Robert Allen Zimmerman was born on May 24, 1941 in Duluth, Minnesota. He put out his self-titled debut album in 1962 and became known for his folk and protest songs such as ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’, ‘The Times They Are a-Changin’’ and ‘Like a Rolling Stone’. Bob Dylan became a born-again Christian in the late 1970’s. He released his first gospel album SLOW TRAIN COMING (1979, Columbia Records) not long after. It reached No 3 on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart. Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits) is one of the guitarists. Carolyn Dennis, Helena Springs, and Regina Havis provide great backing vocals. The album was produced by Jerry Wexler (Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield) and Barry Beckett (Paul Simon, Lynyrd Skynyrd).
The song ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’ kicks things off. It won a Grammy for Best Rock Vocal Performance by a Male. It doesn’t mince any words when it comes to the spiritual realm: “You may be an ambassador to England or France/You may like to gamble, you might like to dance/You may be the heavyweight champion of the world/You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls/But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed/You’re gonna have to serve somebody/Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord/But you’re gonna have to serve somebody”. ‘Precious Angel’ has an old country music feel to it. It is again direct lyrically: “Now there’s spiritual warfare, flesh and blood breaking down/Ya either got faith or ya got unbelief and there ain’t no neutral ground/The enemy is subtle, how be it we are deceived/When the truth’s in our hearts and we still don’t believe?” ‘I Believe in You’ is a ballad of great resolve: “I believe in you when winter turns to summer/I believe in you when white turn to black/I believe in you even though I be outnumbered/Oh, though the earth may shake me/Oh, though my friends forsake me/Oh, even that couldn’t make me go back/Don’t let me change my heart/Keep me set apart”.
‘Slow Train’ has a slow R&B groove and a nice electric guitar solo. It points out that there will be a day of reckoning for us all: “People starving and thirsting, grain elevators are bursting/Oh, you know it costs more to store the food than it do to give it/They say lose your inhibition/Follow your own ambition/They talk about a life of brotherly love/Show me someone who knows how to live it/There’s a slow, slow train comin’ up around the bend”. ‘Gonna Change My Way of Thinking’ is an adult rock number that includes the talents of the Muscle Shoals Horns. It urges us to live our lives intentionally: “Jesus said ‘Be ready for you know not the hour which I come’/Jesus said ‘Be ready for you know not the hour which I come’/He said ‘He who is not for Me is against Me’/Just so you know where He’s coming from/There’s a kingdom called Heaven/A place where there is no pain of birth.../Well, the Lord created it, mister/About the same time He made the earth”.
‘Do Right to me Baby (Do Unto Others)’ begins with these words of wisdom: “Don’t wanna judge nobody, don’t wanna be judged/Don’t wanna touch nobody, don’t wanna be touched/Don’t wanna hurt nobody, don’t wanna be hurt/Don’t wanna treat nobody like they was dirt/But if you do right to me, baby/I’ll do right to you, too/Gotta do unto others/Like you’d have them, like you’d have them, do unto you”. “When You Gonna Wake Up’ includes these lyrics that sound like something from Steve Taylor’s pen: “Counterfeit philosophies have polluted all of your thoughts/Karl Marx has got ya by the throat, Henry Kissinger’s got you tied up into knots/When you gonna wake up? (2X)/When you gonna wake up and strengthen the things that remain?/You got innocent men in jail, your insane asylums are filled/You got unrighteous doctors dealing drugs that’ll never cure your ills”.
‘Man Gave Names to all the Animals’ is a slow R&B song. It did well on the charts in France and Belgium. It was turned into a children’s book in 1999. The Wiggles even covered it in 2013! It includes these humorous lyrics: “He saw an animal that liked to growl/Big furry paws and he liked to howl/Great big furry back and furry hair/’Ah, think I’ll call it a bear’.../He saw an animal up on a hill/Chewing up so much grass until she was filled/He saw milk comin’ out, but he didn’t know how/’Ah, I think I’ll call it a cow’”. ‘When He Returns’ is a splendid keyboard based gospel song that reminds us of God’s sovereignty: “Surrender your crown on this blood-stained ground, take off your mask/He sees your deeds, He knows your needs even before you ask/How long can you falsify and deny what is real?/How long can you hate yourself for the weakness you conceal?/Of every earthly plan that be known to man, He is unconcerned/He’s got plans of His own to set up His throne/When He returns”.
In 2001 CCM Magazine named SLOW TRAIN COMING as the 16th greatest album in Christian music. Bob Dylan’s singing voice is such that it polarizes folks. You either love it or hate it! I quite enjoy its uniqueness. This is an album of nine new songs from a new believer in Christ. They are passionate and pointed. These are songs urging people to convert to Christianity and make major lifestyle changes. I’m rating SLOW TRAIN COMING 90% and recommending it to fans of Larry Norman and Keith Green. For more info visit: www.bobdylan.com.