Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan

Gotta Serve Somebody:
The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan


First Appeared at The Music Box, May 2003, Volume 10, #5

Written by John Metzger


Bob Dylan has always been a work in progress, and more often than not, heís left his fans pondering his many changes in direction. But as the í70s drew to a close, he made his most puzzling career move by becoming a born-again Christian. The result was a trilogy of albums ó Slow Train Coming, Saved, and Shot of Love ó that left everyone terribly confused. Fans turned away, and critics lambasted the releases as well as Dylanís live show. For certain, when set against the whole of his career, this definitely was a low-point. Even so, the albums ó particularly Slow Train Coming and Saved ó featured plenty of great songs that logically followed the extension of Dylanís beloved bluegrass and blues into a gospel vein. At the very least, one had to admire his fortitude.

Itís surprising, then, that it has taken so long for gospel artists to compile an album that offers new interpretations of Dylanís songs from this era. Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan does just that, and in the process it illuminates the quality of the poetís often overlooked work. Indeed, separating the man from his message, and putting the songs in the hands of gospel luminaries such as Shirley Caesar, the Fairfield Four, and the Chicago Mass Choir has turned out to be a damn fine idea. Caesarís rendition of Gotta Serve Somebody is rhapsodically transcendent while Dottie Peoples absolutely sparkles on I Believe in You. Dylan himself helps Mavis Staples to recast Gonna Change My Way of Thinking as a barn-burning, funk-blues romp, and though it is marred by the odd interruption of dialogue that introduces Mavis Staples to the scene, it is powerful, nonetheless. As it turns out, Dylan was a terrific composer of gospel music, and Gotta Serve Somebody ought to allow the unconverted to see the light. starstarstarstar

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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!


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