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on August 18, 2003
Shot of Love and the album that preceded it, Saved, have received, through the years, critical drubbings along the lines of what Dylan's recent movie Masked and Anonymous has garnered. His gospel period, in general, has almost always been looked upon in a generally negative light, and is only now starting to get the credit it deserves with the release of Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan, a collection which features contemporary gospel stars singing some of the man's best songs from the period.
Where does Shot of Love fit into all this? It is an underrated album. However it is not a great album, or a classic. It is much, much more secular than the first two gospel albums; indeed, only one song -- Property of Jesus - is unabashedly Christian. Several of the songs -- Heart of Mine, Lenny Bruce, and possibly several others -- are not Christian at all. There is almost none of the fire and brimstone here that Slow Trained Coming was loaded with; neither is it unabashedly gospel, as Saved was. Dylan wraps the virtues of Christianity up in more everyday forms, and does not bash us over the head dogmatically here; it's barely self-righteous, and it doesn't preach to the choir. Music-wise, none of the songs are in actual gospel style; several are even poppy. Others rock quite hard -- harder than anything since the mid-60's, in fact. Piano is the lead instrument on several songs, often played by Dylan himself. The backup singers do a good job here, and aren't overly intrusive or robotic-sounding, as they sometimes had been in the past. The legendary Jim Keltner is excellent on drums, as always. As for Dylan's singing, let it be known that the album contains some of Dylan's best vocal performances ever. His voice is as sweet as honey on In The Summertime -- a beautiful performance. The Groom's Still Waiting At The Altar has one of Dylan's classic nasty snarls of a vocal -- echoing such classics as Positively 4th Street and Like A Rolling Stone -- something his voice was particularly well-suited to in the early 80's, though he didn't use it that way very often. The title track's vocal features a similar virtue, while containing the startlingly forceful lyric: "Why would I want to take your life?/You've only murdered my father, raped his wife/Tattooed my babies with a poison pen/Mocked my God, humiliated my friends." In a typical streak of perversity, Dylan saves his most beautiful vocal for his elegy to Lenny Bruce -- remember, this is a gospel album -- which is sung to a beautiful piano backdrop (anyone who says Bob can't play piano needs to listen to this album, which is chock full of his wonderful playing.) All of the tunes I've mentioned are key tracks. An undisputed highlight, however, is the aforementioned Groom, a ferocious, driving rocker that seems somewhat out of place on the album; indeed, it was not originally there. It is one of his best songs of the 80's -- and one gets to hear The Poet of Our Generation rhyme "January" with "Buenos Aries." The song was released as a B-side and tacked onto the album by virtue of popular demand. (It's a shame that some of the album's other outtakes weren't, too. One of them, Angelina, is a beautiful piece of music with some of Dylan's most enigmatic and complex lyrics.)
However, ladies and gentlemen, all of this is superfluous. Because, and I say it without hesitation, the album is worth buying the album just to be able to hear Every Grain of Sand. This amazingly beautiful song features one of Dylan's most poignant, poetic lyrics, delivered to us through a highly-emotional and emphatic that never fails to drive me to tears every single time I hear it. It is fitting that it is the last song on the last album of Dylan's gospel period: it perfectly sums up everything that he'd been trying to say the whole time. Far removed from the dogma-toting, sometimes self-righteous preaching to be found in his earlier gospel songs, Every Grain of Sand manages to conjure up all of the beauty and the hope of faith, while also succinctly summarizing the darkness and the doubt that inevitably comes into the mind of any thinking, feeling man: "I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea/Sometimes I turn, there's someone there, other times it's only me." The song is further punctuated by not only Dylan's greatest-ever harmonica solo, but his two greatest (again, those who say that he cannot play the harp absolutely must listen to this masterful performance.) His solos are achingly sad, painfully lonely -- and yet redemptive, all at the same time. They're so emotional to be tear-jerking. It is one of the greatest songs he's ever written. I say quite simply: if this song doesn't move you, you have no soul.
Dylan's choice of the penultimate line "I am hanging in the balance of the reality of man" is highly significant. As originally recorded, the line read "...of a perfect, finished plan." The latter seems to be more of a Christian viewpoint, whereas the former is more secular; the two lines are polar opposites, and change the entire meaning of the song and the conclusion that it draws. Are we really hanging in the balance of a perfect, finished plan... or just the reality of man? Dylan's use of the latter line on this album, especially since it is the last song on his last gospel album, leaves the entire period open to re-interpretation.
Not Dylan's best album, and certainly not a classic. Some of the songs I haven't mentioned -- Dead Man, Dead Man, Watered-Down Love, Trouble -- are fairly lightweight, for Dylan especially. But you still owe it to yourself to buy this album for its great songs, and especially for Every Grain of Sand.
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on July 11, 2001
The common complaint about 1981's Shot of Love--truly one of Dylan's most affecting and sincere records--is that it rocks but fails to hold a flame to his 60's glory. After 40 years of music and 43 albums, one would hope that such comparisons grow tired, and each effort is assessed according to its individual merits, to its own voice, rather than viewed as a shadow under the overbearing umbrella of the 1960's. Has Pearl Jam recorded a song as catchy as Jeremy or Alive in the past nine years? Arguably not. Does that mean that they are no longer worth listening to, that their standing as a valid contribution to rock music hopelessly ceases? Certainly not.
As on 1978's Street Legal, Shot of Love includes some of the most compelling but forgotten songs of Dylan's career. Whereas Street Legal brought forth gritty rockers such as New Pony, Senor and We Better Talk This Over, Shot of Love delivers the stunning, booming rockers, "Trouble," "Property of Jesus" and "The Groom's Still Waiting At the Altar." They're not exactly Positively Fourth Street, but that does not automatically render them unlistenable. That rock critics continuously point novice Dylan fans in the same worn out direction is criminal, because there are songs here that are habitually ignored and deserve much better. What becomes necessary after a four-decade career of scattered brilliance is a wide-ranging, hard-hitting and concise compilation, one that may never see the light of day as long as Dylan and Columbia Records have anything to say about it, as is evident in the paltry, allegedly "Essential" double-disc set recently put out by Columbia.
Emmylou Harris's Grammy-winning "Wrecking Ball" includes a cover of Shot of Love's "Every Grain Of Sand" for one reason: it is one of the most gorgeous, well-written ballads of his career, up there with Not Dark Yet, Blind Willie McTell, Idiot Wind and Visions Of Johanna, among others. "Lenny Bruce" is a blander but ultimately compelling and powerful elegy. Perhaps out-of-the-blue experiments like the reggae-fused "Dead Man, Dead Man" challenged critics and fans to transform their confusion into patience, but it remains one of the few successful "experiments" of Dylan's career. Compare "Live at Budokan" or "Empire Burlesque" for examples of failed attempts at updating or refreshing Dylan's sound.
"Watered-Down Love" is a radio-ready single in its own right, the guitar licks are wonderful, Dylan sounds as ambitious and inspired as ever, and the band mimics that intensity in its playing. A Remastering job on Shot of Love may help bring its neglected genius to those who ignored it the first time around. It would, at the least, make for an album of explosive sound, as songs like Trouble, Groom's Waiting At The Altar and the title track already pack a memorable punch. If Dylan or Columbia felt as though they still had something to prove, perhaps they would get around to these projects, or come up with some ideas of their own. However, Bob Dylan has nothing left to prove. And that may be where the reality of the situation ends for he and his label, leaving those who were perceptive enough to discover this album's power all the more grateful. In the end, perhaps that will continue to stand as reward enough, and perhaps it should.
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on July 7, 2004
1981's "Shot of Love" is the last, hardest-rocking, and most accessible of Bob Dylan's trio of "Born-again" albums that began in 1979, and many fans call this the best of his Christian-oriented albums, all of which were (and still are) widely criticized. All the scorn and empty accusations of judgemental dogma that Dylan took may have fuelled all of the roughness and energy that packs the album, making it one of the most realistic, down-to-Earth Christian albums ever made.
It's ironic that "Shot of Love" may be the easiest for non-Christian fans to enjoy, because it still has God written all over it, starting with the quote of Matthew 11:25 in the liner notes. This album is full of a sense that a God-less society is falling apart, but Dylan pulls off the task of turning the end of times/Armageddon stew into vigorous, enjoyable rockers (case in point, 'Trouble'). In the blistering title track, Dylan speaks of those who mocked his God, and desires an escape from all the condemnation he took, and from the morbid side of the world in general. 'Property of Jesus' is self-explanatory, and 'Watered Down Love' seems to speak out against organized religion blocking man's relationship with God. Amidst the rocking world-gone-wrong of 'The Groom's Still Waiting At the Altar,' Dylan assures the listener that "God has mercy on them who are slandered and humiliated," a great anthem for any weary Christian, and the feeling that the world is falling apart is evident throughout this album; 'Dead Man, Dead Man' shares the same message of an earlier song 'When You Gonna Wake Up' and describes "politics of sin" and those who "curse God with every move." On the ballad-like 'In the Summertime,' he speaks of "Fools they made a mock of sin" but things get brighter as he sings of a gift that will "be with me unto the grave, and then unto eternity." Also in this song, Dylan seems to address his audience and/or his critics; Did you respect me for what I did, Or for what I didn't do, or for keeping it hid? Did I lose my mind when I tried to get rid of everything you see?"
Only two songs here don't bear a Christian-oriented message (at least one that's not as obvious as the other songs). The simplistic, sad piano-and-vocal 'Lenny Bruce' finds Dylan doing something that Christian bands today should be doing more often; Lenny Bruce was not exactly what you'd call a "Christian role model" but who says Christian music has to only give sympathy to Christian martyrs? And Bruce was a martyr in his own field, and the song named after him is a forthright, straight salute to the lost comedian. 'Heart of Mine' meanwhile is a song of self-exploration, like the closing ballad 'Every Grain of Sand,' probably the most recognized tune on the album, and a pleasantly mild end to a mostly rollicking set of songs. Here it appears that Dylan was consciously bringing an end to his "Christian era" because obviously he still had other messages to deliver. It is a poignant bridge that connects the end of the Born-again era to the beginning of the ups and downs he would take throughout the 80s.
"Shot of Love" is the one album that other Christian bands should use as their blueprint; it is full of both the anger and the peace that accompany the decision to find faith. For fans of Dylan and not the faith however, it is still a welcome return to craftiness and daring that made such classics as "Bringing It All Back Home" and "Blonde on Blonde" so incomparable to other artists.
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on April 3, 2008
If you have not already noticed, Dylan has a penchant for doing albums in trilogies (whether explicitly intended or not). There is, obviously, the electric trilogy that culminated in Blonde On Blonde, the latest crusty old man series that began with Time Out of Mind and ends with Modern Times. Less stated is the "I am completely out of it and still rock" trilogy from Self Portrait through Planet Waves. And then there is the polarizing Christian trilogy which began with Slow Train Coming, wandered into the chapel with Saved and smacked you right in the face with Shot Of Love.

Shot of Love, however, overlaps into a second trilogy. Where this albums ends the Christian trilogy, it is also the beginning of what I call his "Big 80's" trilogy. This triumvirate also includes Infidels and Empire Burlesque. Though Shot of Love is ripe with Biblical references and exaltations of Christ, the sound is a departure from Saved and previous albums in that he explores the studio space and technology much the same way Bruce Springsteen did in the Reagan decade. The sound is BIG with expert production, the big Keltner drum sound, and an all star line up including guys like Ron "Better than Keith Richards" Wood and Ringo "Cooler than John" Starr. If this sounds like albums prior to Shot of Love, then just listen to it, you will hear what I mean. The recording process reads and sounds like a cocaine California album on Warner Bro's in '77...more like a Steely Dan or Randy Newman outfit than Dylan.

Fortunately, the music is also great. This is my personal favorite Dylan album of the era (a long one stretching from Planet Waves through Good As I Been To You). Starting with the juke joint blues of of the title track, with excellent female backing vocals, this album is clearly more powerful and focused than it's two predecessors. He moves into the sweet and sentimental "Heart of Mine", with a simple hook reminiscent of the easy pop of New Morning. "Property of Jesus" is the most overtly Christian song on the album, and it is classic in-your-face Dylan, not afraid to make the listener examine their own self through song. "Lenny Bruce" people seem to really love, although a major theme seems to be lost on many listeners who consider it a 'secular' song. Clearly Dylan is holding up the life of a troubled man (a sinner and a Jew, no less) who, through his search for truth, is acting a bit Christ like. "Lenny Bruce" also offers a subtle example of God's divine mercy coming down even on a foul mouthed comedian; let us not forget that Lenny is our Brother.

Following the fun and message-laden "Watered Down Love" comes the most powerful track on the album and one of Dylan's all time best...and it was left off the original pressing! "The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar" is a burning blues number featuring a Dylan narrative to be reckoned with. Imagine the bounce of "One More Weekend" with lyrics from Highway 61 to get an idea of this song. The lyrics are strong and thought provoking, the guitar rambling, and Dylan's voice vicious with excellent support from the ladies. Other songs of note are "Dead Man, Dean Man", which features a reggae vibe that he would further explore on Infidels and the closer "Every Grain of Sand", a long and somber conclusion with big harmonica interludes, quite reminiscent of "Desolation Row" if you ask me.

Stated earlier, this album belongs as much to the Christian period as it does to his Big 80's material of Infidels and Empire Burlesque. It has a precise and echoic feel that sounds more dated than his folk material does today. However, context and catalog aside, this album is a great ride, full of dynamics and thoughtful numbers. Who should have a problem with Dylan's Christianity of the time should seriously examine the man (who nobody really knows) harder. Dylan was always full of a Holy Spirit of sorts. Consistently penning songs of justice and injustice, hope and despair, light and darkness, death and life. The man's overtly Christian period did not last, but I do not believe it to be something he is ashamed of. Bob Dylan was bound to have a point on his map of a career in which he upheld the ultimate seeker of justice, the suffering servant, the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ.
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on May 18, 1999
One of Dylan's poorest selling albums, "Shot of Love" is all the more special to me because of its relative obscurity. Even the worst track, "Trouble," contains some powerful imagery, and the best, "Every Grain of Sand," is simply one of the greatest songs ever written. This is the one Dylan album that I never get tired of hearing.
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on December 1, 2012
As a teenager I didn't get this phase of Dylan's career, and I think many people who otherwise like Dylan still write it off. I think the main reason this record doesn't fare well with many fans is that it says "Bob Dylan" on the cover; one might expect it to sound like "Blood on The Tracks," or "Highway 61 Revisited." It's almost more helpful to think of every record he makes as being by a different person altogether, and be surprised by the similarities you find, rather than expect it to be the same, and be put off by the differences. Either way, the ensemble on these tracks sounds great, and Dylan's vocals are fantastic. The one thing you can expect from any Dylan Record, even the bad ones, is that it won't sound like what anyone else is doing at the time.

Highly recommended.
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on August 29, 2006
The production on this album is lean & very exciting - it is how I imagine Dylan would sound if he was heading a garage rock band. For me this is how rock albums should sound - Rough & Edgy.

I have all Dylans albums (somewhere in the mid-forties I think Bob's at now)and this one is my favourite. I've been playing it regularly now for 25 years.

When it originally came out I remember the reviews were terrible. Dylan turning born-again christian really got the music hacks backs-up and they slated it over here in the U.K.

Peoples prejudices, Dylans antics at the time and his subsequent 7 year artistic dry spell after this album (not relieved until 1989's "Oh Mercy") meant it went off the radar for around twenty years. Quality shines through though in the end and only now is it finally getting the recognition it deserves.

I'm not a christian so the fact that many of the songs have a religious context to them doesn't influence me one iota in writing a positive review. Maybe the opposite is the case i.e. the christian element is putting you off possibly, well I would recommend you get over any prejudice ASAP because you're missing out on something special here.

The songs are strong and some like "Lenny Bruce" & "Every Grain Of Sand" are deservedly recognised as the very best of the best of Dylans mighty impressive song book!

I once read that "Shot of Love" was Dylans own favourite of his albums..., take that as some sort of recommendation from the man himself.

The cover may be naff, but the music is great. Get it and enjoy is my recommendation!
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on June 22, 1999
There is a presence, an immediacy about this record that makes each listening an intimate experience. It's one of those records where you can pick out individual instruments, or the singer's voice, to concentrate on; or you can get it on with the band. Either way, it sounds like the whole group is right there in the room with you. It is beautifully produced, but that isn't its only strength, so let's look at the songs and the performances. "Groom" doesn't really belong on this record; it was added to later pressings of the LP and to the CD, but I always "program it out" because I bought Shot of Love when it was first released, and I still prefer to hear it that way. You can hear this excellent song on Biograph anyway. The title track is written from a lonely place where each of us has been at one time or another--a 'dark night of the soul' moment. The song provides a perfect introduction to the soundscape of the record as a whole, especially that blood-pumping beat and those bone-steeling rhythm guitars. "Heart of Mine" manages to be repentant AND lusty, with an irresistible gospel tent piano. "Property of Jesus," the only track that sounds a bit murky, is one of Dylan's more vituperative works, averting righteous indignation by using the third person. "Lenny Bruce" has got to be one of the most poignant pieces ever written about a tragic figure. As funny, incisive, honest, sad, engaging and mysterious as its subject. "Watered-Down Love" clearly uses one of Paul's letters to the Corinthians as a starting point, but quickly gives way to accusatory Dylanspeak. He blasts a past/present/future friend/partner/lover by describing all the good things they aren't, backed by an engaging guitar riff and a solid beat. "Dead Man, Dead Man" is musically similar, only the target here is hollow holy men. "In the Summertime" is a song only those who've had a genuine religious experience can identify with, and Dylan communicates that feeling of transcendence; the background singers really shine here, but then they're almost perfect throughout. "Trouble" is an eminently quotable song, and features a delightful informal opening where the guitars start stretching out and then the rhythm section finds the groove; Dylan's voice is in perfect form. Everyone, including those who don't care for Shot of Love as a whole, now recognizes "Every Grain of Sand" as a contemporary spiritual classic. Bob's singing here is plaintive but not straining, and his harp playing is undeniably gorgeous. An inspired affirmation of faith and survival that provides a perfect counterpoint to the uneasiness and despondency of the opening track. Is it rock? Is it pop? Is it r&b? Blues? Gospel? Don't I hear a hint of reggae on a track or two? Some have stepped forward to declare that because this record seems to be so many things, it actually comes up with little or nothing. I take the opposite stance, because Shot of Love is EVERYTHING I think music should be: inspiring, uplifting, and (with repeated listenings) life-enhancing. I give it a 98.6 because it's best enjoyed without any additional stimulation, and because perfection seems as if it ought to be impossible.
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on September 26, 2012
Was it present in his previous 2 albums? I don't remember, but this was the best of his Gospel output, no doubt. Ah, but when it came out, there was some doubt-Lenny Bruce? The foulmouthed comic? what was he doing on Dylan's gospel album? Originally 9 tracks-Groom was originally available on his 5 LP/3 CD boxed set, or as the b-side of Shot of Love. Other songs deal with the love of man compared with the love of God. The hypocrisy if "they don't be like they like me to." Remember, he is from the baby boomers, the love generation. This album was the most mature of the trio. He was back to making confessions-Heart of Mine-and the common struggle that we all share. The top song is Every Grain of Sand. At just over 6 minutes, it reveals the power of the gospel-you, alone, at the foot of the cross. The strength of faith and the reward of humility: forgiveness and grace. A fitting finale of his gospel period. If you listen to his later music, It's still there. You can hear it on albums like Empire Burlesque, and Oh Mercy. The song Dignity has alot of biblical truth in it. On the new Hawaii Five O soundtrack features a formerly unreleased Dylan track that was part of the Shot of Love sessions. Enh. But THIS album is a classic and it should be in your library.
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on August 2, 2013
Music: A
Vocals: B[ob]
Back-up singers: A
Lyrics: Splits the difference between Slow Train Coming and Saved

Deep in his overt spirituality on record (like Highway 61 or Shelter from the Storm have no spiritual content), we find our hero, Minnesota Bobby Z musing on Biblical themes. Can you dig it?

If you have never heard of Bob Dylan and have not been exposed to any other of his numerous recordings (and phases and stages) then I shall forgive you for not already knowing what you think and feel about this recording, even if you have never heard it. Otherwise, you are not fooling anyone. You have already dismissed it with just a bit more animus than Johnny Cash's spiritual explorations, or you are intrigued by a popular entertainer exposing himself to such fierce judgment.

If you are in the latter category, then all you have to do is determine whether you generally like Bob Dylan's vocals, or not. Sometimes, I find Bob's vocals (their quality) as fascinating as his lyrical content. But then I like quirky vocalists who can own the interpretation over vocalists who have range and technique, but little soul.
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