Saturday, October 15, 2016

Classic Album Review: Bob Dylan - Slow Train Coming (1979)

Yesterday's news that Bob Dylan is the first singer-songwriter recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature had me lamenting the unfathomable notion that I’ve yet to even mention him (or his work) on everythingsgonegreen. A truth made all the more awkward by the fact that my review for his Slow Train Coming album was one of the first album reviews I had published on the web (in fact, it was my first review of any album not made by The Cure). I’ve now got a healthy stash of Dylan albums, so perhaps one day I’ll get around to reviewing them as well. In the meantime, I’ll dig deep into the archives for something I wrote way back in October 2005:

It’s Saturday morning, and I don’t know about heaven and I know even less of hell, but Bob’s on the stereo and he’s grooving out with his unique gospel-tinged variation of the blues. Slow Train Coming has always been an album a long way down on my wish-list of ‘must haves’, but last night I was lurking near a bargain bin, as you do - call it a Friday night thing - and the recent upsurge in “Dylanmania” prompted me to splash the cash to the tune of some $10 to pick up a CD copy of this spiritual gem.

Back at the time of its ‘79 release I was but a mere novice in terms of understanding the rich tapestry that is the history of Rock, and Dylan seemed oh so yesterday to a teenager entering his own period of personal post-punk angst. This was apparently Dylan’s religious phase and I wasn’t having a bar of it - for all that I was secretly wooed by the infectious seduction of ‘Man Gave Names To All The Animals’ and ‘Gotta Serve Somebody‘, the two tracks that were receiving widespread airplay on commercial radio at the time; both of which are on here.

So 26 years later I finally get around to buying it, and it still sounds relevant and fresh, timeless even - it perhaps would have been wasted on me back then anyway. The album is a lovely mix of quality musicianship and Bob baring his soul on all matters heaven and hell. There’s a genuine gospel feel to the whole thing, with very little, if any, filler. The title track ‘Slow Train’ positively throbs with trademark bluesy guitar work, ‘Do Right To Me Baby’ is all brooding understated keyboard, while ‘When You Gonna Wake Up’ funks out with the boldness of brass. While Dylan’s voice had - even at that point - seen better days, it is hard to fault his performance too much on this.

The Seventies hadn’t been especially kind to Dylan but this album - very much a comeback release at the time - proved he’d lived through that decade of decadence and come out the other side, as much as any of us ever do. It is to a large extent a concept piece, no longer protest-Bob, no more folk-Bob, now we had acceptance-Bob, and this was his statement regards all things Christianity. It might be for some however, that its one-dimensional aspect is both its strength and its greatest flaw. Highway 61 Revisited it is not, but whatever it is, it works for me on a slow-time Saturday morn … and it was a bloody bargain to boot.

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