Sony – 2001 – 57 minutes
I gulped when I was given Bob Dylan's new album to review. It was the equivalent of doing a first aid course and then being asked to perform a heart transplant. Dylan is not just a musician; he is the stuff of college syllabuses, the poet who wrote five hundred songs, the intellectual icon whose fans lambasted him when he plugged in his guitar and he turned rock'n'roll into legitimate art.
Paul Morley has a theory that rock music died the day of Live Aid. You could argue that it first got sick when Dylan turn rock from an insensate ghetto howl born of sex and drugs and turned it into a dinner party discussion topic. Impressive, considering even 'The Bob Dylan Companion' calls him "one of the least talented guitarists and singers around".
Dylan's 1997 hospitalisation with a chest infection, and the subsequent release of 'Time Out Of Mind', regarded as his finest record in decades, appear to have sparked a reflowering of his legendary songwriting ability.
'Love and Theft' is Dylan's 43rd album. That is not a misprint. The sleeve reveals a different figure to the bloated ghost who embarrassed himself in Tom Petty's staggering starf**k, The Travelling Wilburys. Thin and dapper in fedora hat and pencil moustache, Bob Dylan's voice may be creaking as much as ever, but on the wonderful 'Cry A While' he tells us "Feel like a fightin' rooster, feel better than I ever felt".
Opener 'Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum' is raucous rockabilly, with nods to his contemporary, Elvis Presley. The strings, slide guitar and banjo on 'Floater' mesh together to form a Nashville symphony while the stomp of 'Honest With Me' is probably the only song that couldn't have been recorded thirty years ago, such is the downhome bluesy feel of the album. It's a fine collection of songs, perfectly executed by the man's band, closer 'Sugar Baby' is a particularly stunning lament.
As the new Dylan album, 'Love And Theft' is an event. As music, it is hard to believe that someone who is has done so much (and fallen so low) could produce something so tough-minded and enjoyable, so equally painful and pleasurable. The master is back.
Tracklisting: Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum – Mississippi - Summer Days - Bye And Bye - Lonesome Day Blues - Floater (Too Much To Ask) - High Water (for Charlie Patton) – Moonlight - Honest With Me - Po' Boy - Cry A While - Sugar Baby