Bob Dylan - Love and Theft
4 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: October 1, 2001
By Tony BonyataWith all the top hat-and-cane chutzpah of a turn-of-the-century vaudevillian performer, Bob Dylan draws the curtain up for his forty-second album (including greatest hits collections and live albums) entitled Love and Theft, and puts on an engaging show, not with a highly polished 21st century production, but rather with grease paint, sawdust, taps and a songbook that revisits the great, rich musical genres of America's past.
Unlike his last brilliant, but ultimately somber, album, Time Out of Mind, Love and Theft is upbeat, happy and loaded with promise. And why shouldn't it be? Here we find Dylan laying down his mysteries and secrets long enough to run through twelve honest numbers that encompass the sounds that originally influenced a young Jewish boy from Hibbing, Minnesota, then known as Robert Zimmerman.
Early on in his career as a vocalist, Dylan proved that you don't necessarily have to have a great voice to be a great singer. It wasn't only what he said that held you in his sway, but more importantly, how he said it. His phrasings have always been one of the appeals of this rock-and-roll enigma, and Love and Theft is no exception. What has changed in the last few years, however, is that his voice has matured from a once nasally plea to a raw, ragged wise old man who wants to set the world on his knee and tell us his tall tales. He may have once emulated the raw, gruff vocal styles of Charlie Patton, Blind Willie McTell and Leadbelly, but now, as he enters his sixties, he's finally in their league - the first pop artist to transcend from rock star to American roots legend.
Dylan, along with his recent touring band of guitarists Larry Campbell and Charlie Sexton, bassist Tony Garnier, keyboardist Augie Myers and drummer David Kemper, run the gambit of the rural sounds of the South on Love and Theft as they nail the rousing whiskey-and-nicotine blues of "Lonesome Day Blues" and "Honest With Me," complete with taunting slide guitar which once again revisits the famous highway that runs from his once-home state of Minnesota all the way down to New Orleans. The American standards, so popular in the '30s and '40s, are beautifully recreated on the melancholy "Moonlight," "Po' Boy," the Holiday Inn lounge number "Bye and Bye" and "Floater (Too Much To Ask)," complete with prescribed medicine-show banjo. He briefly touches on rockabilly on the finger-snappin,' foot-shufflin' number "Summer Days," before jigging into the country-fried, bluegrass-laced "High Water (For Charlie Patton)" and then strapping on a rawhide guitar for the dust-kicking opening rocker "Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum."
Time magazine has called Dylan one of the 100 most important Americans of the 20th century and as he proves on Love and Theft, he may very well make their list for this century as well, as he brings the great American song back home.
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