Love and Theft, Bob Dylan Columbia

Paul Wong
Courtesy of Knopf

How many albums has this guy made? Well, according to the official Bob website, the answer is 34, and that excludes Greatest Hits, live albums, collaborations, “Unplugged,” etc. The man has been writing music for almost 40 years. Is he slowing down with his latest album Love and Theft?

Although any recent picture of Bob might suggest that he”s some poor minstrel on his fifth scotch of the hour, the man”s songwriting abilities are still remarkably sober. This album exhibits a more nuanced and funny Bob than we normally hear. “Mississippi,” for example, shows the uncanny storytelling always present on a Dylan album. It brings to mind such geographically placed tunes as “Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again.” And “Po” Boy” twangs the gamut of subjects like feeding pigs, knock-knock jokes and Shakespeare references. Love and Theft reminds us, just as Time Out of Mind did in 1997, that Bob is still a consummate and versatile lyricist. Some of the best lines include “I”m in love with my second cousin/ I think I could be happy forever” and “I”m stark naked/ And I don”t care.”

And what about the music? The Bobrock as I call it, is still fresh and quirky. Despite Bob”s supreme lyrical skill, the music is never secondary. Rather, it”s the crust of the pie, so to speak, reinforcing the whole recipe. Yet, each song breaks the mold in its own subtle and profound way. They greet you with warmth and befriend your musical emotions, as if you always had a familiarity with the sound, even if you never did. A sweet violin, a squeaky guitar solo or a rosy accordion drops you squarely into a rural dance hall circa 1965 and makes you want to waltz.

There is a country mood to Love and Theft, but it”s old country like Johnny Cash, rather than Shania or the mullet King, one Billy Ray Cyrus. It”s a country with chest hair and sad stories. Yet, the Bobrock cannot be classified under one heading. Love and Theft dances across the genres with ease. The album is like a long road trip through a lot of southern music. Bob and certainly his band deserve credit for avoiding the well-traveled expressways, sticking to the county roads where the culture and the life inspire the sounds. In its current mutation, Bobrock includes straight up Chuck Berry rock n” roll, rockabilly, country, bluegrass, something like ragtime, folk and deep southern blues.

Complimenting the chest hair is Bob”s raspy crooning. True, Bob”s voice is pretty haggard, rattling and scratchy. And it does seem like the man habitually gargles with moonshine, but to all those who are turned off by it, give it another chance. On this album, as on all his albums, Bob knows and feels the meaning behind his words and can make the listener feel it too.

Love and Theft is both vintage and new Bob. For the true connoisseur, there is also a limited edition double disc available, which is a rare gem. The extra disc includes two previously unreleased recordings. “I was young when I left home is a beautiful folk traditional. Listen to it and you will hear where Bruce Spingsteen got his voice. And finally, a slower more somber recording of “The Times They Are A-Changing,” is a nice surprise. In this version, Bob changes the tempo and does not play harmonica. It is truly an amazing song, from an amazing musician and songwriter.

Grade : A

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