Somewhere during 1976 and early 1977 Bob Dylan found religion and became a born again Christian. Slow Train Coming, released August 20, 1979, would reflect that new found faith. At its best it is melodic and evangelical. At its worst it is an unforgiving sermon lacking in Christian charity.
Dylan had hired the legendary Jerry Wexler to produce the album. He had no idea as to what Dylan had in mind beforehand, but would provide guidance and ultimately an almost perfect production for the project. The other important selection was that of guitarist extraordinaire Mark Knopfler. He plays with a crystal clear sound and from the opening notes provides some of the best guitar sounds to grace a Dylan album in years.
This is an album that people either love or hate. It was controversial when released but sold well, reaching the number three position on the national charts. Many fans were angry at this change of direction but an additional group of admirers were attracted to his new found Christianity.
“Gotta Love Somebody” is a smooth tune that just flows easily past the senses. It is insightful if unforgiving. The song would win the Grammy Award for the best rock vocal performance of 1979.
“Slow Train” is about the kingdom of God which is inexorably coming. “When He Returns” is another song about Christ’s return and is one of the better tunes on the album. The imagery is classic and the song’s presentation pure gospel.
“I Believe In You,” is representative, at least for me, of the album as a whole. The melody is beautiful but the lyrics are overwhelming. “Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking” is straight from Philippians, chapter 2 but with wonderful horns in support, which no doubt would have surprised St. Paul. “Do Right To Me Baby (Do Unto Others)” is the Golden Rule set to music. “Man Gave Names To All The Animals” is a welcome addition as it is humorous and finds Dylan in a playful mood. I wish more of the album would have taken this tone.
Slow Train Coming finds a passionate and serious Dylan. The music is catchy and there is a vision that runs throughout. It all depends on how a listener approaches that vision. There can be no doubt that the songs are a sincere expression of his beliefs but in some regards it remains a difficult listen and is not an album I reach for very often.