Back Woods Revival (Thinman – 147/148)
Jefferson Civic Center, Birmingham, AL – February 2nd, 1980
Disc 1 (46:30): Gotta Serve Somebody, I Believe In You, When You Gonna Wake Up, When He Returns, Man Gave Names To All The Animals, Precious Angel, Slow Train, Covenant Woman
Disc 2 (43:45): Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking, Do Right To Me Baby, Solid Rock, Saving Grace, Saved, What Can I Do For You, In The Garden, Blessed Is The Name
After a month-long break in December 1979, Bob Dylan began the second gospel tour in the middle of January, 1980. During the final week he played two shows, on February 2nd and February 3rd in Birmingham, Alabama. The tour would end on February 9th in West Virgina and Dylan would return to Alabama on February 11th for the Saved sessions in Muscle Shoals Studio.
The show for this month was identical to the 1979 shows. Gospel numbers from the women would start before Dylan would come onstage and start with “Gotta Serve Somebody” and ending with “In The Garden” with a break in the middle of the set.
Back Woods Revival documents the first Birmingham show utilizing a very good audience recording of most of the show. The non-Dylan portions of the set have been unfortunately omitted. But the Dylan portions are present and complete.
The concert and audience are both very calm and smooth. The first gospel tour in 1979 ended on a sour note with some hostile crowds in Arizona, but Alabama were much more receptive and cheered both the music and the message. Each song is given a nice ovation and Dylan even gets a loud and sincere shout of “hallelujah” before “When He Returns.”
But calm doesn’t mean laidback. The music is extremely tight and intense. In fact, this is one of the better gospel shows available starting with a heavy version of “Gotta Serve Somebody.” It is the same with “When You Gonna Wake Up,” betraying its homiletical roots.
Even the more intense songs like “Solid Rock” and “Saved” in the latter portions of the set sound quiet and tame compared to other shows. The more quiet approach could be due to the receptive audience.
One of the few real missteps in the concert occurs early on during “Man Gave Names To All The Animals.” For reasons not clear, Dylan sings harmony on the chorus, leaving the women to sing the melody. It is a noble gesture, but he is off key and comes close to ruining the song.
Regina Peeples sang “Lord Don’t Move That Mountain” after “Covenant Woman,” but it is omitted from this recording.
Before the final number Dylan gives the long band introduction and highlights all the members of his band from Alabama. “On the keyboards tonight, give him a hand, Spooner Oldham. On the other set of keyboards, Terry Young. Actually, Spooner’s from Alabama, I think. Are you from Alabama? Yes, Spooner’s from Alabama, and so is Carolyn. Playing lead guitar tonight, Fred Tackett. On the drums, Jim Keltner. Playing the bass guitar tonight, Tim Drummond. On the right over there is Carolyn Dennis. Standing next to her a lady you met earlier, Regina Peebles. She’s from Alabama too, I think. Next to her is Mona Lisa Young. The girl in the red dress told you about Jesus before, remember? Regina McCreary.”
A spirited version of “Blessed Is The Name” is the only encore. Neither this nor the second Birmingham show have the second encore “Pressing On” present in all the other shows from the era. Whether the song was dropped or if it just wasn’t taped isn’t readily clear.
Back Woods Revival is another solid gospel release on the Thinman label. They’ve released a mini-catalogue full of these shows over the years and all of them are interesting for one reason or another. There are very few shows from the second gospel tour on silver, so this one is definitely worth having for its rarity.