Musically, Slow Train Coming toys with gospel, but leans toward r&b and even a little reggae in an attempt to remain commercial; Saved is full-fledged, tent-revival gospel. Like most tent-revivals, in order to become enraptured, it is best to experience the music live. Dylan recorded Saved with his road band, which meant that he lacked the superstars of Slow Train and also that the musicians were already somewhat bored of the songs, having played them night after night. The whole thing was a rushed, cheap production, and that shows in the lack of polish. That said, the album still has its own charms if you look for them. Ultimately, though, the best versions of many of these songs are the live versions which come across with more fiery passion. Dylan himself recognized this, which is why shortly after the album’s release he pleased with Columbia to release a live album from the gospel shows. The gospel albums weren’t really selling though, and after live albums in ’74, ’76 and ’78, they felt as though they had already flooded the live album market. Rumors abound that it will be released in the eventual future as part of the official Bootleg Series. Also, awful album cover.
Best song: Covenant Woman – A rewrite of “Prescious Angel” that, if not as melodic is more harmonically interesting and just as lyrically alert. In that songs, he noted that “both our forefathers were slaves,” and here he notes “I’ve got a covenant too.
Worst song: Pressing On – In some ways, this is the best song on the album, but it is apparent that Dylan didn’t really harness its power. It isn’t the worst technically, but the most disappointing. In I’m Not There, John Doe, an atheist, performs this with such conviction and such power that it floors you. Dylan, who still refers to himself as a true believer and certainly was at the time, should have found a way to tap into the song’s gorgeous power.
Best outtake: N/A – Lots of other great songs were performed on the gospel tour that never appeared on album – “Cover Down, Break Through,” “City of Gold,” “He Will Arise,” and “Ain’t Going To Go To Hell (For Anybody)” – and many of them were better than what was released, but they aren’t available in studio form. Maybe one day Columbia will release the completed but never released album of duets Bob Dylan and gospel legend Clydie King made together and they will show up on that.
Notable live version: Saved – The sound of the revival tent.
Rhymes: inside/denied/wide; life for me/mystery (1-2 from “What Can I Do For You?”); hated/created (“Solid Rock”); reign/vein (“Pressing On”); sword/Lord (“Are You Ready?”)
Images: “emptiness and wrath, and the fire that burns in it;” “I’ve been broken, shattered like an empty cup” (1-2 from“Saved”); “fiery darts” (“Covenant Woman”); “shake me up in my mind;” “shake the dust off of your feet” (4-5 from “Pressing On”)
Axioms: “I stepped out of the womb” (“Saved”); “He gets wise in his own eyes and he’s made to believe a lie” (“What Can I Do For You?”); “what’s to come has already been;” “Don’t look back” (3-4 from “Pressing On”); “wherever I’m welcome is where I’ll be” (“Saving Grace”)