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Tuesday December 7th

Dylan Explores His Roots, American Music History

Bob Dylan
Love and Theft

Four decades of experience bringing life to music -- and vice versa -- has not changed Bob Dylan very much.

He is still the Everyman of singer/songwriters, a troubadour for numerous generations. He is the loner, the man in love, the drifter -- both a casual observer and a passionate participant.

Love and Theft, the latest addition to Dylan's lengthy discography, traverses through an entire century of musical styles to critique music's current state.

The album's 12 tracks hold to the high standards we would expect from Dylan. But things have changed since last we heard from him on Time Out of Mind -- Dylan has been listening to the blues.

With each listen, something striking about this album becomes more obvious. Dylan, an artist who pushed music forward, has taken American music back to its roots with the blues, rockabilly, bluegrass and jazz.

The album grooves, flows, ducks and reels through its variety of styles. With the exception of the grating first track, "Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum," each track masterfully borrows from the annals of American music history.

For all of its dynamics, however, the album possesses a relatively good balance.

Its simple instrumentation is well-mastered and very well-played. The musicality of the players and the strength of the music itself are what makes this mix of musical styles a plausible and effective one.

Dabbling with bluegrass in "High Water," experimenting with rockabilly in "Summer Days," each equally well-crafted track is presented in a different style but introduced by a familiar voice.

Even the improvement of this familiar voice is well-documented throughout the album. Dylan, a notoriously rocky vocalist, now commands a voice on this album that has grown noticeably less harsh with age, something even the most avid Dylan fans can appreciate.

But make no mistake about Love and Theft. While his voice might have mellowed, this is not an album to be played softly in the background.

Deserving, if not requiring, the care of its listeners, the album is an involving survey course in American music from its most influential renegade.

By the sound of things, the infamous rebel spirit that has characterized Dylan throughout his career is still alive and well.

Who but Dylan would dare to record "Bye and Bye," a pop ballad in the style of 1940s-era Frank Sinatra, and have it play into a raunchy blues-based jam like "Lonesome Day Blues"?

But that is what Dylan has always reveled in: the confounding of all expectations. It is his game, and he makes the rules.

As he says in "Floater," "Old, young/ Age don't carry weight/ It doesn't matter in the end." With a voice that sounds like dirt being shoveled into an open grave, he is delivering a message to the younger generation that his time isn't up yet.

From the easygoing shuffle of "Mississippi" to the jazz flavors of "Moonlight," Dylan is affirming his timeless ability to lay his hands upon any genre and make magic from it.

Love and Theft isn't quite the black magic of Time Out of Mind, but it more than announces another victory for a man with a gravel voice, a guitar pick and an unmatched skill for sewing a musical tapestry four decades strong.

The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at artsdesk@unc.edu.

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