Tributee: Bob Dylan.
It's beyond doubt that the Bible has influenced the work of Bob Dylan throughout his career, whether in songs he's been influenced by or song's he's written and covered. The connections between Dylan and the 23 tracks on this collection range from strong (tunes he covered on his first album) and reasonably strong (recordings he played on his Theme Time radio show devoted to songs with biblical themes) to tenuous. Falling into the latter category are songs about Noah's Ark, building on the contention (in Bert Cartwright's book The Bible in the Lyrics of Bob Dylan) that the singer has an interest in the story that can be found in several of his famous compositions. Not everything might hold up to scrutiny as being influential on Dylan or even being echoed that heavily in his work, but if you can lay aside such nitpicking, it's a pretty solid collection of early- to mid-20th century roots music with some biblical ties. There's old-time gospel and blues from the likes of Mahalia Jackson (whose "Keep Your Hand on the Plow" was done as "Gospel Plow" on Dylan's first album) and Blind Willie Johnson's "Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed" (done as "In My Time of Dyin'" on that same record). There's some quality early hillbilly by the Delmore Brothers ("Wrath of God") and Kitty Wells ("He Will Set Your Fields on Fire"). There's the Staple Singers' fairly famous "This May Be the Last Time," which is sometimes speculated to have influenced the Rolling Stones' early hit "The Last Time." There's a stone country classic in Porter Wagoner's "A Satisfied Mind." And though the tone is often serious and devotional, there are some lighter moments in Jess Willard's "Boogie Woogie Preaching Man" and the early doo wop of the Robins ("That's What the Good Book Says") and the Four Internes (sic) ("I'm Using My Bible for a Road Map"). Some of these sides are real rare, and even the ones that are pretty well known are not exactly in heavy rotation in many places, or even many churches. So it's an interesting and diverse compilation, though at times it comes close to acting as a substitute for an official release of Dylan's biblically themed radio special. The annotation (how about years of recording/release for all tracks at the minimum?) could have been more in-depth considering the major artist with whom the music's hitched as a raison d'être. ~ Richie Unterberger