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20 Pounds Of Headlines

by MARK CARTER

SEPTEMBER 2002

The weather is turning cooler, the leaves on the trees are turning golden, my pet tortoise is getting ready to hibernate (at least this is what should be happening not global warming fucking everything up) and I’m still typing up reviews for an album that was released a year ago. Here we go then.

Starting with the German Press, Andreas Montag in the Mitteldeutsche Zeitung reckoned that it was as great as Time Out Of Mind, maybe even greater, whilst Andreas Kunz in Stereo summed up:”…Neil Young should be eaten up with envy because he hasn’t produced anything comparable for a decade now.” The reviewer in Neue Ruhr Zeitung claimed that the glue that holds this album together isn’t the backing band but Dylan’s “brilliantly controlled” voice and Die Woche’s Max Fellman compared Love And Theft with Leonard Cohen’s imaginatively titled Ten New Songs (unless it contains nine or eleven new songs, in which case it’d be hilarious) and decided that Bob is the winner.

Musikexpress concluded that Love And Theft is a lighter and more varied album than TOOM but that time would tell which was the better album and R.Dorschel, in Hamburger Morgenpost, was impressed that Dylan “refused to give the world the epic successor to Time Out Of Mind. Uwe Kading, in the Frankfurter Neue Presse found it “ a solid piece of work” and a “profound goldmine for Dylanologists” and Starbrucker Zeitung’s Udo Feist was only prepared to say that it was “a successful work, if not a masterpiece.”

Stuttgarter Zeitung’s schizophrenic Michael Werner decided that it was “very brilliant” and “very banal” all in the same sentence and Stern reckoned that it was good simply because Dylan sounded happy.

The reviewer for Austria’s Neues Volksblatt reckoned that the lyrics were “teeming” with quotes and then goes on to treat us to a quote supposedly from Highwater that is actually from Floater. Reinhold Gruber, writing for (deep breath here) Austria’s Oberosterreichische Nachrichten didn’t like it, not even the “quite agreeable” Honest With Me, with the whole album failing to “surpass mediocrity” whilst Urs Bruderer, in Switzerland’s Berner Zeitung, liked it well enough but ultimately decided to sit on the fence and “live with it” for a while before giving his final verdict.

Over in America, The Oracle’s Wade Tatangelo concluded that, at 60, “rock’s most venerable icon is making some of the most inspired music of his career.” And the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s John Petkovic called it “ a valentine delivered by a wounded romantic to a music he keeps on stealing from, lovingly.”

The Cincinnati Enquirer’s Larry Nager found Dylan, “still reshaping American roots music into something new, rocking with wit, grace and power” and Clay McCuiston, on Kansan.com, simply stated that “this isn’t an album for the faint hearted”.

And now onto reviews for the Oct – Nov 2001 tour, of which there are many.

Randy Erickson trooped off to the La Crosse Center to review what he saw for the La Crosse Tribune and he liked what he saw; “True to his reputation, much of his singing was unintelligible, but what he lacked in enunciation he more than made up for with passion, a worthy trade.” Dave Tianen reviewed the U.S. Cellular Arena show for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and praised the band, Dylan’s obvious enjoyment and his voice which is “hardly elegant, but has a certain old shoe charm.”

For the Sioux City Journal, Bruce Miller waxed positive about the Orpheum Theatre gig: “…It was his one man music appreciation course… This wasn’t an artist rolling through his greatest hits. It was a musician discovering new meaning in old songs. The Chicago Sun-Times’ Jim DeRogatis was at the United Center and, amidst a show that “refused to treat his songs as museum pieces”, witnessed a show-stopping version of Masters Of War; “… It’s doubtful he ever sang it with more passion than he did at the United Center.”

Canada’s Alan Niester, reviewing for the Globe and Mail, enjoyed both the new and old material at the Air Canada Centre; “…as Dylan showed to a revereant and appreciative crowd of about 10,000, old age and wisdom do not necessarily come at the expense of dynamism.” Debra Bell was just as positive about the Bryce Jordan Center Show for the Penn State Collegian; “….the show was an extremely memorable one and showed that when it comes down to it, all you need for a great show is a talented band and some truly great music.”

The Detroit News’ Kevin Ransom was impressed, on the whole, with the Cobo Arena performance, especially “a sultry, swampy rendition of Cold Irons Bound that was downright chilling.” Mark Bialczak, reviewing the Onondaga County War Memorial Show for the Syracuse Post-Standard, seems to be in something f a minority when he sates that “ Dylan was enunciating better than ever too, making his spicy lyrics clear and understandable.” The Dominion Post’s Jim Bissett was also relieved that Dylan didn’t bring a predictable greatest hits package to the WVU Coliseum;”…The singer was at his croaking best as he twisted, turned and trashed (with glorious results) his standard catalog of songs..”

Michael Leelo, writing for the online magazine (what will they think of next?) Jambands.com was also at Penn States Bryce Jordan Center and was delighted to find Dylan still singing for the times ; “..Who knew the apocalypse could sound as good? … Maybe “This World Can’t Stand Long”, but if Dylan has his way, we’re going to go down laughing, crying, reflecting and relishing every minute of it.” The impossibly named Erinn Exline turned in a positive, if rather starched, review of the West Virginia University show for the Daily Athenaeum, “…Although Dylan’s voice isn’t the most pleasant one to tune in to, he is quite the character to watch… Watching him, one might be reminded of an old leprechaun….This was a sight to see, to say the least. The show was worth going to, regardless of Dylan’s fading voice. He is an excellent musician and lyricist and interesting to watch.” I don’t think I’ve ever read such a prim and proper review. More Tea, Vicar?

The Washington Post’s David Segal especially enjoyed the MCI Center gig because it didn’t follow any musical niceties:”..Beauty has rules. Ugly is a realm without borders …he sang in a bronchial rasp that would frighten the Marlboro man into a tar free life. He honked when he was supposed to harmonize, and wheezed like a guy with a head cold trying to clear his throat with an ice scraper.” So it’s true then; his vocals are getting better. At the same venue, The Washington Times’ Ken McIntyre worried less about the voice and more about the stature of the material; “…Mr. Dylan revelled in the playful and muscular vitality of his latest songs while unreeling often-breathtaking versions of the durable 1960’s classics that made him an icon of American popular song.”

The Madison Square Garden show brought out the critics in force, where they witnessed not only a terrific show but an unusually talkative Bobster, telling the audience that most of his songs were written in New York, and the ones that weren’t were recorded there, before adding, “Nobody has to ask me how I feel about this town.” Whilst acknowledging that, autobiography or not, Dylan is “hardly ready for any restless farewells”, New York Newsday’s Steve Matteo also heaped recognition on the band’ “…With barnstorming fervour, dexterous playing and musical versatility, Dylan’s backing band has had as much to do with the success of this tour as any he has undertaken.” The New York Daily News’ David Hinckley was just as positive; “..nothing surpassed Sugar Baby, a song from Love And Theft that’s so enchanting you wish he had done three or four other new ones, like Mississippi or Po’ Boy. How many veteran artists ever make you say that ?” Jay Lustig, reviewing for New Jersey’s Star-Ledger, also enjoyed the same song, which “benefited from some of Dylan’s most nuanced singing of the night.”

Finally for this month, deep into the tour now, there was another positive review of the Mohegan Sun Arena Show by Kevin O’Hare for the Union News; “…It was a brilliant blend of new and vintage songs.” A roundup of other odds and sods to finish with, the most interesting being Rolling Stone’s year-end double issue, which not only featured Love And Theft as the album of the Year (with a nice photo of Dylan and the musicians at the recording sessions) but also included Bob as one of The People Of The Year. Along with a lovely colour photo of Bob and one of his dogs by Ken Regan. It featured an outtake from Mikal Gilmore’s recent Rolling Stone Interview in which Bob talks at length about the upcoming (God Willing) first volume of Chronicles: “There’s a whole bunch of pages piled up. It’s a biography. It’s biographical in every sense of the word. But there’s more to it than that because I’m a public figure, and so I can mention all kinds of things that have been written about already, but I bring a different resonance to it. My story on myself would have to be more interesting than anybody else that could look at it from the outside, right?” Sure thing, Bob.

In an article on the Sun Records tribute album God Rockin’ Tonight, the Chicago Sun-Times’ Dave Hoekstra interviews Sun Records founder Sam Phillips. “Earlier this year Bob was appearing at the New Daisy Theater. He came out to my house and spent the whole afternoon with me. He had been in Arkansas. He likes to see where it all started, where people picked cotton and all of the things we did to make a living when farming was king in the south. Damn if Bob didn’t call me himself, he said, “I’m over in Arkansas but I want to see you.” I don’t know of a time I’ve enjoyed shooting the breeze with anybody, I enjoyed more than Bob. And he is not comfortable talking to people. Boy, he sure opened up. I’m a Dylan fan. Everybody knows he can’t sing. And the reason he can’t sing is why he’s so good. He’s honest about it.”

And finally, November's Record Collector not only carried all of the available information on the Chronicles series (the first volume has been described as “highly anecdotal. Coffeehouse era.”) but also Peter Doggett’s pretty accurate summing-up of Love And Theft’ “…In the wake of the World Trade Center attacks, with the threat of chemical poison blowin in the wind and global destruction debated on TV, the knife edge humour and bleak surrealism of Dylan’s album made perfect sense,. You wouldn’t want to live there, but sometimes we have no choice.”

Enough already. I’ve typed all this out in one evening and I’m knackered and Richard Harris in the “is it supposed to be funny?” Orca:Killer Whale movie has just started on TV. So it’s time to turn everything off.

See ya next month.

THANKS (YET AGAIN) TO: GRAHAM ASHTION (for 85% of the above) JENS WINTER (for 14%) and ME (I bought Record Collector myself !!)


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