Bob Dylan
Love And Theft

Released 2001 on Columbia
Reviewed by Michael-Kim, 06/03/2002ce

Bob Dylan is a dangerous man. And what kind of danger does he put us in? The kind that lyrically articulates such a deep longing for romantic love, by praising its many colors and shapes, that his words could possibly wreck your present love life.

Beware to all spouses or lovers in committed but frustrated relationships, Dylan's lyrics could wake up longings in you for the real fiery deal and jeopardize the complacency of your present set up.

But don't shoot Dylan, he's just the messenger, bringing the news of what real love looks, feels, and sounds like. Plus, his insights on the matter seem born out of years of living with a broken heart, sick with love. So, don't blame him too harshly . . . you might learn something about the subject.

A sensitive listener could pick out most any album in Dylan's discography and find at least one or two tracks on each record that would make him or her, at least, want to throw caution to the wind and claw a way out of their numb securities to pursue rapturous love, until their fingers were worked to the bone.

In the light of this basic and fundamental understanding of Dylan's overall power: Enter Love And Theft, his latest album.

This record is quite simply brilliant. If you want a one word review, there it is. No wonder the inner circle of his greatest fans constantly say, "Dylan is our Shakespeare; appreciate him while he is still among the living." And from where I am sitting, this is not too hard a saying to grasp, it's the very oxygen you breathe after listening to the unassuming genius of the songs on this album.

That's why it is so important that you see him live in concert and bask in his glory before it dims and is taken away.

Even though Dylan is sixty years old now, there is no sign of him slowing down. Love And Theft proves my point. Nor does his sky-scraper tall love-hunger seem to be diminishing with age; in fact, it could very well be growing more intense and unmanagable.

Another case in point, a lyric sample of the second track "Mississippi":

All my powers of expression and thoughts so sublime
Could never do you justice in reason or rhyme
Only one thing I did wrong,
Stayed in Mississippi a day too long....

Some people will offer you their hand and some won't
Last night I knew you, tonight I don't
I need something strong to distract my mind
I'm gonna look at you 'til my eyes go blind....

Well, I got here following the southern star
I crossed that river just to be where you are
Only one thing I did wrong
Stayed in Mississippi a day too long....
Now tell me, is not Dylan pining like a medieval troubadour for this queenly woman, unaware that it's twenty first century America?

I wasn't going to say anything about this, but, he probably wrote it for your wife or girlfriend; he just changed the name of the state to keep you on the nod.

If you don't believe me, try out the freewheelin' lyrics to "Summer Days," he updates the imagery here a bit more:

Summer days, summer nights are gone,
Summer days and summer nights are gone,
I know a place where there's still somethin' goin' on....

Well, I'm drivin' in the flats in a Cadillac car;
The girls all say, "You're a worn out star!"
My pockets are loaded and I'm spendin' every dime.
How can you say you love someone else,
You know it's me all the time.

Which illustrates the following necessary point: Just because you think yourself a King with a Queen at your side, in your castle of everydayness, don't take it all for granted, don't forget to take good care of love.

Dylan, the lover man, who seems to live in a constant state of longing for true love, unconsciously asks you to take his longing seriously, you could end up with a life of regrets otherwise.

Pursue love and find it, but never get too comfortable with it. With love, keep to the edge of your seat, ready to spring into action; don't rest on your laurels, and possible loose it all.

So, as far as love is concerned, Dylan's lyrics can do two things to the listener: Make you work harder in your present relationship or give up and go fishing for the real thing. Which one it is, is up to you....

Now, what does Dylan do to the listener on this particular album? Well, the songwriter's character on this recording -- that provides us with the constant lyrical thread through all the songs here -- is Dylan in the guise of an ole timey minstrel. This affects the whole tone of the record, giving it a more tragically comic presentation than any thing he's done in years.

And because of that, this album is in general more accessible, more apparently light-hearted, and more playful than on his other recent Daniel Lanois produced recordings: You know, the somber but exalted blues meditations of Time Out Of Mind and the confused but compassionately spiritual paeans of Oh Mercy.

Still, don't be fooled, Love And Theft is a heavy mother, very gleefully weighty, with a wink and a smile rather than a hurting-inside-stone-faced expression.

Consider this: If the previous album Time Out Of Mind is more the depressive side to manic-depression, then Love And Theft is more the manic side of it.

Musically, this album is also less lushly produced than the previous Lanois productions; but, for this particular album, such a move compliments the material better than any thick production ever could.

With Bob Dylan ("Jack Frost") as producer this time, the whole production has a much more live-in-the-studio feel, with maybe just a guitar overdub here or there. Which gives it a much looser, more spontaneous vibe than many of his previous records. Which is to say, this recording captures the sound that many of his fans have been waiting for, for years, an album that catches the simplicity and vitality of his live performances.

Well, this is no accident. Instead of using studio session musicians on this album, Dylan straightforwardly used the players that he's been using in live shows. And, yes, he harnesses that feel very well indeed. And, yes, these musicians prove that it would be absurd to replace them with studio jedis; they burn the studio down with each track.

Stylistically, this album jumps from stompin'-whisky blues, to blue grass banjo music, to Hank Williams-style crooning, to raunchy rock, to dirges made up of the observations of a wandering ghost -- so, you can rest assured Mr. Dylan is giving you his encyclopedic best.

That's all he can do.

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