"Love and Theft" is the 31st studio album by Bob Dylan, released by Columbia Records on September 11, 2001. It featured backing by his touring band of the time, with keyboardist Augie Meyers added for the sessions. It peaked at #5 on the Billboard 200, and has been certified with a gold album by the RIAA. A limited edtion release included two bonus tracks on a separate disc recorded in the early 1960s, and two years later, on September 16, 2003, this album was one of fifteen Dylan titles reissued and remastered for SACD hybrid playback.
The album continued Dylan's artistic comeback following 1997's Time Out of Mind, and was given an even more enthusiastic reception. Though often referred to without quotations, the correct title is "Love and Theft". The title of the album was apparently inspired by historian Eric Lott's book Love & Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class, which was published in 1993. "Love and Theft becomes his Fables of the Reconstruction, to borrow an R.E.M. album title", writes Greg Kot in The Chicago Tribune (published September 11, 2001), "the myths, mysteries and folklore of the South as a backdrop for one of the finest roots-rock albums ever made."
The opening track, "'Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum', includes many references to parades in Mardi Gras in New Orleans, where participants are masked, and "determined to go all the way" of the parade route, in spite of being intoxicated. "It rolls in like a storm, drums galloping over the horizon into ear shot, guitar riffs slicing with terse dexterity while a tale about a pair of vagabonds unfolds," writes Kot. "It ends in death, and sets the stage for an album populated by rogues, con men, outcasts, gamblers, gunfighters and desperados, many of them with nothing to lose, some of them out of their minds, all of them quintessentially American.
"They're the kind of twisted, instantly memorable characters one meets in John Ford's westerns, Jack Kerouac's road novels, but, most of all, in the blues and country songs of the 1920s, '30s and '40s. This is a tour of American music—jump blues, slow blues, rockabilly, Tin Pan Alley ballads, country swing—that evokes the sprawl, fatalism and subversive humor of Dylan's sacred text, Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music, the pre-rock voicings of Hank Williams, Charley Patton and Johnnie Ray, among others, and the ultradry humor of Groucho Marx."
Offered the song by Dylan, Sheryl Crow later recorded an up-tempo cover of "Mississippi" for her The Globe Sessions, released in 1998, before Dylan revisited it for Love and Theft. Subsequently the Dixie Chicks made it a mainstay of their Top of the World, Vote for Change, and Accidents & Accusations Tours.
As Tim Riley of NPR notes, "[Dylan's] singing [on Love and Theft] shifts artfully between humble and ironic...'I'm not quite as cool or forgiving as I sound,' he sings in 'Floater,' which is either hilarious or horrifying, and probably a little of both."
"Love and Theft is, as the title implies, a kind of homage," writes Kot, "[and] never more so than on 'High Water (for Charley Patton),' in which Dylan draws a sweeping portrait of the South's racial history, with the unsung blues singer as a symbol of the region's cultural richness and ingrained social cruelties. Rumbling drums and moaning backing vocals suggest that things are going from bad to worse. 'It's tough out there,' Dylan rasps. 'High water everywhere.' Death and dementia shadow the album, tempered by tenderness and wicked gallows humor."
"'Po Boy', scored for banjo with lounge chord jazz patterns, 'almost sounds as if it could have been recorded around 1920," says Riley. "He leaves you dangling at the end of each bridge, lets the band punctuate the trail of words he's squeezed into his lines, which gives it a reluctant soft-shoe charm."
The album closes with "Sugar Baby", a lengthy, dirge-like ballad, noted for its evocative, apocalyptic imagery and sparse production drenched in echo. Praising it as "a finale to be proud of," Riley notes that "Sugar Baby" is "built on a disarmingly simple riff that turns foreboding."
This album has been incorrectly cited as being recorded digitally into ProTools. This album was recorded to a Studer A800 mkIII @ 30ips on BASF/Emtec 900 tape at +6/250 nanowebers per meter. Pro Tools was used solely for editing of specific tracks and was thus used very sparingly. Whatever work was done in ProTools was flown right back to the masters. It was mixed from the masters to an Ampex ATR-102 1-inch 2-track customized by Mark Spitz at ATR Services.
In an interview conducted by Alan Jackson for The Times Magazine in 2001, before the album was released, Dylan said "these so-called connoisseurs of Bob Dylan music...I don't feel they know a thing, or have any inkling of who I am and what I’m about. I know they think they do, and yet it’s ludicrous, it's humorous, and sad. That such people have spent so much of their time thinking about who? Me? Get a life, please. It’s not something any one person should do about another. You’re not serving your own life well. You’re wasting your life."
In a glowing review for his "Consumer Guide" column published by The Village Voice, Robert Christgau wrote: "Before minstrelsy scholar Eric Lott gets too excited about having his title stolen . . . he should recall that Dylan called his first cover album Self Portrait. Dylan meant that title, of course, and he means this one too, which doesn't make "Love and Theft" his minstrelsy album any more than Self Portraits dire "Minstrel Boy" was his minstrelsy song. All pop music is love and theft, and in 40 years of records whose sources have inspired volumes of scholastic exegesis, Dylan has never embraced that truth so warmly. Jokes, riddles, apercus, and revelations will surface for years, but let those who chart their lives by Dylan's cockeyed parables tease out the details. I always go for tone, spirit, music. If Time Out of Mind was his death album—it wasn't, but you know how people talk—this is his immortality album. It describes an eternal circle on masterful blazz and jop readymades that render his grizzled growl as juicy as Justin Timberlake's tenor—Tony Bennett's, even. It's profound, too, by which I mean very funny. 'I'm sitting on my watch so I can be on time,' he wheezes, because time he's got plenty of." Christgau gave the album an A+. Later, when The Village Voice conducted its Pazz & Jop Critics Poll for 2001, "Love and Theft" topped the list, the third Dylan album to accomplish this.
In 2003, the album was ranked #467 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, while Newsweek magazine pronounced it the second best album of its decade. In 2009, Glide Magazine http://www.glidemagazine.com/ ranked it as the #1 Album of the Decade. http://www.glidemagazine.com/articles/55436/glides-best-albums-of-the-decade.html Entertainment Weekly put it on its end-of-the-decade, "best-of" list, saying, "The predictably unpredictable rock poet greeted the new millennium with a folksy, bluesy instant classic."
"Love and Theft" generated controversy when some similarities between the album's lyrics to Japanese writer Junichi Saga's book Confessions of a Yakuza were pointed out. Translated to English by John Bester, the book was a biography of one of the last traditional Yakuza bosses in Japan. In the article published in the Journal, a line from "Floater" ("I'm not quite as cool or forgiving as I sound") was traced to a line in the book, which said "I'm not as cool or forgiving as I might have sounded." Another line from "Floater" is "My old man, he's like some feudal lord." On the first lines of the book is the line "My old man would sit there like a feudal lord." However, when informed of this, author Saga's reaction was to feel honored and not abused at Dylan's use of lines from his work.