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Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan

Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan


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A little more than 20 years after Bob Dylan stunned the world by proclaiming himself a born-again Christian, his gospel legacy is given new life in a remarkable tribute. Dylan's importance to the world of gospel music can't be underestimated; to the faithful and even the casual Iistener, his songs from this period resonate as powerfully today as they did then,


A little more than 20 years after Bob Dylan stunned the world by proclaiming himself a born-again Christian, his gospel legacy is given new life in a remarkable tribute. Dylan's importance to the world of gospel music can't be underestimated; to the faithful and even the casual Iistener, his songs from this period resonate as powerfully today as they did then, bringing to spiritual matters the same unwavering, astute eye that he brought to his songs of social commentary. (Indeed, Dylan earned his first-ever Grammy for "Gotta Serve Somebody" off 1979's Slow Train Coming). Here, an all-star cast of gospel greats performs 11 songs taken from Slow Train Coming and Saved. Shirley Caesar opens this collection with a powerful take on "Gotta Serve Somebody," her forceful delivery of its cautionary lyric all the more chilling in a new era of Middle East violence, war, and political and corporate corruption. As for declarations of faith, Dottie Peoples's "I Believe In You" soars to heavenly heights, her performance packing an emotional wallop. Dylan himself appears with Mavis Staples on "Gonna Change My Way of Thinking," a rowdy, raucous track with a barroom ambience and a hefty dose of humor as the two legends chat about reading "Snoozeweek" and eating chicken. Other artists participating include Aaron Neville, the Fairfield Four, Sounds of Blackness, and Helen Baylor, to name a few. As tributes go, this collection admirably honors and educates fans about Dylan's enduring contribution to the gospel music world, and is a must-have for any serious collector.

Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Thom Jurek
The concept of a compilation of Bob Dylan's gospel songs is certainly an idea whose time has come. That this does not feature Dylan performing the original versions of these songs is yet another. Executive producer Jeffrey Gaskill assembled a wide-ranging assortment of the hottest talent in the gospel arena, both past and present, to perform the songs from Dylan's Slow Train Coming and Saved albums, and producer Joel Moss extracted phenomenal performances from Shirley Caesar, the Fairfield Four, the Sounds of Blackness, Rance Allen, the Chicago Mass Choir fronted by Regina McCrary (who sang backup for Dylan on the 1978 and 1979 tours when these recordings were originally done), the Mighty Clouds of Joy, Helen Baylor (with Billy Preston), Aaron Neville, Dottie Peoples, Lee Williams & the Spiritual QC's, Mavis Staples, and Dylan himself (performing a duet on a completely rewritten version of "Gonna Change My Way of Thinkin'"). In addition, a reunion of Dylan's touring band from the period, which included Tim Drummond, Jim Keltner, and Spooner Oldham, performs on "Solid Rock" with the Sounds of Blackness. All of this is interesting, of course, but listeners know that all-star tributes fall short more often than not. This is no tribute, however, but a showcase of Dylan as one of the great gospel songwriters -- albeit 25 years after the fact. Caesar's version of the title track is a scorcher and would not have been out of place in a church pastored by James Cleveland. The Sounds of Blackness' "Solid Rock" does indeed rock -- it's funky, driving, and wrapped loosely around a minor-key trill and riff pulsing just ahead of the beat. Lee Williams & the Spiritual QC's' sweet, swinging read of "When You Gonna Wake Up" is smooth and haunting, like a more streetwise version of the Impressions, giving the groove in the tune a bluesier edge than the original. Peoples' "I Believe in You" could be a testimony in church, full of understated phrasing until she gets to the refrains when it breaks and the redemptive hope in the tune comes pouring from the center of her voice. The Fairfield Four's read of "Are You Ready" is standard fare for them, meaning, of course, that the performance is beautiful, stirring, and moving, but it is less recognizable as a Dylan tune than anything else here. Neville's "Saving Grace" suffers from his now overly sweet trademark manner of phrasing. Detroit's Rance Allen kicks it on "When He Returns." His baritone is reminiscent of C.L. Franklin's, and comes from the heart of the church. He understands this is a song of great hope and personal conviction. The slight quaver in his voice at the refrain reverses the track on itself; the listener can feel something of a universal connection to the grain in his voice which, at least for Allen, and Dylan too, is not a relative but an absolute truth. The set closes with the Dylan/Staples duet. Performed by Dylan's own touring band, this is a house-burning blues, ripping in the dark, razor-cut of Dylan's voice. Staples wanders in after about a minute, and after a pleasant and humorous exchange, joins Dylan on the funkiest, most apocalyptic track on the set. This is raw, furious, scorching blues-funk. This is not an exercise in reverence but revelation, the roar of struggle and resolution, with the singers staring into the void and seeing the blackness and horror, retreating from the edges and the drunkenness of fear to the font of refuge. This fine collection warrants a complete reappraisal of the records these tracks came from, as well as Shot of Love and Infidels. Perhaps it also warrants a compilation of Dylan's own versions as well -- it would hardly be untimely since he continues to perform many if not all of these songs today. If you buy one gospel record in 2003, let this be it.
Entertainment Weekly - Chris Willman
This tribute lets us hear these spirituals the way their writer probably heard 'em in his head. (A-)

Product Details

Release Date:
Sbme Special Mkts.


  1. Gotta Serve Somebody @@Shirley Caesar
  2. When You Gonna Wake Up @@Lee Williams & The Spiritual Qc'S
  3. I Believe In You @@Dottie Peoples
  4. Are You Ready @@Fairfield Four
  5. Solid Rock @@Sounds Of Blackness
  6. Saving Grace @@Aaron Neville
  7. What Can I Do For You? @@Helen Baylor
  8. Pressing On @@Chicago Mass Choir
  9. Saved @@Mighty Clouds Of Joy
  10. When He Returns @@Rance Allen
  11. Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking @@Bob Dylan,Mavis Staples

Album Credits

Performance Credits

Bob Dylan   Guitar,Vocals
Billy Preston   Hammond Organ
Charlie Sexton   Guitar
Glenn Alexander   Guitar
Greg Mathieson   Piano
Jim Keltner   Drums
Joe Chemay   Bass
Eddie Bayers   Drums
Bruce Brody   Hammond Organ
Larry Campbell   Guitar
Shannon Ford   Drums,Tambourine
Tony Garnier   Bass
Paul Leim   Drums
Adriane Lenox   Background Vocals
Tony Maiden   Guitar
Bill Maxwell   Drums
Michael Merritt   Bass
Spooner Oldham   Hammond Organ
George Recile   Drums
Brent Rowan   Guitar
Mavis Staples   Vocals
Fred Tackett   Guitar
Terry Young   Piano
Jeral Gray   Piano
Percy Gray   Choir Director
Gary Hines   Choir Director
Sharay Reed   Bass
Chris Byrd   Hammond Organ
Scott Healy   Piano
Keith Spentz   Bass
Calvin Rodgers   Drums
Wayne Barrett   Guitar
Capathia Jenkins   Background Vocals
Michael McElroy   Background Vocals
Philip Feaster   Hammond Organ
Gary "Bud" Smith   Piano,Hammond Organ
Aisha Dehaas   Background Vocals
Regina McCrary   Vocals

Technical Credits

Bob Dylan   Composer
Joe Chemay   Musical Director
Tim Drummond   Composer
Bill Maxwell   Musical Director
Joel Moss   Producer,Engineer,Liner Notes
Tom Piazza   Liner Notes
Christopher Shaw   Engineer
Terry Young   Musical Director
Percy Gray   Musical Director
Gary Hines   Musical Director
Yvonne Staples   Contributor
Horace Clarence Boyer   Liner Notes
Scott Healy   Musical Director
Michael McElroy   Musical Director
Jeffrey Gaskill   Liner Notes,Executive Producer

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