The gospel according to Dylan

By Tom Von Malder | Nov 18, 2017
Photo by: Columbia/Legacy Recordings The cover of the latest Bob Dylan official bootleg collection, "Trouble No More," which covers his brief gospel period.

Owls Head — Bob Dylan: Trouble No More: The Bootleg Series Vol. 13 / 1979-1981 (Columbia/Legacy, 8 CDs, 8:11:02, + DVD, 66 min.). This bootleg series covers -- and covers very well -- Dylan's gospel music phase, a period that I was not overly impressed with at the time. The period yielded two religious-based albums, "Slow Train Coming" (1979) and "Saved" (1980), plus the more hybrid "Shot of Love" (1981). For some fans, this phase was as much a turnoff as Dylan's move from folk to electric guitar in 1965. In fact, an included radio promo for the Portland, Oregon show that is found on the DVD includes several fans saying how disappointed they were with his current tour that excluded all his old hits.

This set, and the review is of the deluxe edition, premieres 100 previously unreleased live an studio recording, including 14 songs that never were released on a Dylan album. The recordings -- often spirited, with a wonderful backing quintet of female vocalists, including Clydie King -- are filled with praise, worship and devotion, and often take lyrical cues from the Bible. Starting in November 1979 and continuing through May 1980, Dylan would only perform his new gospel songs from the albums "Slow Train Coming" and "Saved," as he converted to Evangelicalism in 1979. After May 1980, Dylan began mixing in some of his older songs to the playlist, such as "Maggie's Farm" and "Like a Rolling Stone"

The live gospel period is represented by discs five and six, a compilation of the best performances from a four-night stand in Toronto in April 1980. The latter, "Shot of Love" mixed period is represented by discs seven and eight, the complete show from the second night of Dylan's five-night residency at Earl's Court Exhibition Centre in London, whose set list also included "Mr. Tambourine Man," "Just Like a Woman," "Blowin' in the Wind," "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" and "Knockin' on Heaven's Door."

The genius of this set is it allows us to hear Dylan working on these gospel songs, some from demo versions to stage versions. For example, there are four versions of "Slow Train" (very soulful with the backing singers), from a sketch during a sound check to rehearsals with an R&B horn section to a driving blast of gospel fervor. "Gotta Serve Somebody" is first heard as a jaunty strut, then later with the horns. Other songs, such as "The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar" have very different lyrics in the multiple versions included.

In Amanda Petrusich's essay, she recounts Dylan's story of his spiritual conversion, starting when, at a San Diego show in 1978, someone tossed a small silver cross onstage, which Dylan, then 37, dropped in his pocket. The next night, in Tucson, when he did not feel well, he found the cross in his pocket and felt a presence in his room that could not be anybody but Jesus, whom Dylan said put His hand on him.

The first disc contains live performances from Dylan's first gospel tour, highlights being "Slow Train," the rocking, 12-bar blues of "Gonna Change My Way of Thinking," the end-of-time shouter "Solid Rock," the slower, soulful "What Can I Do?" and the uptempo "Saved." Disc two is more live performances, including a more aggressive "Slow Train," an intense "Gotta Serve Somebody," the rocker "Shot of Love" with strong backing vocals, the rocker "Dead Man, Dead Man" and the ballad "In the Summertime." Unreleased songs performed live include "Ain't No Man Righteous, No Not One," "Blessed Is the Name" and "Ain't Gonna Go To Hell for Anybody," which was only performed in 1980 shows. There also is an intense version of "The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar," one of Dylan's better lyrical efforts, but a song that almost was never officially released.

Discs three and four are treasure troves of unreleased material, much of it recorded during sound checks. There also are album outtakes. There is a cover of Hank Williams' "Help Me Understand" and a first attempt at "Gotta Serve Somebody" with different keyboards. Unreleased songs on disc three include the standouts "I Will Love Him," the rocker "Jesus Is the One," with its Chuck Berry-like guitar riff, and the rocker "Thief on the Cross." Also unreleased were "Stand By Faith" and "City of Gold." The unreleased songs on disc four include the upbeat rocker "Yonder Comes Sin" (with a beat that recalls the Rolling Stones' "Jumpin' Jack Flash"), as well as the blues rock of "Cover Down, Pray Through," "Making a Liar Out of Me," "You Changed My Life" and the upbeat "Ain't Gonna Go to Hell for Anybody." there also is a version of "The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar" with different lyrics and lots of slide guitar, as well as "Caribbean Wind" with different lyrics.

The DVD, exclusive to the deluxe edition, includes "Trouble No More: A Musical Film" (58 min.). a new cinematic presentation that combines unreleased footage from Dylan's 1980 tours with eight sermons, written by Luc Sante and delivered by actor Michael Shannon, who plays The Preacher. Outstanding performances are "Solid Rock," "Slow Train" and "Precious Angel." Dylan plays piano on "When He Returns," "Pressing On" and the post-credit duet cover of "Abraham, Martin and John." The DVD extras allow one to just play the concert material or just the sermons, plus there are six bonus performances (28:17), including a rare performance of "Shot of Love" from Avignon in 1981.

The set comes with two hardcover books. The one holding the discs includes an introduction by Dylan scholar Ben Rollins, and liner notes by Petrusich and Rob Bowman, with Bowman providing detailed notes on all tracks on the first four discs. The second book, "Bob Dylan Pressing On" (122 pages) contains photographs, album and single covers and memorabilia from 1979 to 1981, plus another introduction by Rollins and an essay by Penn Jillette. There also is a two-disc version. Grade: A-

Sting: Live at the Olympia Paris (Eagle Vision, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR, 102 min., + 36 min. bonus material). Recorded April 13 this year in Paris, the concert film captures the famed bassist's guitar-driven rock tour in celebration of the release of his album, "57th & 9th" (A&M/Interscope), a 2016 release that was the 16-time Grammy Award winner's first studio album in more than a decade. The 22 songs include  six from the new album, as well as classic songs from his solo career and days with The Police. Sting (aka Gordon Sumner) is joined onstage by a four-piece band that includes his longtime guitarist, Dominic Miller, drummer Josh Freese, guitarist Rufus Miller and accordion player Percy Cardona, plus backing vocals by his brother, Joe Sumner, and two members of The Last Bandoleros.

The show starts with two songs he wrote for The Police, "Synchronicity II" and "Spirits in the Material World," then comes his "Englishman in New York." Highlights from the recent album include the single, "I Can't Stop Thinking About You," the rocker "Petrol Head," the breakup song "Down, Down, Down" and the anthemic "50,000." Halfway through the concert, he returns to The Police for "Message in a Bottle." Sting then takes a brief singing voice, as his brother, Joe, sings David Bowie's "Ashes to Ashes." Second half highlights include  "Walking on the Moon," a dynamic "So Lonely" with its pogo-ish chorus, The Police's "Roxanne" that incorporates Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine" and "Desert Rose" with its Middle Eastern flavor. The encores include "Next To You," "Every Breath You Take" and "Fragile," with Sting playing guitar on the latter.

The bonus mini-concert is called "Sting & Special Guests," and starts with Sting playing guitar on the folkish "Heading South on the Great North Road" and being joined by Joe Sumner midway through. Joe Sumner then performs three of his songs, before The Last Bandoleros perform five songs. The disc comes with a 12-page photo booklet. Grade: A

Various Artists: Stranger Things, Music from the Netflix Original Series (Netflix/Legacy, CD). This release gathers 19 songs used in the first two seasons of the series, as well as 11 bits of dialogue, including two versions of Will (Noah Schnapp) singing The Clash. Among the 1980s hits included are "Africa" by Toto, "Hazy Shade of Winter" by The Bangles, "Sunglasses at Night" by Corey Hart, "Should I Stay or Should I Go" by The Clash, "Girls on Film" by Duran Duran and "You Don't Mess Around with Jim" by Jim Croce. There also are New Wave selections "Nocturne Me" by Echo & The Bunnymen,""Atmosphere" by Joy Division and "Elegia" by New Order."

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