By Mike Johnson
Question: Do you have to be a Christian to enjoy Mr D’s Christian songs?
Answer: Not if I can help it.
I can enjoy these three magnificent recordings of this most Christian song the same way I can enjoy Mahalia Jackson. These performances are a bit like cathedrals; they can take my breath away even if I don’t subscribe exactly to that faith. I can stand in awe before the passionate expressions of that faith, which is what we find in these recordings.
These performances, so passionate they border on the hysterical, are, in my humble opinion, the best Dylan ever did. It’s an irony for the atheists that Dylan was at this best as a performer during his gospel years.
He was forty, his voice had lost its adolescent whine, he was clean – and had a lot to prove.
If you don’t believe me, listen to these three performances of ‘When He Returns’ from the 1979-80 period
The first features Preacher Bob on piano doing some simple gospel chords, focusing on his vocal. It’s a rich, warm recording, full of power. Nice organ back up.
His next one features Preacher Bob on the guitar, another magnificent vocal performance, beautifully timed.
This last is maybe the best of the lot. Impeccably recorded. Bob back on Piano. A heartfelt delivery to end all heartfelt deliveries. Turn up the volume and enjoy.
“When He Returns”
The iron hand it ain’t no match for the iron rod
The strongest wall will crumble and fall to a mighty God
For all those who have eyes and all those who have ears
It is only He who can reduce me to tears
Don’t you cry and don’t you die and don’t you burn
Like a thief in the night, he’ll replace wrong with right
When he returns.
Truth is an arrow and the gate is narrow that is passes through
He unreleased His power at an unknown hour that no one knew
How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice ?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness ?
Can I cast it aside, all this loyalty and this pride ?
Will I ever learn that there’ll be no peace, that the war won’t cease
Until He returns ?
Surrender your crown on this blood-stained ground, take off your mask
He sees your deeds, He knows your needs even before you ask
How long can you falsify and deny what is real ?
How long can you hate yourself for the weakness you conceal ?
Of every earthly plan that be known to man, He is unconcerned
He’s got plans of his own to set up His throne
When He return.