I taped Saved from WLVQ Q-FM 96’s “All Night Album Replay” show when it came out and was disappointed, even bored. I’d loved Slow Train Coming, Saved‘s immediate likewise Christian-informed predecessor, but whereas the former album was (at least for Dylan) slick and radio friendly, the latter is rough and rollicking like a Baptist meeting, Hammond organ featuring prominently. An album of “feels” and “grooves”, there just aren’t as many memorable tunes (“In the Garden” excepted) on Saved compared to the prior album.
These days, nevertheless, I find much to admire in Saved, and believe a lot of the criticism levelled at the time and still (that the pervasive proselytising was irksome, that finger-pointing ill-suited a time of radical “Self” elevation, that the heavy-handed messages about Jesus as the “Answer” and the soon-come End of Days overwhelmed Dylan’s muse) simply ignores the ecumenical, mile-wide streak of (self-) righteousness and apocalyptics in the body of gospel music, the medium in which Saved exists. Maybe it’s because I can listen to fundamentalist reggae and OJL’s In The Spirit, never mind the whole of Goodbye Babylon, without flinching that Dylan’s rather full-on take on religious themes feels like another stop on this continuum.
The Lp starts with a casual, warm-up take on Porter Wagoner’s “A Satisfied Mind”. Originally a straight, metronomic waltz, Dylan’s startlingly wayward call-and-response transformation, interjecting uncharacteristic bluesy melismas between each line, sets out the musical stall clearly: This is prayer meeting revival stuff. Musically, if not lyrically, the loose, R&B/Country gospel style, including extensive use of backing singers, recalls Exile On Main Street–perhaps the ultimate rock “feel” album–but where the Stones created in relative isolation a wooly sonic world which invites the listener in, these songs blaze with live force, having been written and performed on the tour promoting Slow Train and quickly recorded immediately after coming off the road. The contrast between the bumpy, raucous road arrangements on Saved and Slow Train‘s meticulous, at times airless, approach couldn’t be greater.
What ultimately characterises Saved is Dylan’s obvious spiritual and vocal commitment (however temporary), which anchors this underrated evangelical Lp like the proverbial solid rock.