Sunday, 29 July 2018

Bob Dylan - Slow Train Coming (1979)


Released August 1979

Sometime in 1978, Bob Dylan "saw the light" and became a born-again Christian. It is easy to deride the three explicitly devotional albums he released in the subsequent years. Some of the criticism is justified, some of it is completely unfair. This is the best of the albums. Its sound quality is superb, for a start. Mark Knopfler is on the album and it was produced by soul veteran Jerry Wexler. It has a rich, bassy warmth to it, and, while the lyrics are undoubtedly preachy and dogmatic, personally, I always find the album a pleasure to listen to and do not find any aspects of it remotely off-putting.


1. Gotta Serve Somebody
2. Precious Angel
3. I Believe In You
4. Slow Train
5. Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking
6. Do Right To Me Baby (Do Unto Others)
7. When You Gonna Wake Up
8. Man Gave Names To All The Animals
9. When He Returns

"Gotta Serve Somebody" has a great laid-back but melodically addictive feel to it and some wryly appealing lyrics. Whatever many may say, there is a great soul and a disarming ambience to the song.  The country-ish, gospel-influenced tones of "Precious Angel" render it one of the best tracks on the album - extended and soulful in delivery, while "I Believe In You" is sincere in its message and tender in its feel. "Slow Train" is another gospelly blues-influenced track, with some punchy horns and killer guitar. Its lyrics are quasi-political as well as sermonising, which can grate somewhat, but the general groove of the track is a stimulating one which means that I, for one, overlook the message condemning "non-believers" and ranting about foreign trade and the cost of storing food. Dylan runs theirs of sounding parochial and prejudiced times, his opinions even seem that of a zealot. There is no room for questioning in this new world of his. It is what The Lord said in the good book, and that's it. The rear cover of the album showed Bible-black thunder clouds, gathering to warn us, although there was a bit of light between them. A good photo, to be fair.

"Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking" is a cowbell-driven, driving slow burning rocker, again didactic in its message. The only way of achieving redemption was, it seems by going through purgatory. "I got a God-fearing woman..." sings Dylan and "who is not for me is against me" (quoting Jesus). He sings these songs as someone freshly converted, warning us, telling us how it is and is going to be. A beautiful, gentle bass intro brings us into the shuffling "Do Right To Me Baby (Do Unto Others)" but the zeal and the fire burns as brightly on this as on  the previous track. These two, and the next song, "When You Gonna Wake Up" are three of the most determined, evangelical songs on the album. Indeed, Dylan's vocals are as strong and totally committed as they had been for many a year. The latter track has a captivating, evocative groove to it, however. Whatever the lyrics, I find these tracks difficult to resist. In amongst the preaching, however, there are some fine, wise, cynical points made in this song - "you got gangsters in power and law-breakers making the rules...". Hmmm. What's new, I wonder? As Dylan asks - when are we gonna wake up?

Whatever Dylan's motivations behind his Christian phase, there is no doubting his total commitment and powerful, potent attack on this material. Whatever he believes, he does appear to believe in something, and is forcefully expressing it. Good for him, in many ways.

"Man Gave Names To All The Animals" is widely-derided by all who hear it. Not me. I have always had a soft spot for it. So what. I like it and that's that. It is infuriatingly catchy. Yes, I know Dylan also wrote "Desolation Row".

"When He Returns" is an almost hymnal ending to this devout album, Dylan singing starkly against a solo piano backing as we all troop out of church....See you next week.


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