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First Play: Bob Dylan, Trouble No More: The Bootleg Series Vol. 13/1979-1981

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Holly Gordon

The first volume of Bob Dylan’s Bootleg series was released in 1991, finally making oft-bootlegged tracks and rarities available commercially to the singer’s avid fanbase. Volumes 1 to 3 were released together that year, covering material from the first three decades of Dylan’s work, while subsequent releases have included a live concert at the Royal Albert Hall (Vol. 4), and unreleased 1967 home recordings with what would become the Band (Vol. 11).

This fall, the Bootleg series is focusing on Dylan’s controversial gospel period, starting when Dylan released 1979’s Slow Train Coming, an album of evangelical songs. It was a three-year period that alienated some fans but made a flock of others: the Christian music scene was there for it. Slow Train Coming won a Dove Award — somewhat like the Christian music industry’s Grammy — and during those three years, Dylan publicly (and, at first, unexpectedly) declared his Christian faith during performances.

Dylan released an album every year for the three new Bootleg years: Slow Train Coming was followed by 1980’s Saved and 1981’s Shot of Love. And then it was over; Dylan’s overt religiousness slowed to a near stop. (Though it didn’t disappear. “He didn’t really close the doors,” John J. Thompson, associate dean of Trevecca Nazarene University’s School of Music & Worship Arts in Nashville, Tenn., told the Chicago Tribune. “Once you start looking [for] biblical references, you can find them all over the place in Dylan’s music.”)

Trouble No More: The Bootleg Series Vol. 13/1979-1981’s nine discs will be released on Nov. 3, and you can listen to a sampling of 15 tracks in the player to the left. Aside from the track “Ye Shall Be Changed,” nothing on Trouble No More has been previously released — counting 14 original songs plus unreleased live performances and studio outtakes.

With nearly 40 years removed from the birth of these songs, it’s easier, now, to appreciate them for their raw qualities than what categorization Dylan was fitting into at the time.