Fresh Finds From Bob Dylan’s Oddest Musical Chapter

“Trouble No More” offers a new look at the religious period that produced the albums “Slow Train Coming” and “Shot of Love.”

Bob Dylan

Trouble No More—The Bootleg Series Vol. 13 / 1979-1981

Columbia Records/Legacy Recordings

Bob Dylan’s Christian phase of the late-’70s and early ’80s remains one of the odder chapters in a career marked by numerous unexpected twists and turns. The massive eight-CD, one-DVD package Trouble No More offers a fresh look at the period that produced the albums Slow Train Coming, Saved, and Shot of Love, compiling 100 previously unreleased live and studio tracks, including 14 new songs. While an uncharacteristic heavy-handedness here and there will still turn some fans off, it’s now easier to hear these songs of faith as being of a piece with Dylan’s more-celebrated work, since big concepts, including a search for meaning, were always central to his work.

In purely musical terms, this set often sounds great. The vocal interplay between Dylan and his female gospel-soul backing chorus is thrilling, and the band cooks with ease, blending blues, soul and even funk in sizzling fashion. And some of the new material makes a worthy addition to the canon. Check out “Ain’t No Man Righteous, No Not One” or “Making a Liar Out of Me” for proof that Dylan was still firing on all creative cylinders, however perverse his instincts seemed at the time.

Various Artists

Woody Guthrie: The Tribute Concerts

Bear Family

Dylan buffs can also check out the three-CD Woody Guthrie: The Tribute Concerts, combining two all-star events celebrating the folk icon that were held at New York’s Carnegie Hall in 1968 and the Hollywood Bowl in 1970. Given the enormous influence Guthrie had on the young Dylan in his earliest incarnation, Bob was a logical participant, but his three-song ’68 segment signified more than that: It was his first public appearance since a 1966 motorcycle accident and he was backed by The Band, still to release their debut.

Interspersing readings of Guthrie’s words by the likes of Peter Fonda and Robert Ryan with spirited musical performances from the usual suspects—Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie, et al.—The Tribute Concerts is more a valuable reference work than a smooth-flowing program, though there is much fine listening to be had. Among the standouts are the impish Country Joe McDonald, the elegant and commanding Richie Havens and Odetta, whose grace and power resonate long after the show has ended.