A whole slate of videos have been uploaded to YouTube by the Melbourne Mass Gospel Choir featuring that 80 voice choir performing the gospel songs of Bob Dylan. Their channel is at this link, where you can explore them all, and I’m embedding a few of my favorites below.
I understand: Make all the jokes you want about a bunch of elderly white Australians singing black American gospel music (and black American gospel music composed by Robert Allen Zimmerman, at that). Make any joke you want but then just listen to it. I think this is gospel music being performed at a very high level, with superb voices and arrangements and with an obvious and quite galvanizing spirit of devotion. In short, it is truly great stuff, and it’s a huge treat to hear Dylan’s great songs of faith getting this kind of treatment.
Take “What Can I Do For You?” with lead vocal by Lisa Shergold, below.
Superb. And listen to the terrific take on “Saving Grace,” below, with lead vocal by Timothy Slater
And you may just feel like thanking the Lord for the great version of “Saved,” below, with lead vocal by Sharon McKenzie.
So, I’m very glad they did it, and it’s also a nice gift that they are sharing it in high quality for free on YouTube.
One note: I notice that a number of the arrangements take their lead from the Gotta Serve Somebody: Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan collection (various artists singing Dylan’s gospel songs), which is not too surprising since that album had a similar concept. However, in the case of “When You Gonna Wake Up,” I have a peeve about how Lee Williams and Spiritual QC’s changed the lyrics of that song for that album, and it seems that those same lyrics are being used in this rendition.
I understand some of Dylan’s words in that song might sound harsh to some, but the substitutions don’t impress me. There’s one great line in Dylan’s original litany of worldly troubles and injustices that goes: “The rich seduce the poor and the old are seduced by the young.” Isn’t that a great and piercing evocation of—in the first clause—the cruel power of materialism, with the rich seducing the poor into wanting to be like them, and—in the second clause—of the terrible tilt of our world towards the young and the beautiful, seducing and tempting the old into trying themselves to live as young people forever, or into some other peril. Fascinating line, making you look at things in a completely different way to the usual.
Whereas, Lee Williams and the Spiritual QC’s changed that to: “The rich oppress the poor and the old oppress the young.” Hmm. La dee dah.