he sounds as if he barged into the studio like days of old with a crack band that constant touring had let he grow into as part of an organic whole. Putting aside pretensions, he relaxed, letting his influence mingle freely into songs that finally testify to his talents of old. These songs ramble, roam, stray, and linger.

After loaning out Mississippi, he reclaims the tale of past contentment rubbing up against current regret. Couched within banjos and delicious slide guitars, the song, following only the swampy introduction of Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum on the album, instantly serves notice of what is to come.

He is borrowing again, whether from Howlin’ Wolf ("Summer Days" largely incorporates "All Night Boogie"), Charley Patton ("High Waters"), or Yakuza novels (several tunes). As always, though, Dylan's songs do not emerge from a vacuum, but synthesize existing roots into entirely new hybrids. "Summer Days" find Dylan charged and tearing into the future while mixing hints of Bob Wills' swing. "High Water" soaks listeners in ominous blues that rise in intensity like rushing floods, and despite any ethical issues involving his snippets from a published novel involving Japanese gangsters, nowhere on the record does Dylan sound like a Seijun Suzuki character. The influences float in, churn, and rush out fresh and new, bearing Dylan's unique brand.

As the album nears the end, "Po' Boy" reveals its key. Dylan is at ease, spitting out notes with his band and spinning out rambling yet knowing lines laced with the bad jokes of his youth and a newer flavor of melancholy. This is no longer an artist trying to wrangle out the testimony of an elder statesman or an aging musician trying to recapture a lost youth. This is a portrait of an artist as an aging man. It is older Dylan, but it is more truly Dylan than any album has been in decades.

"Even Cry a While" shares the some of the vindictiveness of "Like a Rolling Stone", but here, he's also, "Crying to the Lord / Trying to be meek and mild." His request is refused, naturally, but the heat of his anger has cooled into mature, nearly indifferent revenge. "Sugar Baby"'s slow, languid beauty shares much of the sad sorrow of a "Girl from the North Country", but is a bit less romantic and a little more wise, confessing that "Some of these memories, you can learn to live with / And some of them you can't"

Of course, another sign of Dylan's return is the return of his tendency to pepper his lyrics with lies. In that final song, he, sounding complete honest, sings, "You can't come back."

Oh, but he did. This line, at the end of an entire album proving that he is as great as ever, is one of the most obviously transparent falsehoods he's tried to pull over on us yet, as Love and Theft easily sits not only among his finest later albums, but among the finest albums from any point in his career.

This being a reissue of a recent release, the CD layer of this hybrid doesn't improve greatly on the previous version, but both the stereo and 5.1 channel SACD layers are divine, returning the warmth of vinyl to an album that is Dylan's best since the age of vinyl.

Copyright © 2002-2003 Matthew Rowe. All rights reserved.
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212 Frech

"Even though most of the people I knew in my youth are gone, I still reach out to them..."
Norman Maclean - Paraphrase

"...we should enjoy every sandwich." -- Warren Zevon, 2003