In the sixties Bob wrote songs that were so unique and profound. For me, he sits outside the realm of all his peers from this era. With "L&T" the impact is not as dramatic because songwriting possibilities (thanks to Bob's influence) have been explored and exploited. Time Out Of Mind, while a brilliant album and still at the top of the heap, does not (for me) really seem to explore any new style or writing technique. That doesn't take away from it's greatness, but with "L&T" I feel Bob once again delves into uncharted territory.
I give the edge to "L&T" and consider it to be one of his finest albums, almost on par with the ones generally recognized as his greatest, BIABH, BoB, HWY61, BOTT, etc.
I wonder if there is something to be said for this theory:
Love and Theft -- like the earliest folk records, and like the Basement Tapes-John Wesley Harding records, and like the Christian records, and the 90s return to folk -- mark a turn by Dylan away from main stream pop-rock and into a kind of highly stylized exploration.
Love and Theft is a (re)turn to Old Weird America and its music as a primary mode of making (and thinking) about music.
I know that's what, ultimately, makes the album so enjoyable for me, and why its borrowings, references, allusions seem natural and insightful, even funny or witty, sometimes.
I like Time Out of Mind fine. Lots of good stuff, but LT is stylized (costumes and all) and so seems more coherent, more singular than the albums of the 20 previous years.
Easy to poke holes in this by saying Dylan has always referred back to the tradition. But, it's pretty clear that with LT we see a formalization of what started in the GAIBTY and WGW records. Dylan as Vaudeville performer, as 19th CE minstrel. I mean he even got the outfit for it and the little thin mustaches.
I think this is why LT stands above TOOM. It has stylistic force.
And I imagine it's why some people really don't like this whole period. The weird song lyrics (the dialogue with the old songs and culture) and the whole Vaudeville put-on may rub them the wrong way. There's also, of course, the broken-ass voice by the time we get to 2006 or so.
It's certainly THE style of his albums since LT.
And finally: at what point do we demarcate the break to the ModBob epoch? with TOOM or LT? Not Oh Mercy, right? that's MidBob, surely.