Trouble No More: The Bootleg Series Vol. 13 / 1979-1981 (Columbia)
Reviewed by Doug Freeman, Fri., Dec. 8, 2017
If Bob Dylan's salvation period, 1979's Slow Train Coming through 1981's Shot of Love, is considered less controversial than the watershed of his going electric at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, it's only because his trio of albums at the turn of the Eighties were so widely dismissed. The latest 8-CD/DVD offering from Columbia's Bootleg Series thus becomes reclamation and redemption for Dylan's most misunderstood turn – his conversion to Christianity.
The first two discs of live sampling deliver Dylan on fire, his fervency lifted by gospelized backup singers. "Gotta Serve Somebody," "Gonna Change My Way of Thinking," and especially "Are You Ready?" roil with funky energy, while the unreleased "Ain't Gonna Go to Hell for Anybody" bites as well as any classic Dylan and "When He Returns" pleads with just Spooner Oldham's piano accompanying his emotive croon. The following discs of unreleased material from soundchecks and rehearsals are more compelling than period album tracks, though dark studio outtake "Trouble in Mind" sears with Mark Knopfler's guitar, and "Caribbean Wind" wafts pedal steel and alternate lyrics.
The versions of "Slow Train Coming" that set up each of the first four discs emphasize not only the arrangement evolution – an almost jazzy 1978 soundcheck, scorching blues opening the '79 tour, and the chugging drive of 1981 shows – but reveal Dylan in constant search. By the time he works back to older material, which the closing four discs capture with shows in Toronto 1980 and London 1981, his catalog is recontextualized. The era may have confounded fans, but Trouble No More harvests some of Dylan's most remarkable performances.