License To Drive: Bob Dylan’s Love and Theft

By the fall of 2001, Bob Dylan had already made a comeback. A couple of times. Most recently with 1997’s Grammy winning album, Time Out Of Mind. So four years later when Love and Theft appeared, it just cemented his standing as a heritage artist that is still very much relevant, and it helped pave the way into his later career. The album didn’t win three Grammys like the prior release, but it garnered nearly universal acclaim, with most initial reviews fawning all over it. Dylan was back. Again.

Love And Theft started Dylan on the path of re-covering . . . by which I mean, reinventing others’ songs. This 16 year old collection of 12 songs, though not a cover album, does feature some reworkings of classic melodies, themes, lyrics, and at one point Dylan goes so far as to plagiarize. Dylan lifted some lines from the 1991 novel, “Confessions of a Yakuza,” by Junichi Saga. The author was flattered however when the connection was made, and nothing came of it. But the offending inoffensive song “Floater,” drifts along and tells a beautiful, yet borrowed story.

Other borrowed music comes on the song “High Water (For Charley Patton).” Here Dylan credits Mr. Patton for his 1929 song “High Water Everywhere,” but also references another classic American musician, Robert Johnson, with some more lifted lyrics from “Dust My Broom.”

Lastly, Dylan cannibalizes his own work, “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again,” with a fresh take on that classic 1966 melody on the new track “Mississippi.” Sheryl Crow was given this song by Dylan, who is one of the most generous song writers of the last half century. Crow recorded her version first in 1998 and she has used it to much success in her live show for many years since. Here she is explaining the song and performing it.

Nobody seemed to mind the liberal use of others’ words and music on Love and Theft, but on his next release, 2006’s Modern Times, Dylan was met with harsh criticism for his blatant use of, and lack of credit given, for his source material. But that hasn’t happened yet.

With all of these gentle nods, remakes, and borrowings on Love and Theft, the title of the album seems even more appropriate. Dylan got the theft part down. And the love, well, he shows that all over the album. There is a wide range of musical tastes and themes on this record. It starts off with a rollicking rocker telling the dark story of “Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum.” The album moves quickly into apologetic blues ballads, swinging and joyous toasts, and some skiffle-style rockers.

Love and Theft is a cross country tour of American song craft, with stops in New York, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and California. Dylan brings us along on his expedition, and we are fully aware of it, but still can’t believe it. And years later, we still find new things to see out of the car window. The beauty of Dylan is, it’s a different experience each time you take the journey.

Love and Theft is one of those albums that likes to be listened to in its entirety, unless you don’t have time, in which case, just pick a few of your favorite tracks. It is also an important album in the Dylan catalogue. Looking back, it shows his future trajectory, as a crooning cover artist, aging in the spotlight. Pick this album up or pull it off your shelf and give it a listen again, even if you’re not a die-hard Dylan fan, it’s a must have for most personal collections.

Here’s a promotional commercial for the album, I find humorous. I hope you enjoy.

By | 2017-08-16T14:53:26+00:00 August 16th, 2017|Categories: License to Drive|