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October 2001 Pick of the Month

Love and Theft 
Artist: Bob Dylan
Label: Sony
Length: 12 tracks/57 minutes
 
 

What will he do next? It is always the question, and--in the past fifteen years, at least--always the fear. Dylan fans have gotten used to inconsistency in his output, after Oh Mercy, 1989ís great return to form, was followed by the pathetic Under a Red Sky.

So there was trepidation that Love and Theft, the follow-up to the great return to form of the nineties, Time Out of Mind, would be a similar anticlimax and disappointment. Hearing that the first track was called "Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum" did not settle the nerves, but it is official--Bob Dylan can make two good albums in a row!

Indeed, this might be as good, if not better than, its predecessor. The critics will no doubt disagree, favoring the arty and less commercial, but this album could see the sixty year-old Dylan begin to challenge his son Jakobís (The Wallflowers) chart positions. It is as accessible as Dylan might ever get. It's loose, uncluttered and melodic with a range of musical genres covering everything from crooners(!) to rockabilly to the blues. In some ways, it is a look back across the horizon of the styles of the last century, with echoes of the twenties, the forties and on towards his own entry into the scene and beyond. The aforementioned "Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum" is a rolling blues number; "Summer Days" is pure rockabilly and "Bye and Bye" could be sung by Sinatra. "Mississippi" and "Sugar Baby," meanwhile, are trademark Dylan, the latter revealing how his distinctive howl has shifted from the nasal to the raspy. His voice, after years on the seemingly Never Ending Tour, has never sounded so good or distinctive. Twists and twirls are the dish of the day, lyrically, with introspective insight and intriguing storytelling leaving many a pleasing surprise in the final rhyme, both humorous and profound.

If one life can have two legends, then, just maybe, Dylanís on his way to creating his second one. Now for a hat trick!

Steve Stockman 9/23/2001
 
 

Steve Stockman is the Presbyterian Chaplain at Queens University, Belfast, Ireland, where he lives in community with 88 students. He has just finished a book on U2 - Walk On; The Spiritual Journey Of U2, is the poetic half of Stevenson and Samuel who have just released their debut album Gracenotes and he has a weekly radio show on BBC Radio Ulster. He has his own web page - Rhythms of Redemption at http://stocki.ni.org. He also tries to spend some time with his wife Janice and daughters Caitlin and Jasmine.

Not too many 60-year-old guys can turn out what may very well be the best album of the year. But then again, Bob Dylan isn't most 60-year-old guys. The unconquerable Dylan's Love and Theft is the first studio album he has released since his Grammy-winner Time Out of Mind.

The unpretentious sort of bluesy folk-driven rock/rock-driven folk (though neither designation can really contain this album) Dylan has crafted on this record practically reeks of Americana, in the best way possible. Listeners hear the sunsets, the winding roads and the echoes of time and musical influence long past. This record almost makes one wish resurrection of those times. Everything on this album has a kind of synthesis that makes it seem that the components have been mingled together at length. From the band Dylan has assembled and the instrumental sounds it creates (including such organic sounds as a banjo, an accordion, as well as a mandolin), to the interplay of the lyrics and music, this album defines synergy.

Dylan hits all the key themes in this record: life, death, love, women, faith, God, friendship, history and heritage. The lyrics seem to flow out of him with unconscious ease, like he's an old sailor spinning a yarn or a farmer passing the secrets of the land on to his kids. One thing Dylan doesn't do on this album is brood. Instead, he speaks like someone who has acquired perspective along with experience (why can't these two go together more often?). He's not above an occasional lyrical wink. He even tells a knock-knock joke. Don't believe it?

Knockin' on the door, I say 'who is it, where you from'
Man say 'Freddie', I say 'Freddie who'
He say, 'Freddie or not, here I come.
And that in the same song in which he remarks, "Time and love have branded me with their claws." (Po'Boy)

Dylan's voice is gristled, and that fits his substance and his style. The gooey overproduction of pop music wouldn't suit the subtleties of Dylan. He produced this album himself, under the pseudonym of "Jack Frost."

It might be fate, irony or just coincidence that this album was released on the now-infamous date of September 11, 2001. The man who has, in 43 albums, seen many stages in life and history pass by again provides a word that, however unconscious it was at the time, seems ripe with meaning in these tragic days.

I'm on the fringes of the night fightin' back tears that I can't control,
Some people ain't human, they ain't got no heart or soul,
But I'm a-cryin' to the Lord, tryin' to be meek and mild,
Yes, I cried for you, now it ís your turn, you can cry a while. (Cry a While)
In one way, there seems to be too much to say about Dylan. How to condense such a long and influential career? But in another sense, there are few words for this man. Dylan remains essentially Dylan, and he's not gussying himself or his music up for anyone. Volumes can be written about the intricacies, but all you need to know in the end is that he is who he is and thatís it. Don't throw the term "living legend" around too loosely. It certainly applies to Dylan, but flippant it isn't. Dylan inspired and continues to inspire generations of songwriters, but we are quite glad to have the real deal still around.

Megan Lenz 10/8/2001
 

 

   
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