Bob Dylan has had a lot of moments throughout his career. There was the “going electric” moment, the motorcycle accident and reclusive period followed by the “Pink House” era. But probably most fascinating was Dylan’s conversion to Evangelical Christianity in the late 1970s after being raised Jewish. The conversion came, as has been noted in book after book and countless articles on the event as a result of proselytizing by a backup singer. During that period, Dylan put out a trio of polarizing Christian-themed records, 1979’s “Slow Train Coming,” 1980’s “Saved” and 1981’s “Shot of Love”.
A perplexed fanbase still turned out to see Dylan perform during that period though. Legacy Recordings, in their immensely popular Bootleg Series has finally put out a package of those notorious shows from 1979-1981. The set consists of 30 songs, spread across 2 CDs or 4 LPs, culled from those three albums. Except for “Ye Shall Be Received,” none of the live versions of these songs have been released before now. And despite their tepid response from critics and fans at the time, there were enough solid tracks from those three albums for Dylan to pull together an impressive set. In particular “Gotta Serve Somebody,” off of “Slow Train Coming” is among Dylan’s best (and poignant enough to even get the non-believers singing along to). In a live setting, songs that come across as tepid and too preachy on record take on a new immediacy live, like the explosive “Slow Train Coming” or “Ain’t Gonna Go to Hell for Anybody,” a song that is transformed by the energy of a live setting.
Though hardly a recommendation for the casual Dylan fan, this set, like most in the Bootleg Series, is an important cultural artifact, a specific snapshot in time of one of the most studied and influential musicians in modern history. If you are a Dylan fan though, this set is certainly one worth owning.
Bob Dylan – Trouble No More: The Bootleg Series Vol. 13 – 1979-1981/4 LP set/Legacy Recordings/2017 / https://twitter.com/SonyLegacyRecs