Dylan Bootleg #13 Trouble No More,
review by Kevin Harvey
Covenant Bob: I Won’t Let Go and I Can’t Let Go
It’s possible that Dylan’s 13th Bootleg, Trouble No More, is the final rewrite, the last time the Critical Jury will come in with a reprieve. It is magnificent, shockingly so. He isn’t Dour Bob throwing lightning bolts; he is merely a great American singer working joyously with a truly American song form. Why does it sound so good today when it alienated so many listeners so many years ago? Is it merely a reminder of his old vocal strength? Let’s kick the problem into the light: no one seemed to mind when the Stones sang I Just Want to See His Face and Shine a Light; and Elvis, who didn’t write his gospel songs, was, for good or ill, Elvis. The hip critic didn’t have to take him to task; he probably didn’t believe the songs anyway. Surely the Stones didn’t. And there’s the problem: Dylan, always the prophet, believed his material. After all, he wrote it, didn’t he? And he seems to be singing it as well as possible, as if he cares, and cares deeply. What was the hip non-believer supposed to do with this stuff? The first of the original trilogy, Slow Train Coming, went down reasonably well; it was clean, the musicians were cool, the Christian iconography on the cover was submerged, tasteful, even interesting. Saved, the follow-up, was a different story entirely, the cover was as garish as a Mexican grotto: The Lord’s bloody hand reached down from the heavens! Yikes, Dylan meant this stuff! With the release of Saved, the people struggling with Slow Train gave up: Dylan was a born-again Jew! Is that even possible? Don’t you have to be born a Christian once before you can become born again? I didn’t know. I bought the album, but quickly shelved it. (And why not? I bought Double Trouble and Easy Come, Easy Go, didn’t I?) Shot of Love completed the trilogy. I didn’t know what to make of it: it felt sloppy, rushed, poorly recorded, a mish-mash of world views; Lenny Bruce and Every Grain of Sand? Maybe, but the cover was pure K-Tel, worse than any cover ever on an album by an artist who mattered. A slave to packaging, I didn’t look at it when I played it. I decided I liked it. Sort of. Unlike Under a Red Sky which I liked the first time I played it and still do. Several people told me I was wrong. I didn’t care. After all, I liked Girl Happy.
Now, in 2017, Bob releases his Nobel Speech in a small volume and it reads much better than it sounded against an unnecessary lounge piano. And after reclaiming Self Portrait, for proving to the world how good it was from the start, he releases his gospel work for anyone willing to listen with open ears. My wife, unfamiliar with the studio versions, didn’t know what to do with it. Her words, until she did figure out what to do with it. He’s never sounded or looked happier, she said. I liked that.
It’s a weirdly comfortable November now and three people from Guatemala are building stone steps for us at our house. The charismatic father-figure, Louie, talked to me twice about Trump’s America, how heart-broken he was after 65 years to reach this point. We spoke from the heart for quite a while, ending with an insistence on hope. That was yesterday. Today, When You Gonna Wake Up? is playing. The windows are open and the youngest of the three, Marlon, his back to the house, is doing a funny little Charlie Chaplin dance shuffle to Dylan’s gospel and for that moment, at least that moment, there is trouble no more.