Sunday, December 31, 2017

Bob Dylan - The Bootleg Series Vol. 13: Trouble No More 1979–1981 (Legacy Recordings, 2017)

Of all the periods of Bob Dylan's career, perhaps the most misunderstood and criticized was the brief period of time that he turned to evangelical Christianity, from 1979-1981, forsaking the older recordings that made him a legend and instead playing original compositions that focused on fire and brimstone gospel music, often prefaced in concert by long "raps," end-times preaching that shocked and angered longtime fans. The mandate of the bootleg series has been to either shed light on famous areas of his career, like the Manchester Free Trade Hall concert of 1966, and the Rolling Thunder Revue live performances of 1976, or to rehabilitate overlooked sections of his musical legacy as was done with the Another Self Portrait collection. This set falls clearly in the latter, with most fans only knowing the befuddling and poorly produced studio albums of the period: Slow Train Coming, Saved and Shot of Love. This expansive boxed set strives to provide more context for the music of the period with the first two discs presenting live recordings made from 1979-1981, followed by two discs of rare and unreleased recordings in the form of soundchecks, studio outtakes and live performances. There are two concerts presented in their entirety, Live in Toronto 1980 and Live at Earl's Court, London, June 27, 1981 followed by a bonus DVD with a documentary film and some odds and ends. The super deluxe version of the set available only on the Dylan website contains a further concert, from San Diego in 1979. Supposedly beginning when an audience member threw a cross medallion onstage during a lost and lonely period, Dylan fell in with a group of Evangelicals that guided him down this most unusual path. It’s not that Dylan wasn’t making good music during this period, he had a crack band anchored by the great drummer Jim Keltner, but the studio albums were so lifeless that when this patchy music came alive it did so during live concerts, or as part of epic studio sessions that didn’t see the light of day until this package was released. Dylan was on the road during much of this period, taking his message to the people, often quite literally. While he may have let the music do the talking on previous tours, he now launched into lengthy screeds that prophesied the end times, scolding the unbelievers and mocking their request for his earlier, classic songs which went completely unplayed during the lengthy 1980 tour. It was only in 1981, that he finally relented and began to perform some of his famous back catalog, but he still faced the incredulity the gospel material received from older fans. There is a lot of music that is of interest to only the hardcore Dylanologist, but restoring some of his finest songs of the period like the rocking track "The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar," the quite beautiful hymn-like "Every Grain of Sand" and inexplicably unreleased "Caribbean Wind" to wider reception is admirable. All in all it’s an interesting place to visit and dip into judiciously, but becomes a slog over the long hall. Trouble No More: The Bootleg Series Vol. 13 / 1979-1981 - amazon.com

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