Thursday, September 13, 2001

Dylan celebrates 60 with a rockin' good time

By Larry Nager
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Anticipation is high this week, as Bob Dylan releases the follow-up to 1997's Grammy-winning album-of-the-year Time Out of Mind.

        But while that disc was proof that Mr. Dylan remains a consummate songwriter, “Love and Theft” works another furrow, in a roadhouse-rocking, 12-song set.

   “Love and Theft”
   Columbia; 3 1/2 stars
   $18.98 CD only
        He opens the CD with the twangy “Tweedledee and Tweedledum,” a galloping rocker filled with improvisatory wordplay that sounds a cut from Highway 61 Revisited.

        The elegantly flowing ballad “Mississippi” ups the ante in a song that's as good as anything Mr. Dylan has written, filled with Southern imagery and lost-love regret.

        The lyrics set the tone for the disc, as the world-weary singer tempers the dark vision of Time out of Mind and his Oscar-winning “Things Change.”

        As bad as things may be, he remains optimistic — “I'm drowning in the poison, got no future, got no past. But my heart is not weary. It's light and it's free.”

        Since releasing Time Out of Mind, Mr. Dylan has been a true road-dog, touring everywhere, from tiny clubs (he played Bogart's in 1999) to arenas (he's at Cintas Center on Nov. 4).

        “Love and Theft” features his road band — guitarists Larry Campbell and Charlie Sexton, bassist Tony Garnier and drummer Dave Kemper, augmented by Texas keyboard mainstay Augie Meyers.

        They bring a loose, relaxed feel to the sessions, whether on the swingabilly of “Summer Days” the cocktail lounge ballad “Bye and Bye,” the swaggering blues-rock of “Lonesome Day Blues” or the banjo-driven Appalachian blues of “High Water” (dedicated to Delta bluesman Charlie Patton).

        Perhaps inspired by his retro moustache, he morphs into a Dylanesque Leon Redbone for the '20s-flavored “Floater (Too Much to Ask).”

        No one expected much from Time Out of Mind (it had been eight years since the last really good Dylan album, 1989's Oh Mercy) and it proved to be a major artistic statement.

        In that light, “Love and Theft” could be seen as something of a disappointment, if it weren't for the fact that Mr. Dylan doesn't seem to be aiming for such a lofty goal. Instead, this is a snapshot of the singer/songwriter at 60, out for a good time with some like-minded pals.

        It's been more than 36 years since he unveiled his new electric band at the Newport Folk Festival. It's no longer a revolutionary sound, but he's still at it, reshaping American roots music into something new, rocking with wit, grace and power. He has a great time at it on “Love and Theft,” and so will you.


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