Saturday, March 17, 2018

Slow Train Coming (1979)

Slow Train Coming
(1979, Columbia Records)


(Tilapia with béarnaise sauce along with a side of roasted corn and cojita cheese) 

So, it's the late '70s, and Bob Dylan is still at it... Don't worry, he ain't giving up anytime soon. In fact, he's still playing at the time of this writing! Did you kids know that? As the '80s were rapidly approaching, Dylan had undergone some changes. Sure, maybe he'd lost his sunglasses, along with his poetic rebellion, his all encompassing protest persona, the Rimbaud for a new generation thing, his band The Band, those country roots folk feels, and his wife, but he was still Bob "Robert Zimmerman" Dylan. And here at Dinner with Dylan, that's good enough for me, goshdarnnit (I will refrain from using the Lord's name in vein for the next 3 reviews, thank you very much... Not enough rosary beads in the house for that kind of penance). 

Speaking of the Lord, we arrive at Dylan's 19th studio LP Slow Train Coming, the first of Father Bob's Born-Again-Christian trilogy. Once a man of who thumbed his nose at conformity, Dylan grabbed hold of Jesus in the late '70s and didn't let go (until the early '80s that is). Following a series of traumatic events, including a custody battle over his children, a failed gospel rock Japanese tour, and scathing reviews over his film Renaldo and Clara, Dylan fell hard for the Lord. As the story goes, Dylan announced at a concert in Syracuse, NY in September 1978, saying he'd been "tapped on the shoulder" by Jesus (actual quote). The two were inseparable for the next few records, and the world is a stranger place because of it.

Following the wheezy, baffling production of Street Legal, Dylan was at another career crossroads of stylistic choices and beliefs. The LP was originally composed for back-up vocalist, Carolyn Dennis, with Dylan intending to produce. However, Dylan figured, "I wrote this... Let me finish what I started" (not an actual quote). Produced by Jerry Wexler at famed Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama, the LP marks on of the crummiest states Dylan ever recorded a record in.

Other things Alabama is famous for:
This guy

A gross college football fan

and memes that also work well for Slow Train Coming

I kid... I kid.  Alabama is a fine state, full of fine people. Hell, I'm from NJ.... where we have this.

Chris Christie is the devil.

This album is also notable for a couple of other fun facts. It's the first in which Bob Dylan ditched his guitar, focusing only on vocal tracks according to some sources (others have him playing on certain songs, so WHATEVER for that first fun fact). Also, the LP features members of Dire Straits as a his backing band (the first of several LP appearances by Mark Knopfler on guitar)... So there's that for bar trivia night.

As for the cover, it's actually pretty damn cool in my humble opinion. It's the first LP cover not to feature a rendering of Zimmy Dylan on it since Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. That cover had TEXT!
I know what you're thinking. What about Planet Waves? Well, thought the same thing until I took a closer look.  SEE.....

Right? I know! It's like, how did we miss that all along?!? I'm sure some of you diehard have noticed but, whoa! Blew my mind!

Speaking of mind-blowing, let's touch on my dinner for a minute. Don't actually touch it because a.) it's unsanitary to do so, and b.) what are you doing in my apartment?  For tonight, my loving wife who makes sure I stay overweight, has prepared a plate of Tilapia topped with rich béarnaise sauce. On the side, we have some scrumptious roasted corn topped with cojita cheese. It's from Trader Joe's and came out of a bag.  Since we're diving into the religious side of things, only feels appropriate for this pescatarian to dabble in fish, especially since we are in the tight grip of Lent. Now if only I could turn this tap water into wine, I'd turn this one man party on its (my) head... (and I'd probably be rich). 

Mass is now in session. The Pastor Dylan presides.

Gotta Serve Somebody- "We are gathered here today in praise of all things cool and rock n roll, AMEN." These are not the opening lyrics to Dylan's LP, but just simply something I put in quotation marks. In fact, if you've come looking for rock n roll, you've come to the wrong place. That shite hasn't been around since like Blonde on Blonde, you one dimensional sin monger. Here, Reverend Dylan starts things out with some dated, funk blues jam. Like a sexy cop, walking the cool beat, this has some steamy late night ick to it.

"Gotta Serve Somebody" plays in this guy's head when busting crooks, doctors say.

It's like a whole new Dylan, a baffling departure from the music he was releasing some 3 years prior. It's sweaty, and gross, and yet wholly appropriate. Really, it's a nice companion piece to most of The Rolling Stones Some Girls album, but unlike Keith Richard's codeine and heroin induced hallucinations, Dylan actually thought he was touched by Jesus. Also, the song contains the line "you may call me Zimmy." Well, Zimmy, I often do! Thank you for the approval.

(another Dead Beat Dad is served a subpoena.  Photo evidence of the great Dylan custody battle sessions of the late '70s, some theologians believe).

Precious Angel- Angels are not real. It's been proven by science. But most people think science is liberal nerd shit these days, so score one for the angels.

(although, YouTube evidence exists of an Angel, apparently falling off a ride at Action Park)

Dylan gets back to some bland strumming folk rock. The whole track breathes, sounding particularly airy due to the driving piano. Dylan begs the heavens "shine the light on me," and alludes to being saved throughout the whole song. The entire affair is pretty steady, building in dynamics slowly throughout. Dylan sounds impassioned vocally, loving the Lord, even when taking (holy) water breaks. Bottom line; it's pretty decent Dad rock (for the angels in all of us).

Alright, so two songs in. Time to talk dinner... I didn't dabble through the sweaty funk, because I didn't want to sweat this béarnaise sauce from my pores. "Precious Angel" seemed like a good time to take a taste. Speaking of angel, my wife really did a bang up job preparing this meal. The tilapia is baked perfectly, still moist and quite meaty. The béarnaise is a bit off kilter here but compliments this legendary bland fish nicely. And this roast corn... Wow. Food from a bag is where it truly is at!

I Believe In You- At one time, a simple Dylan title like this could be analyzed by scholars and listeners alike, inspected with a literary fine-toothed comb for meaning, allegory, word structure. But it's clear with this album what Dylan really believes in; yes, Santa, and the miracle of Christmas. No wait, that's the wrong album. Stay tuned for the year 2009 for that Xmas album review! In the meantime, Dylan penned this steady ballad, one that's rather beautifully constructed and delicately played throughout. I believe this song is a bag of sap in some ways, and in others I can't get enough of it. I also believe there was a second gunman and that Bigfoot is real.

(Proof from the government, exhibit A... can't argue with proof)

Wow, this fish is so good, I'm going back for seconds. As for the roasted corn, must eat in moderation. It's addictive. The cojita cheese really spices it up... or more SALTS it up. Cojita cheese is a cheese of Mexican origin that serves little other purpose than to make things salty. If that's the case, step aside salt shaker. You're dead to me.

(me throwing away salt, after this meal is artist's rendition)

Slow Train- After two acoustic lead, somewhat touching songs, Reverend Dylan ups the humidity in the room and things get all sweaty and stinky again. LORD, open a window! The song is carried by its funk grooving bass and drum lock all while the backup singers soulfully pop up, the organ rings off the hook, and the horns jab in to say "let's get sexxxy." This is one dang-a-lang blues rock number that eventually starts to sound as if it almost makes sense over its 6 minute run time. The Rev. Zimmy sounds great vocally on this too, equal parts disdain, dismay, and dis....ciple of the LORD.

Gotta Change My Way of Thinking- 2 I've basically worked my way through my meal at this point... Just a little bit of tilapia left to run lovingly through this rich, creamy béarnaise sauce. And the corn?  Forget it. It's gone, but as human bowel movements usually prove, not forgotten. Ewww, what? Moving on.

Well, after the old "COOL" Bob Dylan got backed into a corner and sort of lost his mind, he had no choice but to change his way of thinking; less like a beat poet, more like a divorced Dad from Middle America. Unfortunately, Dylan didn't change his way of playing sweaty, boring funky blues rock from Side A. If anything, this is his version of sweat funk on steroids. If you wanna hear Dylan snarling about Jesus creating the earth in a bar rock atmosphere, you've come to the right altar. Side B's opener is a weak, horn filled stomper that gets locked in a dead groove and can't dig its way out. You know what did find it's way out? Jesus' body, from his tomb. And that's why we have Easter.

(Jesus is like a fine yeast; always rising)

Do Right to Me Baby (Do Unto Others)-Here, Reverend Zimmy comes at this one from an interesting angle; It's a classic combo of "Don't mess with me girl" meets and "What Would Jesus Do?" The whole thing is about as fun showing up at Sunday school on a Snow Day. More funky blues rock stylings, although there's some chill ass guitar picking going on in the mix. Also, I'm sorry I used the phrase "chill ass" around the Lord, and any of you readers for that matter. For that, I will repent. 

When You Gonna Wake Up?- 3 Okay, the fish is gone... The dinner a thing of past. Amen. I promise for the next entry, we will begin the dinner by saying Grace. How thoughtless of me. When am I gonna wake up?

Oh wait, that's practically the name of the song! Good question Reverend Bob. If you wanna hear a song that references Jesus in the first line while implementing an undeniable '70s groove used to court someone in between the sheets, look no further. The song is saved (no pun) by the distant horns jabs and swells, along with the simple solution of picking up the drums to double time during the verse. Saves this incredible strange, bland track from being a bog of Jesus referencing swamp ass.

(A great chance for Jesus to reference a Bob Dylan song)

Man Gave Names To All Animals- Who would've thought we'd get to this song title back in the hip acid lovin', dope smokin' days of 1960-something and whenever? This ain't "Maggie's Farm" no more. This is Father Dylan leading some sort of dub style, low grade funk band into first grade religious nursery rhyme land. So strange, it's certainly a "must hear" track. One of the most hated Dylan songs of the catalog. It really does make you stop and think "Good Lord, what the in God's name is this, for Heaven's sake?!?" On a positive note, there really are a lot of great animals in the world, all of which I will name in alphabetical order now....
 YUP!  That's all of them!  Also begs the question, what the fuck is a "zorilla?"

(Scientists agree that most animals were named by the late, great Steve Irwin, it is believed)

When He Returns- Well, after a funkadelic, gospel, reggae assault all about Jesus for the past 40 odd minutes, it's refreshing that this album closes things down with this piano/vocal ballad. Dylan shines like a light from Heaven while the piano sounds like God's tears. It's all incredibly strong, however. Dylan's religious propaganda soaked lyrics are baffling, as is this whole phase of his career, but a fitting ending to the LP.

Well, that was some journey. Together, we got Saved... Then, we named all the animals together. What a strange and miraculous trip it has been, folks. Join me next time as we really get SAVED again!.... when we tackle the full-on Zim gospel record Saved. 

Until then, I leave you with one of Dylan's most famous quotes from these era:
"To all my little Hulkamaniacs, say your prayers, take your vitamins and you will never go wrong."- Bob Dylan. 


  1. "Slow Train Coming" is close to being a great Dylan album, but doesn't quite make it, IMO. This is mostly due to the presence of 2-3 songs that I almost always skip over - not because I find them offensive, just boring and pointless.

    But the remaining material is pretty great stuff, whether you share Bob's faith or not. Dylan sounds inspired again, and sings with naked passion. The music and production are terrific. Best of all, Dylan is once again acting as angry outsider and prophet, castigating the world for its sins - it's like 1963 all over again! (Just re-listen to "Masters of War" sometime and see if you don't think it would fit well on this album.)

    My favorite track here is "When He Returns" - a pure gospel song, and one of Bob's best performances ever. Never get tired of listening to that one!

  2. It's really not a bad album at all, and get more flack than it deserves. Production wise I think it's fantastic! There's a couple stinkers as a whole, but I can put this one and feel moved at parts. Dylan sounds like he gives a shit, and really comes through. I find it way better than "Street Legal" which is just kind of confusing to me.

  3. Glad we seem to agree on this one - especially since we probably won’t agree on the next couple of albums, which [SPOILER ALERT] I also think are very under-rated. Hope you don’t wind up banning me from your blog! :-D

  4. Haha. Never a ban for faithful reader! Always welcome a discourse. Next one should be up very soon.

  5. "I Believe in You" IS about Bigfoot!
    You're a funny writer. Other Dylan blogs that mindlessly quote his lyrics and compare them with those written by people like William Blake and William Yeats are pedantic and unintentionally humorous. Those Thin Men couldn't hit a boat with an iceberg. Also, I find "Slow Train Coming" to be mostly unlistenable. Dylan's sobriety and commitment to Christianity only extended "Street Legal's" unimaginative music and cringe-worthy singing. Jerry Wexler's stiff, generic funky white-boy production doesn't help. The "Slow Train" album needed a loose, Chess Records vibe. Sometimes I enjoy "When He Returns" because, like "Dark Eyes" from "Empire Burlesque," its stripped-down arrangement will never sound dated.

  6. I love this place in particular, it always has the best and impressive events every year. These venues in Los Angeles have the perfect location if you are looking to host the event of a lifetime. The main-level features a large comfortable space.