Bob Dylan is familiar to everyone, either as one of America's most brilliant 20th century songwriters or as "that folk singer with the really funny voice." However, not everyone today is familiar with Bob's acceptance of the Christian faith, which is surprising since its been more than 20 years – it's disappointing that more believers aren't aware of this. Here's hoping the new tribute album,
In short, Bob accepted Christ in the late '70s and become good friends with Keith and Melody Green. Like many born again Christian musicians, Bob's spiritual fire spilled over into his songwriting for a few albums, most notably 1979's
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A disc rich in music history, it's interesting that most of the artists have previous connections to the music of Bob Dylan. Shirley Caesar, the queen of gospel, has sung the well-known title track before, at the request of Bob himself when he was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Kennedy Center in 1997. This excellent rendition is driven by a nice guitar riff and a terrific mix of blues, rock, and gospel. "Solid Rock" is performed by the Minnesota gospel choir Sounds of Blackness, backed by Bob's old gospel touring band. The choir sounds absolutely terrific, though the band seems a bit subdued and dated – I'd describe it as independent production quality. Still, legendary keyboardist Billy Preston (best known for playing with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones) is also featured on that track, as well as Helen Baylor's cover of the gospel ballad "What Can I Do for You?"
The great Aaron Neville has recorded a number of Bob Dylan songs, both with his brothers as well as his solo albums (most recently, "I Shall Be Released" on his 2000 project, Devotion). He's well matched with "Saving Grace" for this disc, delivering a typically soulful rendition of the shimmering spiritual ballad. The classic Fairfield Four, formed way back in 1921, tackle "Are You Ready?" with the same a cappella jubilance as The Blind Boys of Alabama, lending the album some welcome diversity in sound. The traditional arrangement of "Pressing On" is sung by The Chicago Mass Choir, featuring Regina McCrary on lead vocal. Interestingly enough, she's a daughter of one of the Fairfield Four and was a back-up singer on Dylan's original gospel projects.
The Mighty Clouds of Joy delivers a rollicking cover of "Saved," while Lee Williams & The Spiritual QC's sing a softer, gospel rendition of "When You Gonna Wake Up?" than the funkier original. Detroit singer Rance Allen gives a very moving performance of "When He Returns," accompanied only by B3 organ, and Dottie Peoples delivers an equally stellar rendition of the gospel-rock ballad, "I Believe in You." Perhaps the real album highlight is the closing track, in which Bob Dylan (whose voice sounds even more gravelly than usual) duets with longtime friend Mavis Staples of The Staples Singers for a wholly rewritten blues-rock version of "Gonna Change My Way of Thinking." Partway into the track, Mavis knocks on the door to Bob's "house" to join in on the jam – it's charming, but the gimmick may grow old with repeated listens.