Bob Dylan released "Love and Theft" on the memorable date of September 11, 2001. The quotation marks are an official part of the title. It was his first album since 1997’s Time Out Of Mind. While that album would be dark and even fearful at times; Dylan would return to his blues and folk roots in a positive manner. Though far different from each other, both were successful in their own way. It would be Dylan’s highest charting album in years reaching number 3 on the National charts. Rolling Stone Magazine would place it at 467 on their 500 greatest albums of all time.
I can’t help but think that Dylan had fun writing and recording the songs for this album. There is an old time feel to it, especially on the blues numbers. The lyrics were strong and the song structures tight. The music itself has a beauty. Dylan was also wise enough to use his touring band in the studio rather than assembling different combinations for each track. The fact that they had been playing together regularly shows. The only problem I have with the album is his voice. It has a gruffness and sounds lower than in the past, but he manages to get by.
This is not as personal or as thoughtful as many of his past efforts. Instead the focus is upon the songs themselves and this was a wise decision. Dylan, who was now forty years into his career, had decided to just create some music with no hidden agenda or at least very little.
It is the blues songs that dominate the album. “High Water (For Charley Patton)” is Dylan paying homage to a man who influenced not only his music but American music in general. Also known as Charlie Patton, he was one of the originators of The Delta Blues sound. The song looks at southern racial history as well.
Other original blues tunes dominate this release. “Po’ Boy” is right out of the 1920’s. “Sugar Baby” can almost be imagined as being played at a funeral procession in New Orleans. “Bye and Bye” has been used in his live act and the sweet music provides shelter from the intensity of the lyrics. “Summer Days” almost makes a turn into an early country swing sound.
The most memorable track on the album is “Mississippi.” It is a melodic folk ballad of alienation and regret. Both Sheryl Crow and The Dixie Chicks would change this song around and create memorable versions.
"Love and Theft" is an album I do not play enough. When I do give it a spin I find new delights. Bob Dylan proved, that even as his life entered its sixth decade, he is still a master of his craft.