Love and Theft
Four years after the release of the acclaimed, if frankly overrated Time Out of Mind, Bob Dylan has returned with a far better album. Tracing the roots of American folk, country, and blues and bringing them brilliantly into the new century, Love and Theft emerges as one of Dylan's best, and one of the most consistent albums that he's released in the past 20 years.
In contrast to the subterranean dark visions that dominated his previous effort, Dylan still sounds tough here, but with a clearer outlook. He shows flashes of his stinging sense of humor, something that had slipped out of his writing in recent years. And he's made a very conscious return to melody, lifting his creaky and ragged, 60-year-old voice out of the lower octave doldrums that it occupied for nearly all of Time Out of Mind.
That's plainly apparent on “Moonlight,” a tranquil love song that would have fit perfectly onto Willie Nelson's vintage-flavored Stardust album, if only it had been penned in 1945. That sense of timelessness surfaces again and again, especially on songs such as “Bye and Bye,” in which the bard sings love's praises against a lightly swinging musical backdrop reminiscent of a rooftop orchestra from the first half of the 20th century.
But that swing is nothing compared to the juke joint jumpin' “Summer Days,” which finds Dylan singing with fervor against a rollicking backbeat and sizzling guitar riffs.
While musically distinct, the disc at times has a feel reminiscent of simple and pure, mid-period Dylan offerings like Nashville Skyline and New Morning. One of the disc's best tracks, “Po' Boy,” could have fit easily on New Morning, right down to its lilting melody and tongue-in-cheek lyrics.
The album does contain a handful of very gritty, blues-flavored rockers, yet they're generally not as interesting as the other tracks. But there's no denying the Highway 61-styled urgency of “Honest With Me” or the more deliberate “Lonesome Day Blues.”
His creative comebacks have perhaps been heralded too often during the past couple of decades. But this album, Dylan's 43rd, isn't just one of his best, it's one of the best by anyone in 2001.