Bob Dylan: "Love And Theft"

Bob Dylan: "Love And Theft"

"You can always come back, but you can't come back all the way," Bob Dylan sings on his latest album, "Love And Theft". It's tempting to scoff at the line, given that it arrives on another superb set, Dylan's first since the remarkable comeback of 1997's Time Out Of Mind. But Dylan may be thinking of "coming back" in a different sense. Time Out Of Mind was haunted by a sense of finality, at least partially the product of Dylan's 1997 brush with death. With Love, he seems to have returned from the experience with looser limbs, a warmer heart, and a keener eye. A blues-and-country-drenched collection unreservedly in love with music predating WWII, and unafraid to throw in the phrase "booty call" and at least one terrible joke, Love seems to come from a far more freewheeling Bob Dylan than the one on The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, or virtually any other album he's recorded. Love opens with a trademark character sketch whose title characters, "Tweedle Dee And Tweedle Dum," seem like guides to some of the light moments that follow. But, as usual, there's more at work, both on that song and elsewhere. "Mississippi" sounds like a resigned acceptance of life's disappointments, while "Summer Days" provides a chugging celebration of the possibilities of autumn. "She said you can't repeat the past / I said you can't? Whaddayamean you can't? Of course you can," goes one exchange. The past is ever-present in Dylan's music, and never more so than now, when he's evolved into the croaky old soul he's played at being throughout his career. It's not just his own past that surfaces here. Dylan's trip to the underworld has seemingly allowed him even better access to the shades that influenced him. "High Water (For Charley Patton)" even comes with an explicit dedication, and incorporates lines from Robert Johnson and the traditional "The Coo Coo Bird." Upon careful listening, the song sounds like the album's heart—an example of how tradition, in the hands of artists like Dylan and countless others of lesser fame, reinvents eternal themes for each age. Like much of "Love And Theft", this description of a disaster and its everlasting psychic toll is also sadly destined to take on added resonance as current events unfold. The comfort, however small, comes from the same strong connection to tradition—a reminder that whatever disasters mankind may face, whatever may seem to divide it, and however many people may die too soon, the essential joys and sorrows of being human remain unchanged through the ages.

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