Gotta Serve Somebody – The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan
Michael B. Borofsky
Bob Dylan and Arlethia Lindsey
Is Bob Dylan “The Greatest Gospel Songwriter Ever”? That’s a strong claim for a man of his background, and the competition stiff. This video is all about that competition, it’s packed with names like Aaron Neville and Mighty Clouds of Joy and The Fairfield Four. While Dylan flies high in the ranks of rock and roll singers and folk song writers, his gospel efforts only dominated two albums out of his 40 releases. Slow Train Coming and Saved were issued about the time he converted to Christianity in 1979. One might question his motives, but let’s face it: if train wrecks like Johnny Cash and Hank Williams can appear in the gospel pantheon, Dylan deserves his slice of sonic salvation as well.
But there’s not much Bob Dylan himself here; we only hear of “When He Returns” performed on a grand piano and with a light organ accompaniment. There’s also a short film Dylan voiced and drew the special features section as part of a collection of animation of Dylan gospel Songs. Between the musical performances we hear the usual smattering of talking heads, backing artists, music critics and other experts. After they state their pieces, we get to the meat of this project: covers of Dylan music by the big gospel singers working today. It’s tough to pick anything that’s NOT outstanding, but here are some to consider. Dottie Peoples’ “I Believe in You” begins soft and builds to a one woman crescendo. Aaron Neville nails today’s gospel styles with his falsetto treble in “Saving Grace,” and Aretha Lindsay sings “Every Grain Of Sand” on a subway platform as jaded New Yorker’s do their best to ignore her. While this is a documentary, there’s a useful special feature that allows you to listen to the entire track for each song; the documentary portion with interviews typically only uses one verse and a chorus. Dylan hovers over this project but has no input. Instead he’s analyzed like the stock market on the evening news. We only come to understand him through the analysis of others.