Blessed Be The Name (Thinman-024/025)
Kiva Auditorium, Convention Center, Albuquerque, NM – December 4, 1979
Disc 1: 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: Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking, Do Right To Me Baby (Do Unto Others), Solid Rock, Saving Grace, Saved, What Can I Do For You?, In The Garden, Blessed Be The Name, Pressing On
Blessed Be The Name contains the only known audience tape source circulating for Dylan’s first of two nights in New Mexico on the first gospel tour in 1979. The tape does contain the complete show but Thinman chose to present only the Dylan tracks from the show. As much as one would like to hear the entire performance it is just as well as this is the very definition of a mediocre recording. Too poor to be labeled good and too good to be labeled poor, the sound quality sits right in the middle. It is listenable once the ears adjust to the distance, noisy audience and rumbling bass, but this will find its way to the cd player for research purposes and not necessarily for enjoyment. It’s a shame this weren’t better because this is a great show to a (mostly) sympathetic audience. People by the taper keep yelling out ignored requests (“Highway 61”, “Isis”) and give praise to Dylan (“Praise Dylan!” someone says after “Precious Angel”) but aren’t hostile in any way.
Thinman include lengthy liner notes in the insert. It is uncredited but is written and posted by Watt Alexander on his excellent website The Gospel Project. His observations include: “Over the next several nights, Dylan will deliver a number of superb vocal performances. Dylan begins to fiddle with his own phrasing and the overall melodic tenor of a number of songs. This evening, Dylan offers different approaches to ‘Slow Train Coming’, ‘Covenant Woman’, and ‘Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking.’
“Dylan gives ‘Slow Train’ a more resigned feel, playing with the melodic possibilities of the otherwise generally percussive chorus. Dylan tones down “Covenant Woman,” bringing out the love song qualities and using melismata to range within the expansive melodic structure of the song. Oddly, Spooner Oldham’s last solo seems truncated, just as he’s biting into the song.
“‘Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking’ receives a particularly nice treatment this evening. Dylan’s vocals are outstanding, avoiding the plodding monotony the rhythmic structure of the song can create by leaping at odd phrasing and off-beat cadences which have a leering, accusatory quality to them. Tackett’s guitar looms, adding wiry licks around Dylan and Drummond marching rhythm, then jumping into tightly wound, tense solos. Terry Young’s organ solo wails and drones in layers, then reverts to staccato counterpoint in support of the melody. Throughout it all, Keltner’s drumming is simply superb, rolling fills between stanzas, then wonderful backbeats to accent the monotonous cowbell beat which underlies this song. This segment of the tour truly deserves a high quality mix which could do justice to the wonderful instrumental interplay behind Dylan’s vocals.
“The band also delivers wonderful renditions of ‘Solid Rock’ and ‘Saved’ this evening. They assert themselves more during the open measures in “Solid Rock” where earlier in the tour, they waited for Dylan to sing. On ‘Saved’ Drummond and Keltner step forward in the chorus, show what can be done within a two-beat stomp and nicely balancing Terry Young’s romping piano.”
The artwork is nice with several pictures of Dylan and McCreavy with their hands up in holy supplication. It would have been good if the label credited the liner notes to give some publicity to Watt’s great website. Blessed Be The Name is another in a bunch releases by Thinman from the gospel years. Since they began production last spring they have released five overall, more from these years than any other. In the end it isn’t a matter of faith but of good music and Dylan’s journey into American gospel music was a bold move that produced some startling performances and it is to our benefit that Thinman is giving these tapes good releases. This is a great show but with the mediocre sound quality this is for the Dylan fan only.