- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 29, 2001


Love and Theft

(Columbia Records)

Its been more than 25 years since an album of new songs by Bob Dylan sounded as piercingly thoughtful and rollickingly entertaining throughout as does "Love and Theft," his masterful new release.

How fitting that Mr. Dylan, who turned 60 during the two weeks in May when he cut these 12 originals, so engagingly reasserts himself as a vital national treasure at a time when his unrivaled artistry is so sorely needed.

On "Love and Theft," released the same day terrorists attacked the United States, the grizzled singer-songwriter convincingly regains his command of vivid language and his playful sense of humor. And, producing himself as "Jack Frost," he pulls off an ambitious, well-paced survey of American roots music that spans blues, folk, country, pop, rock, swing and even a bit of vaudeville.

Mr. Dylan comes off more like an upstart newcomer than the iconic veteran of 31 previous official studio releases since 1962 (43 albums overall, counting in-concert recordings and anthologies). For the most part, he abandons the dark, foreboding tone of 1997s platinum-selling "Time Out of Mind" (itself a welcome return to form that snagged three Grammys, including album of the year).

Nearly every track here brims with sharply drawn lines, characters and images strung together seemingly effortlessly in narratives that - as in the best of his classic work - may not make logical sense yet plumb universal depths of spirit and emotion.

Among them: the moving "Mississippi," a sort of Dylanized power ballad that sounds like a hit; the gently swaying "Bye and Bye," propelled by a jaunty organ; the ominous "High Water (for Charley Patton)" with its unsettling echoes of the current climate; and the spare and wounded CD-closer, "Sugar Baby."

Common threads include heartbreaking women; fragile, desperate or misunderstood love; truth and lies; war and inhumanity; age and death - and Gods place in it all. Also binding the diverse music forms is the expert playing of Mr. Dylans touring band - guitarists Larry Campbell and Charlie Sexton, bassist Tony Garnier and drummer David Kemper, augmented by old pal Augie Meyers on organ and accordion.

Remarkably, Mr. Dylan brings loads of affection, kindness, wisdom and a sense of peace to the proceedings along with his usual outrage, sarcasm, doubt and regrets. He conveys such qualities with riveting inflection, intonation and phrasing in vocals that range from the hoarse and howling "Lonesome Day Blues" and the locomotively growling "Honest With Me" to the languorously bouncy "Floater (Too Much to Ask)" and the pure, crooning "Moonlight."

In one off-putting move, Mr. Dylan opens with "Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum," a jumble of fractured nursery rhymes sung in a cracked voice and set to a modified Bo Diddley beat that amounts to enjoyable doggerel. It is by far the weakest cut, so dont be dissuaded. What follows is a collection of songs that ranks on any Top 10 list of the mans best works.

- Ken McIntyre

South of Heaven, West of Hell
(Reprise Records)
Country singer Dwight Yoakam takes few risks when it comes to his wardrobe, witness his trademark cowboy hat, but the same can't be said of his work.
As a singer, he blends timeless country stylings with an affection for slick pop hooks, going so far as to cover untouchable rock anthems like Cheap Trick's "I Want You to Want Me."
His most visible film role came as an abusive boyfriend in 1996's "Sling Blade," a character so black at his core that audiences cheered when he met the business end of the titular weapon.
The Kentucky native's latest album, a "companion" piece to "South of Heaven, West of Hell," a film he directed, produced, co-wrote and stars in, finds the singer-songwriter once more on experimental turf.
The film enjoyed a blink-and-you'll-miss-it stay at a few theaters before hitting video store shelves last month. The accompanying record should fare better, though its mix of sound bites and new music won't stand tall when compared with his previous efforts.
The album offers seven new compositions, along with three traditional covers and the expected dialogue snippets that add up to less than zero when taken out of context.
Two spare piano ballads start and nearly end the release, each sounding like nothing Mr. Yoakam has attempted before. The first, "Words," provides an elegiac opening, with its ethereal singing and plaintive mood. The latter, the traditional "It Is Well With My Soul," is more fleshed out, letting Mr. Yoakam's mahogany-rich voice soar as he rarely permits. Mr. Yoakam too often selects songs as if to camouflage, not highlight, his wondrous pipes.
In between, "South" features middle-range Yoakam fare that neither crackles nor disappoints. "Tears for Two" finds Mr. Yoakam on familiar, winning territory, and "What's Left of Me" is a respectable midtempo number co-written by Mick Jagger.
"No Future in Sight" supplies a generic organ riff that deadens the song's tale of a lawman's last stand.
"South" likely will surface as a curiosity for Mr. Yoakam's fans and further proof of his willingness to stretch his talents. Like other artists, though, he might have to muck up a few canvases before he gets it right. Christian Toto

No More Drama
(MCA Records)
"No More Drama" is the latest release by the queen of hip-hop soul, Mary J. Blige. This album examines relationships, life, love and what it means to be a woman. Miss Blige's previous albums were about bad relationships and pain. "No More Drama" is about dealing with pain, not dwelling on it.
The title track begins with the familiar strains of "The Young and the Restless (Nadia's Theme)," which is heavily sampled into the song. As the lyrics state, "No more pain, no more drama in my life." The club-inspired hip-hop track "Family Affair," which is the first single released from the album and has reached No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, offers a great dance beat and speaks about enjoying life while you can.
The track "Where I've Been" features guest rapper Eve and talks about growing up and learning from one's past. The song also tries to inspire the listener to remember that no matter how hard life was growing up it doesn't have to stay that way. Other highlights include the songs "Flying Away" and "Never Been," which are about being in love and happy.
This album finds Miss Blige at peace with her life and her music and that makes "No More Drama" that much better. Amy Baskerville

Strange Little Girls
Tori Amos' latest album is an ambitious work in which she faces the male swagger of rock 'n' roll head-on.
An entire dissertation could be done on the subject of how male songwriters see themselves and how they see the women about whom they so often sing. Miss Amos tries to explore this concept in less than one hour by performing songs that range from those of Eminem, to the Beatles to Lloyd Cole.
What's remarkable is that Miss Amos does nothing to change the wording of the songs as she takes on the roles of the women in them. The result sometimes is chilling, as in her rendition of Eminem's notorious "'97 Bonnie and Clyde." This was the rapper's tale of a man disposing of the body of a woman he murdered, all in the presence of their little girl, whom he addresses in a loving tone.
Miss Amos' renditions of the Boomtown Rats' "I Don't Like Mondays," 10cc's "I'm Not in Love" and Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence" are done well. Although not note-for-note renditions, they capture the heart of darkness in each of the songs.
Some of the interpretations are misses, though. She takes the sparsely acoustic guitars and plaintive vocals of "Heart of Gold" by Neil Young and replaces them with howling electric guitars and a wailing interpretation of the lyrics.
During the past 10 years, Miss Amos has picked up a legion of devotees and detractors. But this album is not to be missed for its original thinking and, for the most part, well-crafted songs. Kate Royce

Last Man on Earth
(Red House)
Loudon Wainwright III, the wry singer-songwriter best known for his 1972 novelty hit, "Dead Skunk," returns with "Last Man on Earth," his first CD of newly recorded material in four years.
At age 55, Mr. Wainwright ruminates on issues facing aging baby boomers: death and losing your parents ("Graveyard"), becoming the man your father was ("Surviving Twin"), breakups ("Missing You") and loneliness ("Living Alone"). One of the album's major themes is the death of Mr. Wainwright's mother, whom he fondly remembers in the lovely "White Winos."
Mr. Wainwright wrote some of the songs in his mother's house, where he lived for about 18 months after her death in 1997. Despite the serious themes, Mr. Wainwright's humor shows through, such as on the title track, in which he complains about being an anachronism in a dotcom, yuppie world.
"I sat and watched those guys/Debate each other on TV/Politicians wrestlers/They're all the same to me/Hey I don't give a …/Which idiot runs this country," he sings.
In the liner notes, Mr. Wainwright says he was worried that he would not be able to write songs anymore. Based on this strong batch of songs, given sterling production by Stewart Lerman, he need not have worried. AP

(Deutsche Grammophon)
"Otello," perhaps Verdi's greatest opera, makes its way onto DVD in performances led by two of the conductors who dominated classical music late in the 20th century.
The Deutsche Grammophon release is of a 1974 Unitel film, directed by Herbert von Karajan. Despite the typically intense bravura performance by Jon Vickers, the drama is hurt by the lip-syncing.
Instead, go for the version conducted by Sir Georg Solti, recorded live at London's Royal Opera in 1992. Placido Domingo is at his peak in his greatest role, and the Elijah Moshinsky production, with sets by Timothy O'Brien, is less forced than the Karajan staging. Mr. Solti's conducting is more forceful than Mr. Karajan's, which places beauty of tone over the drama. AP

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