Review by LarryG|
4 stars out of 4
Love And Theft is a remarkable work. It's easily my favorite CD of
2001. I still love Dylan's great 1997 CD Time Out Of Mind but Love
And Theft is Dylan's best record of the last 25 years. There are some
parts of Time Out Of Mind I admire for their bold glimpses at mortality
but don't really enjoy that much. I just plain love Love And Theft.
This album is often moving but it can also rock as well as any record
around. It's sometimes smart and sometimes charmingly dopey. It has
a great sense of history even as Dylan still sounds like he's trying
to prove himself. Like Time Out Of Mind, Love And Theft feels like
it comes from an artist who knows his time to make great music is
limited but has enough energy and ideas to go on for quite a while.
Dylan works in a few different modes on Love and Theft and succeeds
in all of them. The rockers are tight and exciting. Tweedle Dee &
Tweedle Dum, a mocking portrait of a dysfunctional couple, is an exciting
juiced-up country rocker. Dylan's voice is hoarse, ornery and energized
and the band never flags. Dylan, Larry Campbell and Charlie Sexton
trade and intertwine guitar lines over a driving rhythm line of drums,
bongos and organ. Dylan has a lot of fun on Summer Days, a Chuck Berry
style rocker with loose, jazzy guitars and drums, singing about knowing
how to have a good time even though the summer days are gone. Dylan's
in a feisty mood, responding to someone who says you can't repeat
the thrills of the past: "what do you mean you can't, of course you
can." Dylan's range is fairly amazing on Love And Theft. His voice
is often laidback but on Honest With Me, which has a great, exciting
slide guitar, he easily holds his own with his fiery band, spitting
out "I'm not sorry for nothing I've done."
Among my favorite songs on Love And Theft are easy jazzy blues
songs that sound like 40s throwbacks with steady Django Reinhardt
style guitar lines and Dylan's loose, relaxed vocals. On Bye And Bye,
Dylan is a little giddy, hamming it up as he revels in the fact that
while "the future for me is already a thing of the past", "I've found
true happiness", "breathing a lover's sigh." Floater, with Campbell's
violin and banjo, has an especially retro feeling. Dylan's playful,
scratchy singing is so comfortable that it's not a showy justification
but just a fact when, amid his rural observations, Dylan throws in
"old, young, age don't can't carry weight, it doesn't matter in the
end." With quiet guitar and drums and Dylan doing as restrained a
vocal as he's prepared to do on Love And Theft, Moonlight achieves
a graceful elegance. Dylan is an appealingly sweet suitor, using images
from nature as he asks a woman to help him recapture romantic reverie
from years past. On Po' Boy, Dylan tells bad jokes and shows a nice,
positive humanity over easy, low-key acoustic guitar backing. At the
end of Po' Boy, he sweetly sings "all I know is that I'm thrilled
by your kiss" but as if embarrassed by pure sincerity, he follows
it goofily: "I said Freddie who, he said Freddie or not, here I come."
I'm not a huge fan of the blues but I really like the blues songs
on Love And Theft. The music is great and Dylan is loose enough to
breathe some life into the genre. Lonesome Day Blues is fairly standard
blues but it's still a lot of fun, thanks to muscular musical backing
and Dylan's mischievous lyric and vocal. You can almost see Dylan
winking as he sings about a woman who "lived in my house 'bout four
or five months": "don't know how it looked to other people, I never
slept with her even once." Cry A While has a meaty blues groove. Dylan
plays the archetypal role of a guy vowing to make his mistreating
woman feel the kind of pain he's felt but his rough, defiant voice
and lyrics (he may be the first blues man to tell his woman he knows
about "Don Pasquale making a 2 AM booty call") keep the song fresh.
The country blues song High Water is slightly more serious than most
of Love And Theft but Dylan is still an engaging character. Amid the
images of a town being devastated by a flood, Dylan throws in goofy
lines like "jump into the wagon love, throw your panties overboard.
I can write you poems make a strong man lose his mind."
Mississippi has already been covered by Sheryl Crow in a glib,
pleasant version but Dylan's version has a lot more substance. Mississippi
was written for Time Out Of Mind. It didn't make that record but it
has the bittersweet reminiscing "days are numbered" feel of a lot
of that record's songs. Moving at a graceful, stately pace, Dylan
looks back at a life that's taken a bunch of shots at him and still
finds reasons for hope("I know that fortune is waiting to be kind.")
He expresses a sweet gratitude for the one he's with, simply proclaiming
"I'm gonna look at you 'til my eyes go blind" and that "all my powers
of expression", "could never do you justice in reason or rhyme." Love
and Theft ends with Sugarbaby, the kind of slow, serious, reflective
song the mostly light hearted CD generally avoids. Resisting the entreaties
of a woman who once broke his heart, Dylan is in a mournful but still
hopeful mood. He rues the memories you can't learn to live with and
the fact that "happiness can come suddenly and leave just as quick."
He states "there ain't no limit to the amount of trouble women bring"
but still feels "love's not an evil thing."
Love and Theft is great record. Every song is a gem. The lyrics have
vivid imagery -mostly set in a colorful rural world - and compelling,
detailed stories of a man who's made lots of mistakes, especially
in love, but wants to keep experiencing life. He keeps a sense of
humor even when things are at their worst. The music has good range.
It's fun on rockers and ballads and everything in between. Dylan's
strong band keeps up with him on all the styles he tries. Dylan's
craggy voice deserves special mention. It's definitely the voice of
an old man who's seen a lot. But as he rumbles along he's sarcastic
and funny as well as sometimes poignant. He has a casual, off-the-cuff
manner but he's very smart and engaged. While Love And Theft feels
very spontaneous, it's clearly carefully thought out. Love And Theft
deserves to be ranked along with the best records of Dylan's career
as well as at the top of the best records of the new century.