Category Archives: Gospel

10 Good cover versions of Bob Dylan’s Christian songs (edit)

Bob Dylan

10 Good cover versions of Bob Dylan’s Christian songs

I love the “Christian period” in Dylan’s career, always have. In the beginning I felt quite alone in my belief in Dylan, but now he is finally getting recognised for his faith-based songs. The Bob Dylan records from that period are so much better than the critics at the time wrote, they were simply too shocked by his conversion to see the beauty in the songs. I have to say that not all critics were harsh, some recognised quality.

And so what if he’s taken up with the God of Wrath? Since when have you been so crazy about the God of Love? Or any other species of hippie bullshit?
– Robert Christgau

First his live shows from these years got well deserved praise and now finally the albums. They might not be among his best by Dylan’s standard, but by anyone else’s they’re actually quite decent!

Bob Dylan Gospel 2

Here are evidence that the songs are solid Bob Dylan compositions. I have tried not to only include gospel choirs, there are a lot of performances I could have chosen, but instead I’ve tried to show how the songs work in different styles.


I Believe In You – Sinead O’Connor

Such a presence, and the voice, man!

What can I do for you – Helen Baylor:

Good gospel/soul!
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The Best Songs: John The Revelator


The Best Songs: John The Revelator

The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John: Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw. Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.
– Revelation 1:1-3

John the Revelator is a traditional gospel blues call and response song.  Music critic Thomas Ward describes it as “one of the most powerful songs in all of pre-war acoustic music … [which] has been hugely influential to blues performers”. Blind Willie Johnson recorded John the Revelator in 1929 (or 1930) and is the first known recording (at least to me) and subsequently a variety of artists have recorded their renditions of the song, often with variations in the verses and music.

The song’s title refers to John of Patmos (or traditionally John the Apostle) in his role as the author of the Book of Revelation. A portion of that book focuses on the opening of seven seals and the resulting apocalyptic events. In its various versions, the song quotes several passages from the Bible in the tradition of American spirituals.

This is a dark and brooding masterpiece!

The Blind Willie Johnson version:

Blind Willie Johnson recorded the song on April 20, 1929 (or 1930) in Atlanta (his second (1929) or his fifth and final recording session for Columbia Records (1930)). He is accompanied by his first wife (probably), Willie B. Harris. Johnson was a gospel blues singer and guitarist. While the lyrics of his songs were usually religious, his music drew from both sacred and blues traditions. It is characterized by his slide guitar accompaniment and tenor voice, and his frequent use of a lower-register ‘growl’ or false bass voice.

Blind Willie Johnson – John The Revelator:

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The Best Songs: St. James Infirmary blues

George E. Lee's Novelty Singing orchestra
George E. Lee’s Novelty Singing orchestra

“One place you’re going to find a lot of doctors is St. James Infirmary. This song’s history is convoluted and fascinating. Louis Armstrong recorded it as early as nineteen and twenty-eight, but it goes back much further. According to one study it got its start as a ballad called ‘The Unfortunate Rake’…”
– Bob Dylan (Theme Time Radio Hour, Doctors)

The Best Songs: St. James Infirmary blues

“St. James Infirmary Blues” is an American folksong of anonymous origin, though sometimes credited to the songwriter Joe Primrose (a pseudonym for Irving Mills). Louis Armstrong made it famous in his influential 1928 recording.

There are hundreds of recordings and it has been difficult to choose my favourites. I’ve tried to pick some for their historic significance and some just because they are so incredibly good.

“St. James Infirmary” is based on an 18th-century traditional English folk song called “The Unfortunate Rake” (also known as “The Unfortunate Lad” or “The Young Man Cut Down in His Prime”), about a soldier who uses his money on prostitutes, and then dies of a venereal disease.

My first pick is an a cappella version of The Unfortunate Rake done by  Ian McShane from the TV-series Deadwood (we can also clearly hear the melody that became Streets of Laredo):

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The Best Songs: Just a Closer Walk With Thee

Just a Closer Walk with Thee is a traditional gospel song that has been covered by many artists. Performed as either an instrumental or vocal, “A Closer Walk” is perhaps the most frequently played number in the hymn and dirge section of traditional New Orleans jazz funerals.

Rebirth Brass Band – A Closer Walk With Thee:

The ‘jazz funeral’ starts off sombre. On its way to the cemetery, the brass band plays soulful, sad funeral hymns called ‘dirges’,  it should be something that reminds mourners of life’s ups and downs. The slow tune lasts until the procession reaches its final destination, at which point they ‘cut the body loose’ – send the hearse off into the cemetery.

I really love this song and have “dug up” a few examples of great artists doing their version of this old tune.

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The Best Songs: Lord, I just can’t keep from crying sometimes by Blind Willie Johnson

Drawn by the legendary Robert Crumb
The Best Songs: Lord, I just can’t keep from crying sometimes by Blind Willie Johnson

Chuck Berry, Louis Armstrong, Bach, Beethoven and Blind Willie Johnson was included on the golden record that was sent into deep space in 1977 as part of the Voyager missions. What potential alien life forms might make of Johnson humming along to his slide guitar on “Dark Was The Night (Cold Was The Ground)” is anyone’s guess. The track moves me in a way that’s hard to explain, it’s the sound of pure emotion.

Steve Martin, the actor, once told a story about the golden record: “the first message from extraterrestrials has been received… ‘Send more Blind Willie Johnson’.”

Today we will give you more Blind Willie Johnson, we will present the fantastic,  “Lord, I just can’t keep from crying sometimes” (audio only):

“Blind” Willie Johnson (January 22, 1897 – September 18, 1945) was an American singer and guitarist, whose music straddled the border between blues and spirituals.

While the lyrics of all of his songs were religious, his music drew from both sacred and blues traditions. His music is distinguished by his powerful bass thumb-picking and gravelly false-bass voice, with occasional use of a tenor voice.

Johnson was not born blind, and, although it is not known how he lost his sight, Angeline Johnson told Samuel Charters that when Willie was seven his father beat his stepmother after catching her going out with another man. The stepmother then picked up a handful of lye and threw it, not at Willie’s father, but into the face of young Willie.

Johnson made 30 commercial recordings (29 songs) in five separate sessions for Columbia Records from 1927–1930.

“Lord, I just can’t keep from crying sometimes” is sung along with an as-yet-unidentified female singer. They complement each other, he sings in a gruffy voice, she shimmers above with a high pitched soft style of singing.
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