Bob Dylan Love and Theft

Mind, was greeted with a near-rapturous response from critics everywhere who focused in particularly on the haunting, almost other-worldly production that Daniel Lanois gave to the songs. They often commented that Dylan's voice sounded "ghostly," as if he had somehow transmitted a fabulous set of songs back from beyond the grave. Dylan himself, however, was never pleased with the creepy Halloween sound of the last record, or with the fact that Lanois had decided to cast him in the role of lead spook. Accordingly, for the new Love and Theft, he wrested control of production back for himself, performing 12 new songs live from the floor with his current live band, and apparently clinging to life with every word he sings. He may still look a little like a ghost these days (Vincent Price's? Cesar Romero's?), but on this record he sounds very much alive, like an eccentric, insightful, highly unpredictable, slightly grumpy but generally affable old man who insists on doing what he loves rather than what is expected of him. The songs veer off in all directions, from the dark banjo breakdown of "Highwater" to the Tin Pan Alley lilt of "Bye and Bye," and from the Tom Waits-ish ballad "Po' Boy" to the energetic boogie romp of "Summer Days." What holds all of this together, though, is Dylan's own persona - every last one of these songs draws your attention to the man singing them, an endearing, impassioned, and slightly corny grandpa figure who is embracing life with both arms and who obviously loves the music he plays. It's a delight to hear. (Columbia)