Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Dylan’s gospel songs inspire

By Gary C.W. Chun


From 1979-80, Bob Dylan became a born-again Christian, and his music was imbued so much with his newfound faith that there were more detractors than fans for his evangelical concerts and two studio albums, "Slow Train Coming" and "Saved."

More than two decades later, a convincing argument is made with this new release that Dylan wrote some fine gospel songs during that period -- made even more so with these interpretations by some of America's prime gospel performers like Shirley Caesar, the Fairfield Four, the Mighty Clouds of Joy and Rance Allen.

There are two selections sung by more secular artists: Aaron Neville lends his distinctive, light quaver of a voice to "Saving Grace," and the album ends with a rollicking rendition of "Gonna Change My Way of Thinking," revisited by Dylan in an inspired collaboration with Mavis Staples. Performed with his longtime touring band, it crackles with an energy that's on a par to several other performances on this album.

Caesar, the long-anointed "Queen of Gospel," brings the gospel home on the title track, Dylan's one popular song of that period. The Fairfield Four swing it a cappella style on "Are You Ready," and the equally veteran Mighty Clouds of Joy bring a jubilant spirit to "Saved."

Detroit singer Allen's rich, stentorian voice soars with salvation on "When He Returns," accompanied by Christopher Byrd on the Hammond B3 organ.

Other lesser-known singers also turn in fine performances: Dottie Peoples and Helen Baylor sing on the underrated and overlooked "I Believe in You" and "What Can I Do for You?" respectively.

And Regina McCrary, who toured with Dylan during his Christian period, brings a dynamism, along with the Chicago Mass Choir, on "Pressing On." Very much in the traditional urban church way, it's foursquare inspirational.

"Gotta Serve Somebody:
The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan"

Various artists


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