Monday, June 21, 2010

Bob Dylan: Love and Theft

Bob Dylan proved once again that he is as defiant in his sixties as he was in his twenties. After the 1980's, which almost saw Dylan become culturally irrelevant, the 90's which saw him reinvent himself by embracing his own past and the music that influenced him (ie 1993's World Gone Wrong). Then what many thought might be his last go round with Time Out Of Mind and 'Things Have Changed'. Dylan blew everyone away by releasing Love and Theft on September 11, 2001. Gone from Love and Theft is the rich and slick production that Daniel Lanois brought to Time Out Of Mind, in favor of a loose after hours bar jam feel brought to you by Dylan(aka Jack Frost) and his touring band (List Musicians).

After the success of Time Out Of Mind and “Things Have Changed” a confidence and swagger returned to Dylan and he mixed this new energy with rockabilly, Western swing, jazz, and even lounge music, to create his most appealing and ambitious work since Blood On The Tracks.

Lyrically, Love And Theft is composed in the same cultural patchwork style that his classic mid-1960's albums were. Blues, folk, poetry, film, literature, and biblical references are all used by Dylan as the springboard for his creative thought. Arguments have been made about the numerous references contained on this album and even those on his earlier albums about whether or not this constitutes plagiarism. Another argument is that these references are genuinely literary allusions like poets and prose writers use as a literary technique. It's hard not think of Bob with a sly wink, knowing full and well the Dylanologists of the world would pick these songs apart in the fools quest to understand them in hopes of better understanding the man. Just for moment think of Bob smirking, knowing that people were now reading Confessions of A Yakuza by Junichi Saga (which is referenced thirteen different times), or the poetry of Henry Timrod, or listening to Charley Patton. Or maybe not, the album is called Love and Theft.

Love and Theft also resembles The Basement Tapes in its use of quintessentially American myths, mysteries, and anecdotes delivered by Dylan with a voice that is bawdy, roguishly charred, humble and ironic. The album is kicked off by the swinging “Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum” which features a pair of absurd folk heroes who seem to be taken out of a forgotten American landscape that's one part the old, weird America of The Basement Tapes and one part Mark Twain.

“Mississippi” is probably the most lyrically interesting and challenging song on the album. The lines “Well my ship’s been split to splinters and it’s sinkin' fast / I’m drownin’ in the poison, got no future, got no past / But my heart is not weary, it’s light and it’s free / I’ve got nothin’ but affection for all those who’ve sailed with me.” Has always invoked the image of Theodore Gericault painting
The Raft of Medusa.

“Summer Days” is an up-tempo rockabilly tune filled with boozy rural and early rock n' roll references. The song has so much vigor and swinging energy that makes it the most striking departure from the songs on Time out of Mind on the album.

“Bye and Bye” finds Dylan settling into the groove of a nice shuffle, delivering lines with a shrug about a man getting along. Then he drops the key lines “The future for me is already a thing of the past/ You were my first love and you will be last.” The narrator has clearly accepted his fate and with a cares little about it, except he knows he must go forward and find the little joys in life.

“Lonesome Day Blues” is a rough and ready blues number. Dylan's voice is at its full raspy best as if he's trying to pull off his best Howlin' Wolf impression.

“Floater (Too Much To Ask)” is a pop country shuffle that lives in nostalgia. A broken string of images that feels like a man pulling memories and thoughts from the ether, then writing a stanza for each.

With “High Water (For Charlie Patton)”, Dylan took the flood saga of Charley Patton's original “High Water Everywhere” and reworked it into a tragic, yet oddly comic surreal apocalypse play with a cast of characters reminiscent of something off Highway 61 Revisited. The song is a collection not only of Patton references (“Shake It & Break it”, “High Water Everywhere”, and “Devil Sent the Rain Blues”)
But also nods to Clarence Ashley and Robert Johnson can also be found.

“Moonlight” is a tender love song that feels like something that could have been released in 1950's.

“Honest With Me” is the most modern sounding track om the album. A bit of a rocker that finds Dylan cantankerous and cocky all at once.

“Po' Boy” is a song that has a certain 1920's charm as if written by Groucho Marx.

“Cry A While” is a classic just for Dylan's growl and getting the opportunity to hear him sing the line
Last night 'cross the alley there was a pounding on the walls/ It must have been Don Pasquale makin' a two a.m. booty call.

With “Sugar Baby” Dylan has once again elected to close out an album with a long song. (ie Desolation Row, Sad Eyed Lady of The Lowlands...) The music and lyrics in this song aren't at ease with one another which creates the foreboding mood that moves the lyrics along in a haunting and disconcerting way. The song shares a similarity with “A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall” is the sense that each line is independent from others, thus lacking any real cohesion except in mood. Dylan also borrows the lyric “Look up, look up and seek your Maker, 'fore Gabriel blows his horn”, from Gene Austin's “Lonesome Road”.

No comments:

Post a Comment