A Rock with Cracks; Promising but Uneven Gospel Tribute to Bob Dylan

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), July 17, 2003 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

A Rock with Cracks; Promising but Uneven Gospel Tribute to Bob Dylan


Various Artists


Twenty-five years ago, Bob Dylan did the unthinkable. Embracing evangelical Christianity, he recorded three albums referred to today as gospel - whether because he incorporated musical elements of traditional black gospel music or because he sang about salvation, heaven, hell, redemption and Jesus. Although Mr. Dylan continued to refer to the New Testament on successive albums, his evangelical fervor faded, leading to speculation that he had shed his Christian faith.

Today the saga continues, and Mr. Dylan remains enigmatic about his beliefs. Christian and non-Christian Dylan fans continue to tussle over the legacy that he will leave behind: Is he or isn't he?

While Jesus has been nearly nonexistent on his albums since "Shot of Love," in concert he has continued to play both occasional songs from that era as well as a steady stream of hymns such as "Rock of Ages" and "I Am the Man Thomas."

Mr. Dylan's performance on "Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan" should stir up the debate, recently rekindled by Dylan biographer Scott Marshall, who makes the case for a continued Christian journey in "Restless Pilgrim: The Spiritual Journey of Bob Dylan."

The album is produced by a longtime Dylan aficionado named Jeffrey Gaskill. It has songs from "Slow Train Coming" and "Saved" covered by legends of black gospel music. Some are compelling, providing new and raw re-interpretations; others are dreary, reminding the listener that just because songs are about Jesus does not make them gospel.

But when Shirley Caesar opens with a rousing rendition of the title cut, it's easy to see why some Dylan songs, lyrics aside, can be thought of as gospel. Miss Caesar's "Slow Train Coming" is convincing partly because she truly makes it her own, adding her own rap at the beginning, quoting from the book of Joshua before adding, "I want to share Bob Dylan's song with you."

Such mastery, however, is all too rare on this uneven recording. Lee Williams & the Spiritual CC's sleepy rendition of "When You Gonna Wake Up?," the Fairfield Four's uninspired "Are You Ready?," the Mighty Clouds Of Joy's tinny "Saved" and Rance Allen's pained "When He Returns" are topped in the snooze department only by Aaron Neville's listless "Saving Grace."

That these legendary artists cannot get their arms around these songs may mean one of two things: Either these aren't gospel songs at all, or these artists, presumably having been "saved," for decades simply cannot understand songs written by a new convert who had met the Man only months before and was still giddy with enthusiasm.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

A Rock with Cracks; Promising but Uneven Gospel Tribute to Bob Dylan


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?