As Bob Dylan
is pictured on the front cover of his latest archive release, Trouble No More
, aviator shades glinting in the spotlight with his arms akimbo over the Fender guitar strapped over his shoulder, he doesn't appear all that much different than the wildly combative folk-rocker of the mid-Sixties on which much of his legend is founded. And, at least at a glance or a cursory listen to this archive release, he isn't, contrary to the (mis)impressions of his work as documented on the 'Deluxe Edition.' But, as has always been the case with this artist, there's more to him and what he's doing than what meets the eye and ears
But a caveat emptor applies here because The Bootleg Series Vol. 13 / 1979-1981
is devoted to the overtly religious phase of the Nobel Laureate's career, one in which he seemingly subscribed to and sermonized from a dogmatic point of view seemingly far removed from the often surreal visions of Blonde on Blonde
(Columbia, 1966). Yet the progressively less dogmatic perspective of Slow Train Coming
(Columbia, 1979), Saved
(Columbia, 1980) and Shot of Love
(Columbia, 1981) may not in fact be all far removed from the messianic expeditions through which Dylan led the Hawks, nee The Band
, during his world tour of 1965-66. The piety that permeates all these recordings is familiar to anyone who's followed Bob (as is his oft-caricatured vocal phrasing).
The tumultuous likes of which had its formative moment when he went electric at the Newport Folk Festival, an act of blasphemy in the minds of that purists and one Bob seemed bound and determined not to commit in a Christian context of his work here, at least as it appears in this boxed set of eight CD's, a DVD and a hard-bound book of photos and essays; purporting to explicate the man's apparent renunciation of a libertarian world view which he had already begun running from in the wake of his motorcycle accident over a decade prior to the time frame defined here, it's a revelation to hear and feel the power of his performances, if in fact it's possible to divorce that experience from the subject matter.
Yet two years is a scant interval for an artist now seventy-six years old and the fact of the matter is that Dylan reclaimed his universal mindset in fairly short order with the humble likes of "Every Grain of Sand," from the third of the aforementioned trilogy; in contrast to the dogmatic attitude that afflicted much of the Nobel Laureate's writing during this period of his career (see "Ain't No Man Righteous, No Not One"), the author sings this tune at the piano as it should be sung, simply and straightforwardly, thereby most effectively communicating the humility he intends.
In stark contrast is a number originally only released as the b-side of a single of that ballad in one live version featuring a fieryCarlos Santana
). "The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar" is a rip-snorting blues shuffle underpinning an account of apocalypse personal and universal, while "Caribbean Wind" is as picturesque as it is reflective pieces of writing: even in this rehearsal take with pedal steel, it's arranged and played with all the lucid imagination of the composition itself (and its previously-released version on Biograph
(Legacy Recordings, 1985)).
Comparing the concert recordings of Trouble No More
with The 1966 Live Recordings
(Legacy Recordings, 2016) or The Bootleg Series Vol. 5: Bob Dylan Live 1975, The Rolling Thunder Revue
(Legacy Recordings, 2002). it's well nigh impossible to argue that Bob Dylan's live performances in the 1979-1981 period are just as impassioned in their own way (and perhaps even more confrontational than his conversion from 'traditional' folk to electricity). The man appears as transfixed as he is engaged, at piano for "When He Returns" or leading a lithe full-band performance of "Precious Angel." And pay special attention to the extended, mellifluous harmonica coda of "What Can I Do for You?:" this is the work of a truly galvanizing (and courageous) performer.
But it's crucial to note how the unrelenting stubbornness of Dylan's mindset as he wrote, sang and sermonized via songs like the heretofore unreleased "Ain't Gonna Go to Hell for Anybody," finds an anchor in his band: including, at various points, drummer extraordinaire Jim Keltner and guitarist Fred Tackett (now of Little Feat
), the measured elegance of the ensemble(s) contrast with their fiery leader and thus only compress and thereby heighten the overall intensity. Little wonder the bulk of the audio content within Trouble No More
is live performances, but studio outtakes and rehearsals of varied arrangements also appear on DVD to bolster the inclusion of Jennifer LeBeau's film.
The appearance of this approximately sixty-minute documentary prefaces an additional thirty minutes of content in the form of a half-dozen songs live in concert and on sound-stages, which, as with the main video, is likewise subject to programming separately via the DVD menu. LeBeau's juxtaposition of pure preaching (scripted intervals featuring actor Michael Shannon) with concert footage stipulates how much more palatable the music made Dylan's declarations of faith (except when he sermonized as on the earliest shows of the period): both the filmmaker and the future Nobel Laureate put the naysayers depicted at film's outset in their close minded place.
If Bob Dylan the man was constricted in his spiritual beliefs at this time, Dylan the musician was fully open to his creative muse and his invigorating approach inspired his accompanists almost as much: as documented on the compact discs from various sources including 'best of' from Toronto 1980 and the entirety of Earl's Court in London circa 1981 (where old material was conspicuous by its appearance), Dylan altered arrangements as often as ever during this stage of his career and quite possibly never more assiduously, making the fourteen heretofore unreleased songs even more of an added attraction of this set.
The Bard's current engineer of choice for new recordings, Chris Shaw, collaborates with Steve Addabbo and Mark Wilder for mixing and mastering that suits the precision of the playing in both the concert cuts and the outtakes, rehearsals etc,. And with the comprehensive selection(s) of music mirrored by extensive essays including Rob Bowman's insightful track-by-track of the bountiful unreleased numbers and an array of provocative photos in a separate hardcover (apart from those on the slipcase in which they're enclosed), Trouble No More -The Bootleg Series Vol. 13 / 1979-1981
is one grand exploration from a vault that restores truth to the cliché 'treasure trove.'
CD 1: Slow Train; Gotta Serve Somebody; I Believe in You; When You Gonna Wake Up?; When He Returns; Man Gave Names to All the Animals; Precious Angel; Covenant Woman; Gonna Change My Way of Thinking; Do Right to Me Baby (Do Unto Others); Solid Rock; What Can I Do for You? ; Saved; In the Garden; CD 2: Slow Train; Ain’t Gonna Go to Hell for Anybody; Gotta Serve Somebody; Ain’t No Man Righteous, No Not On; Saving Grace; Blessed Is the Name; Solid Rock; Are You Ready?; Pressing On; Shot of Love; Dead Man, Dead Man; Watered-Down Love; In the Summertime; The Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar; Caribbean Wind: Every Grain of Sand. CD3: Slow Train; Do Right to Me Baby (Do Unto Others; Help Me Understand; Gonna Change My Way of Thinking; Gotta Serve Somebody; When He Returns; Ain’t No Man Righteous, No Not One; Trouble in Mind; Ye Shall Be Changed; Covenant Woman; Stand by Faith; I Will Love Him; Jesus Is the One; City of Gold; Thief on the Cross; Pressing On. CD 4: Slow Train; Gotta Serve Somebody; Making a Liar Out of Me; Yonder Comes Sin; Radio Spot January 1980; Cover Down, Pray Through; Rise Again; Ain’t Gonna Go to Hell for Anybody; The Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar; Caribbean Wind; You Changed My Life; Shot of Love; Watered-Down Love; Dead Man, Dead Man; Every Grain of Sand. CD 5 : Live in Toronto 1980 - Gotta Serve Somebody: I Believe In You; Woman; When You Gonna Wake Up?; When He Returns; Ain’t Gonna Go To Hell For Anybody; Cover Down, Pray Through; Man Gave Names To All The Animals; Precious Angel. CD 6: Live in Toronto 1980 - Slow Train; Do Right To Me Baby (Do Unto Others); Solid Rock; Saving Grace; What Can I Do For You?; In The Garden; Band Introductions; Are You Ready?; Pressing On. CD 7: Live in Earl’s Court, London, June 27, 1981- Gotta Serve Somebody; I Believe In You; Like A Rolling Stone; Man Gave Names To All The Animals; Maggie’s Farm; I Don’t Believe You; Dead Man, Dead Man; Girl From The North Country; Ballad Of A Thin Man. CD 8: Live in Earl’s Court, London, June 27, 1981- Slow Train; Let’s Begin; Lenny Bruce; Mr. Tambourine Man; Solid Rock; Just Like A Woman; Watered-Down Love; Forever Young; When You Gonna Wake Up; In The Garden; Band Introductions; Blowin’ In The Wind; It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue; Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door
Disc 9 - DVD: Trouble No More – A Musical Film; Extras: Shot of Love; Cover Down, Pray Through; Jesus Met the Woman at the Well (Alternate version); Ain’t Gonna Go to Hell for Anybody (Complete version); Precious Angel (Complete version); Slow Train (Complete version).
Bob Dylan: piano, guitar, harmonica, vocals; Mark Knopfler: guitar; Carlos Santana: guitar; Fred Tackett: guitar, mandolin; Steve Ripley: guitar; Danny Kortchmar: guitar; John Pechizkijian: guitar; Billy Cross: guitar; Steven Soles: guitar; Benmont Tench: keyboards; Spooner Oldham: keyboards; Carl Pickhardt: keyboards; Terry Young: keyboards, vocals; Willie Smith: keyboards; Al Kooper: keyboards; Alan Pasqua: keyboards; Barry Beckett: keyboards; Ben Keith: pedal steel guitar; David Mansfield: violin; Steve Douglas: saxophone; Mickey Buckins: percussion; Bobbye Hall: percussion; Tim Drummond: bass; Jerry Scheff: bass; Jim Keltner: drums; Arthur Rosato: drums; Pick Withers: drums; Ian Wallace: drums; Helena Springs, Mona Lisa Young, Regina Havis, Carolyn Dennis, Regina Peeples, Mary Elizabeth Bridget, Regina McCrary, Madelyn Quebec; Gwen Evans; Clydie King: Jo Ann Harris: vocals.