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Bob Dylan – Christ Didn’t Preach Religion (Rattlesnake RS 269 / 70)

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Bob Dylan, “Christ Didn’t Preach Religion” (Rattlesnake RS 269 / 70)

Monologue / Intro / If I’ve Got My Ticket Lord / Do Lord, Remember me / Look Up And Live By Faith / Hold my Hand, Oh Lord / Oh Freedom / This Train / Gotta Serve Somebody / I Believe In You / When You Gonna Wake Up / When He Returns / Man Gave Names To All The Animals / Precious Angel (61:55)
Slow Train / Covenant Woman / What Are You Doing With Your Heart / 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 / Band introduction / Blessed Be The Name / Pressing On (67:22)

Recorded at the Civic Auditorium, Santa Monica, CA, USA. November 18th, 1979 (concert No. 15 of the first Gospel tour)

Bob Dylan’s first gospel tour launched itself in November of 1979, the singer had already prescribed himself to a dutiful bout of religious learning after his late ’78 enlightening which had supposedly turned him to write Christian songs for Carolyn Dennis – that’s what he told the press at least – but when the clutch of his new found curiosity of the faith really grabbed him, he had decided on another change in direction. A change that was to hold his career for the next few years before he would play down the tone of his beliefs.
This gospel change was created with as much enthusiasm by some as his electric turn at Newport and would be resisted and rallied against but it would also be lauded and appreciated by others, people who knew by now that Dylan was ready to do what he wanted and perceived to be right. If not for you, then for Dylan himself.

The Rattlesnake label have issued one of the unmarked Mike Millard tapes that were issued by JEMS in late 2013. The tapes were found after a 20-something year hiatus in a collectors house and were published in their unfurnished form. Rattlesnake, who have access to a studio, suitably sweeten the recording but without taking out the bones of it all. Of course, this being a Millard recording, it would need next to no work at all, saving the label a drastic deal of effort, all they really had to do, was package it well.

The recording is a superb audience recording, just the right side of atmospheric but sounding like a soundboard, there are the tell-tale signs of participation from the crowd but the music is so well balanced that nothing is lost. The Santa Monica shows are noted by the brilliant Olaf’s site, of being the best in moods of the first Gospel tour – certainly a lot lighter than the Tempe shows which were apparently rather hostile events and rather less well taken by the fans.

Thankfully, Mike was fully prepared for what would happen for this evenings events and rolls tape almost immediately as the Sisters of Soul walk on to the stage and begin their set. The Rattlesnake label released a tape that featured the ladies on their 1999 set, “Bird’s Nest In Your Hair” (RS 006/007) from Earls Court, London 1981 and this release thankfully combines the same. For the record, the No Label gang also released this show on their 2 CD set, ‘Santa Monica, 1979. First Night’ but, strangely enough, they snipped the sisters from the beginning of the tape and put them at the end of disk two breaking in to the flow of the cassette which, lest we forget, is all part of the charm.

The Sisters get a little beef from the audience as they start their set – at least one of these hecklers appear to be shot down by their fellow audience however – and a lot of the others gathered there seem to appreciate what’s being held in front of them. They are great sets, very basic in that they only feature vocals and piano but they have been captured magnificently (One can hear a bottle roll in the middle of ‘Look Up And Live ..’) and you would easily find yourself getting lost within it all really quite easily.

There’s barely a whistle between the Sisters set ending and Dylan’s entrance, the crowd appear not to notice either but then the band put up a pondering, slower, ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’. It is a blistering beginning, unaffected by the response it could have been dealt with and because of it’s pace, really commands attention. The same could be said of “I Believe In You”, measured, ernest and strong, it picks up praise as it goes along as more and more of the audience begin to applaud it’s wit and sentiment.

There’s very little audience noise made through “When He Returns” either, despite the song being made up of only guitar, piano and voice, the audience are brilliantly reserved, they perk up a little for “Man Gave Names To All The Animals”, clapping along to the beat and then applauding loudly at the breakdowns. “Precious Angel” skips along joyously – It suffers from a little tape flutter at the middle of the track but that’s about the biggest flaw on the disk.

The second disk begins with a rap by Dylan about how Christ will save when the earth is destroyed before a lengthy, “Slow Train Coming”. “Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking” has an ‘In a Gadda-La-Vida’ ominous vibe running through it’s sound, punctuated with a deathless organ motif and solo also featuring Tackett’s wheezing, electric guitar solo at the core of it all.
A sweet, looping “Do Right To Me Baby” chimes quietly with a lift from the backing vocal, punctuating the choruses. “Solid Rock” is proceed by Dylan announcing ‘I don’t know about you but I believe in a god who can raise the dead ..’ before the band surf through a brilliantly built and tough rendition of the track with a stodgy and chewing bass line. They all sound like they’re really ploughing ground here and it turns out to be one of the most exhilarating tracks of the night with the noted obvious choices of “Saved”, with it’s own wriggling guitar lines and the lengthy “In The Garden” which slowly pumps itself up to monstrous proportions.

After the band introductions, we have a wigged out, heavy rock, “Blessed Be The Name” that sends the needles in to the red bringing the show to a more peaceful if rapturous, church filling, ending as Dylan, the Sisters and band bring the gospel to the door.

The title of this set comes from part of a statement made in a December ’79 interview when Dylan was questioned about his religious views, it ties in nicely with the images used within – My only grumble might be that the Rex Features photo used inside would better serve the front but as Super Sonic featured this on their ‘Gospeller’ release, Rattlesnake do better to avoid it. Great and concise if inflammatory notes from the Gentleman’s Club Of Spalding Treasurer tie the set up nicely. Another great addition to the Gospel years section on your Dylan collection.

If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)

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