Friday, July 24, 2009

Bob Dylan 25: Saved

Anyone who saw the tour following Slow Train Coming knew that Bob’s new-found Christianity wasn’t a passing phase. In addition to the familiar songs from that album, he had a pile of new ones with similar themes, recorded quickly with the touring band, and thrust upon an increasingly dubious public.
Saved is not as strong as its predecessor, which isn’t fair to either. Much of the immediate criticism stemmed from the cover art, which was replaced on a later pressing with a more benign painting from the inner sleeve. “A Satisfied Mind” is a good warmup of a gospel song (known to anyone who had the second Byrds album), followed by the insistent title track. “Covenant Woman” is one of the better ones, something of an extension of “Precious Angel”. Unfortunately, “What Can I Do For You?” isn’t as successful. But the side closes with “Solid Rock”, a powerful number that keeps its evangelistic message beneath the groove. It’s a grower.
“Pressing On” doesn’t quite find its way over the lopsided rhythm, but he gives it a strong vocal delivery that encourages a growing dynamic sound. “In The Garden” could be sung by kids at Sunday school, provided they could get their heads around the verses. He wouldn’t truly nail it until he hooked up with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. “Saving Grace” is another contender for a gospel standard for anyone inclined to cover it. It would work very well outside of this album’s context, particularly since “Are You Ready?” doesn’t do much but repeat itself.
There are those that maintain that the recordings on Saved don’t do anywhere near as much justice to the songs as some of his live performances of the era. Indeed, Bob had allegedly compiled a live album around this time, to be called Solid Rock, but even his label was getting impatient for him to stick to rocking. It would take a future volume of The Bootleg Series to bring that music to light, including some of the other original songs he only performed on stage during that period. Beond that, the curious have these two albums to reconsider, or they can try 2003’s Dylan-endorsed tribute album that marketed the songs squarely at the contemporary Christian market.

Bob Dylan Saved (1980)—


  1. I've always thought Saved was a brand of hot Christianity that you'd find in some off-the-beaten-path storefront or back-road church. It reaches down into the guts of the matter. Slow Train is intellectual; Saved is all conversion and belief. After Saved you either become a snake-handler, or you surface. Impossible to get any deeper and stay sane. As another chapter in Dylan's book of songs, I think it shows a genius both sophisticated and raw that shoots Dylan into the stratosphere. Nobody could write religious music that powerful. Whatever disagreements I have with the theology are overwhelmed by the force of the writing. I'd bet most Dylan fans have their favorite "under-rated" album, Saved is mine.

  2. Wow, how could "What Can I Do For You?" be dismissed with 3 words? I think it's a gorgeous devotional with a similar vibe to "Every Grain of Sand" and the closing harmonica solo is absolutely sublime. I consider the song even more than the album to be one of Dylan's great gems that is underecognized.

  3. There's a whole fat fourth Gospel LP worth of Dylan Gospel songs, most of them only recorded while he was on tour, so far as I know. This album would include:

    Trouble in Mind (B-side of a single)
    Ye Shall Be Changed
    You Changed My Life (these two on Bootleg Series 1-3)
    Rise Again
    Let's Keep It Between Us
    We Just Disagree
    Ain't Gonna Go to Hell for Anybody
    City of Gold
    Thief on the Cross
    Cover Down, Break Through
    Jesus Is the One
    Ain't No Man Righteous
    Blessed Be the Name
    Yonder Comes Sin

    Not all of these are expressly Gospel songs, and one or two might even be others' compositions, but they'd all fit on this fourth album. At least one of them, "Cover Down, Break Through" struck me as among his best searing "Gospel" compositions. "This World Can't Stand Long," not a Dylan composition, is something he plays live sometimes.

    (Incidentally -- I'm using the word "Gospel" here to refer to a genre of music. The Gospel in the biblical sense, in two verses about Jesus: Isaiah 53:5-6.)

  4. Hullo - I was doing a search for writing a synopsis for a triptych novel, and I got you, lol! I'm guessing you like Dylan :) fierydarts - 'underecognized' and Dylan in the same sentence - isn't that an oxymoron? Well, I'll be on my way, but this was a happy accident! I may return.

  5. Thanks for the comments, everyone!

    fierydarts: This is one of those albums that is always better than I remember it being.

    Extollager: I have heard some of those songs, and I think they're as good (if not better) than some of what he did release. I'm still holding out hope.

    Rachel: Happy to be of service! Stumble back anytime.

  6. I saw Bob at the Paramount Theatre in Portland, Oregon, on 16 Jan. 1980, before Saved was released. The band started late with an apology, but delivered all of the Slow Train Coming songs plus eight that were unreleased at that time, and about half a dozen more by the ladies. There were two encores. "Pressin' On" was the second.

    It was the first rock concert I'd ever been too, and boy did it seem loud!

  7. Extollager lists "Let's Keep It Between Us" -- I've always liked Bonnie Raitt's cover of that song on her 1982 "Green Light" album.