Gospel Stars To Serve Bob Dylan On Tribute Album

Pressing On to feature Aaron Neville, others covering material from singer/songwriter's born-again period.

Bob Dylan has given his blessing to a new tribute album focusing on one of the more mysterious phases of his career.

The album, Pressing On: The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan, will feature New Orleans singer Aaron Neville and a host of gospel stars covering songs from two of Dylan's "born-again" albums: Slow Train Coming (1979) and Saved (1980).

Dylan won't sing on the album, but he does plan to play some guitar or harmonica on two tracks, according to executive producer Jeffrey Gaskill and Dylan's management. "I've been told he's enthusiastic about this," Gaskill said. "I would think it's a pretty important period to him."

Dylan doesn't talk much about religion these days. But for several years, beginning with the release of Slow Train Coming, the Jewish (and bar mitzvahed) Dylan was a vocal Christian, preaching the gospel in fiery songs such as "Gotta Serve Somebody" and "Property of Jesus."

Dylan's 1981 album Shot of Love alternated between religious and secular themes, and by 1983's Infidels, the singer/songwriter appeared to have left Christianity behind.

"Here's the thing with me and the religious thing," Dylan told Newsweek in 1997. "This is the flat-out truth: I find the religiosity and philosophy in the music. I don't find it anywhere else. Songs like 'Let Me Rest on a Peaceful Mountain' or 'I Saw the Light' — that's my religion. I don't adhere to rabbis, preachers, evangelists, all of that. I've learned more from the songs than I've learned from any of this kind of entity."

Gospel veterans Mighty Clouds of Joy and Shirley Caesar, and contemporary artists Dottie Peoples and Lee Williams, will be among the artists contributing to the tribute album, which is due by the end of the year.

As Dylan's 60th birthday approaches on May 24, concert and album tributes to the incalculably influential singer/songwriter are piling up.

Folk label Red House Records recently released A Nod to Bob, a tribute by artists such as Ramblin' Jack Elliott and John Gorka. Meanwhile, Tracy Chapman, Patti Smith and T-Bone Burnett are set to perform Saturday night (May 19) during a New York tribute concert for Dylan.