CRY A WHILE
Love And Theft must be the funniest album of Dylan’s entire career. The humour is there in almost every song with throwaway lines such as “Jump into the wagon love, throw your panties overboard”, “I’m sitting on my watch, so I can be on time”, “I’m no pig without a wig”, “Freddie or not, here I come”, and, best of all, in Cry A While, “Last night across the alley there was a pounding on the wall, it must have been Don Pasquale making a 2am booty call”.
Another electric blues that starts like a slowed down Rainy Day Women #12 & 35. Dylan rasps, the drums and bass thump, and an amped-up guitar plays exactly the right notes, like early Taj Mahal. The rhythm seems to stop and start and the band put not a foot wrong. More gangster (or even gangsta) chic, a tough and masculine world straight out of Raymond Chandler where everyone is backstroking someone else, and - in the best joke of the whole album - a pounding on the wall “must have been Don Pasquale making a 2am booty call”.
A straight, late Dylan blues that would have been quite at home on his previous doom-and-gloom-laden album, Time Out Of Mind, Cry A While is a rhythm-shifting pile-driver harking back to classical acoustic country music, borrowing its menacing bass line from Tommy Johnson’s late-1920s delta standard, Big Road Blues. At the same time, the song references Dylan’s own guitar-playing past with the turnaround lick employed in Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat and his longevity when he sings, “I don’t carry dead weight, I’m no flash in the pan.” And for all his intellectualism, Dylan shows he can be as ribald as they come in Cry A While, snorting lines that could have fallen off a Redd Foxx party record, “Don Pasquale makin’ a 2am booty call.”
Dylan began performing Cry A While almost immediately after its Love And Theft release during the fall 2001 Never Ending Tour that first showcased songs from the album.Finally, it was the Love And Theft song he chose to perform at the 2002 Grammy Awards ceremonies, a rendition praised by Bonnie Raitt as “perhaps the funkiest performance by a white guy that I have ever seen. He’s at the top of his game.”
Published lyric/s: Lyrics 04.
Known studio recordings: Clinton Recording Studios, New York City, 18 May 2001 – 2 takes.[L+T – tk.2]
First known performance: Sacramento Memorial Auditorium CA, 10 October 2001.
“The old Chess records, the Sun records. I think that's my favorite sound for a record. I like the intensity. The sound is uncluttered. There's power and suspense. The whole vibration feels like it could be coming from inside your mind. It's alive. It's right there.” Dylan to Bill Flanagan, 2009
For the tenth song recorded at the Love And Theft sessions, Dylan returned to his “favourite sound”, the one that came out of 2120 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago – fabled locale of Chess Studios when they had the likes of Chuck Berry, Sonny Boy Williamson, Howlin' Wolf, Otis Span and Willie Dixon recording for them. In fact, the template for Cry A While featured no less than three of these gentlemen. Otis Span played piano and Willie Dixon plucked the bass on the March 1958 Sonny Boy Williamson session that resulted in Your Funeral And My Trial.
As with the song that started this whole appropriation-as-art-form conceit – Mississippi – Dylan directly cops to his musical debt in the final couplet:
“I might need a good lawyer, could be your funeral, my trial / Well, I cried for you, not it's your turn, you can cry awhile.”
And, like those guys, Dylan was determined to cut Cry A While in a couple of takes, maximum. Having conjured up usable first takes of both Po' Boy and High Water (For Charley Patton) in the last couple of days, the man was on a roll and, sure enough, he got the song on the second take, without a single “roll over”. Leonard would have been proud of him.
The song's conceptual debt did not, however, come from Chicago, though it could have come from any number of folk whose imprint was all over this album. I Cried For You (Now It's Your Turn To Cry Over Me) was the kind of standard that was bound to attract – and did – the likes of Billie Holiday, Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong. But it took Dylan to see that such a title suggested an electric blues, not a jazz standard.
Just to reinforce his stylistic switch, Dylan even dropped in a line from The Dope Head Blues, a 1927 recording by his old friends, Lonnie Johnson and Victoria Spivey (“Feel like a fighting rooster, feeling better than I ever felt”); and instituted (and kept) a tempo change at the start of it all, as if he had yet to decide which way the song should go. At the same time, he recovered his sense of humour, sending up the plot to a Donizetti opera, with, “It must have been Don Pasquale making a two am booty call.” He also satirized America's obsession with weight: “I’m longing for that sweet fat that sticks to your ribs”; and perhaps dug into one of his Marx Brothers boxed sets for the line “Well, you bet on a horse, and it ran the wrong way.” All things considered, Cry A While stands as the best of the songs on Dylan's 2001 album bearing a Chicago postmark.