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Bob Dylan – Trouble No More – The Bootleg Series Vol. 13 / 1979-1981 Deluxe

November 19, 2017

I first got turned on to Bob Dylan in the fall of 1977 when I entered college. My dorm neighbor Paul, who was a few years older than me, took me under his wing. One of the several things he turned me on to that fall was Dylan. I recall Highway 61 Revisited, Desire, Greatest Hits Vol. 2 and Pat Garrett from his collection.

The summer after freshman year (1978) I bought my first Dylan album, a new release, Street Legal. I was disappointed in Street Legal compared to what I had previously heard and enjoyed from Dylan. Over the years, I have come to fully appreciate Street Legal, but at the time I did not understand it. At the time, I continued to mine Dylan’s back catalog vs. listening to Street Legal.

The next summer (1979), Slow Train Coming was released. I was experiencing a classic Dylan pivot in real-time and I was in the perfect place to fully appreciate it. I loved that album and it’s follow ups Saved and Shot Of Love. All three were Christian albums – quit a shock to most of Dylan’s audience. I found a passion in those albums that seemed to be lacking in Street Legal. I had just dropped out of a Catholic seminary, so I did not find it offensive that Dylan was embracing Christianity. At the time I was trying to find my way in faith and spirituality and admired (and was a bit jealous of) Dylan’s fresh certainty in Jesus.

I remember at the time, that even though the rock intelligentsia was annoyed that Dylan was a born again Christian, they could not deny the brilliance of his live performances of the new Christian material. Dylan had a crack band and a small female gospel choir. He had developed a uniquely Dylanesque take on gospel music. I never got a chance to witness Dylan’s Christian phase live and I have been pining for the Bootleg series to present it.

Trouble No More takes a deep dive over eight CDs and one DVD of the Christian era. Six CDs of live material and two of unreleased and rare material. As much as I have loved Slow Train Coming, Saved and Shot of Love, it is otherworldly to hear that material live. And like most eras of Dylan’s career, he left amazing material off the albums. Bootleg Vol. 13 is a treasure chest of previously hidden gold (unreleased songs and live cuts) from his Christian period.

One of the all time greatest linear note essays is on Vol. 13. Proud atheist and Dylan fanatic, Penn Jillette (of Penn and Teller fame), comes to terms with how great Dylan’s Christian period was (Jillette admits he was a hater of the Christian trilogy when it was released back in the day). Jillette is candid, confessional, insightful and most of all entertaining in his essay. Here is a taste:

I am the fool who still says in his heart there is no God, but Dylan’s gospel is stronger than my lack of faith.

One of the joys of this release are the many variations of the key songs from the Christian era and how those songs morphed and evolved over a three-year period.

The principal pleasure of this album is Dylan’s singing. It is passionate, fierce and soulful. He was clearly inspired. The band, backup singers and arrangements rival the best of Dylan’s career. Dylan has always had great bands, but this one is extra special. By the end of the era he was mixing his hits into the set list. Although it is great to hear these songs with this version of Dylan and his band, he is not nearly as passionate performing them as he is the Christian material. You realize how into this new music he was when you hear the old songs next to the new songs.

Many have been bewildered by Dylan’s born again Christian era, but the lesson of Trouble No More is don’t try to understand, just enjoy its devotional beauty. It is a leap of faith that will reward.

The full deluxe release is not on Spotify, only a 15 song appetizer. The regular edition is a mere two CDs (but 10% of the cost of the deluxe edition). Sorry you will need to layout $150 to get the full super sized meal (or wait a few years – the full Bootleg editions will eventually show up on Spotify). If you can’t afford the financial commitment, listen to Slow Train Coming, Saved, Shot of Love and the Trouble No More sampler (all linked below)  for a rich dive into Dylan’s Christian era. The deluxe edition has some nice packaging in the form of a mini coffee table book and excellent essays and song-by-song commentary.

Dylan has amazed and baffled his audience for nearly 60 years. I remember well how poorly the rock world reacted to this material. I was ignorant enough and square enough to not know any better and I fully embraced it. It is a thrill to have eight CDs worth of material from this era to bathe in. It has been a slow train for this music to finally get its props.


From → Music Reviews

  1. I share your passion for all things Dylan but neither love nor hate this era, just don’t know it very well. I will absolutely give your Spotify lists a spin in the coming days. Sadly, I’ve never seen Mr. Zimmerman live and given how his voice sounds these days and how he seems to play his songs any way he feels like it, I doubt if I ever will.

  2. Can’t imagine springing for this lavish set, but have certainly logged Penn’s essay to try to ferret out on-line.

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