There is no period in Bob Dylan's career that was so venomously discussed as when Dylan went into religion as born-again Christian. The man was vilified, once again. For folk adepts it was anathema that Dylan plugged in in 1965, but he shocked his fans beyond believe when he made gospel(rock) albums in 1979-1980-1981. Nothing had prepared his listeners for this move. Not 'Street Legal' (1978) and 'Live At Budokan' (1979), that excellent double live album from his last tour until then. On the tour that started in September 1979 he started playing Christian songs exclusively and discarded his whole back catalogue. The shows were without exception negatively written about. Lo and behold, many of these shows were taped and here's the Bootleg Series Vol.13, from his born-again Christian shows. I am listening to the one disc sampler version on Spotify and am amazed, once again, by the strength of Dylan's hidden back catalogue.
I can't remember when I played 'Slow Train Coming' for the last time. I only played 'Saved' for 50% or less after buying it second hand somewhere in the early 90s for completion sake. The third album, 'Shot Of Love', may have been played somewhat more recently. None of the three albums, like almost all albums in 80s that followed, made a lasting impression on me. Then and now.
'Biograph' and 'The Bootleg Series, vol. 1-3' had made it clear to me that the gospel years had rendered some fantastic songs. The period had indeed delivered some extremely inspired songs, including perfect renditions. And here I am, listening to a sampler with versions of songs recorded through the whole religious period. Remembering Ian Bell's book 'Time Out Of Mind', the second volume of his Dylan biography, a lot of the shows were uninspired or even saw an angry Dylan as his audience wasn't willing to follow him (again). Where ever the truth is found, usually somewhere in the middle, this sampler shows how strong Dylan and band were. The gospel choir singing with all they have got, pushing songs to great heights. One of the singers is Clydie King, who can be found on The Rolling Stones albums as well, is rumoured to have turned Dylan towards his born-againness. She and her colleagues are singing like they mean it alright. 100% Dedication and conviction can be heard in their voices.
Dylan's voice is already on route to what we are hearing today. Not yet on his Never Ending Tour, he was already touring relentlessly in these days and it can be heard in the weariness in his voice. Not a single choir would have taken him on as a member. He is leading his band with all he has. But then listen to 'When He Returns - Take 2'. Just Dylan and a piano and there's nothing else needed. The strength of the song and the wording are more than enough. Dylan may be singing about the Lord, if I look through that, all I hear is a fantastic Bob Dylan song.
The sampler shows that the whole box set must be a feast of live recordings, outtakes, alternative versions, etc. For the xth time it seems time to save up some money and emerge into the whole. Why is it that with Bob Dylan, whose new albums I've stopped buying, as I can't listen to his versions of songs from his youth (usually the same goes for the original versions as well), I need to have all this older stuff. Somehow, almost without a doubt, it proves better than the original versions and recordings. With every other band it is the other way around. The Beatles 'Anthology' is fun, but not more than that. With Dylan it is as if he releases the real version of songs, and his bests songs, only on his 'The Bootleg Series'.
I've stopped thinking about the why and just receive the albums with a silent thank you to his Bobness. Even the one I thought to be able to skip without a thought, proves to be so strong it is almost shocking.
So here goes prejudice. Never listen to people like me, writing on what they like or dislike and always make up your own mind first or at least, certainly afterwards. Perhaps with a little aid by posts like this. Never the title of an album rang more true than this one: Trouble No More. Happy listenings.
You can listen to 'Gonna Change My Way Of Living' here: