Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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BOOK REVIEW: Parables: The Mysteries of God’s Kingdom Revealed Through the Stories Jesus Told by John MacArthur

BOOK REVIEW:  Parables: The Mysteries of God’s Kingdom Revealed Through the Stories Jesus Told by John MacArthur. Thomas Nelson. 288 pages. 2015
****

Previously, the only book that I had read on the parables was in seminary when I read Craig Blomberg’s book Interpreting the Parables. In one of his most recent books from John MacArthur, MacArthur teaches the reader about the parables of Jesus, “the master storyteller”, who used parables to reveal the Kingdom of God to those who had ears to hear.  He begins with background information about the biblical genre of parables. He states that the method and message of Jesus’ parables are often misunderstood. He writes that in every parable there is a central lesson. They are not open to endless interpretations.  In the Appendix of the book he writes about the importance of propositional statements and that truth is objective.
Parables illustrate a truth for those with ears to hear, while at the same time hiding the truth from those who didn’t believe.  This goes against the perhaps common notion that Jesus used parables to make his teaching easy for all.
He writes that faith, prompted and enabled by the Holy Spirit, is the pre-requisite for understanding parables.  A parable uses illustration and comparison to teach a spiritual lesson. Jesus’ parables were illustrative of gospel facts. MacArthur states that a parable is an “ingeniously simple word picture illuminating a profound spiritual lesson.
He tells us that today, some believe that sermons should be comprised only of stories, rather than doctrine.  MacArthur very much disagrees with this approach.   He also tells us not to mingle/mix details of the various parables, though some of the stories might have some similarities.
There came a point in Jesus’ second year of ministry in which he began teaching in parables when confronted by the Pharisees about the Sabbath.  This book looks at a dozen of the most notable parables by Jesus, of the approximate 40 (some estimates are different) he taught. The book does not cover the parable of the prodigal son, as he had written a complete book on that one – A Tale of Two Sons – perhaps my favorite book by MacArthur.
Each chapter of the book looks at a theme of Jesus’ parables and the parable that goes with that theme. MacArthur looks at these dozen parables in detail, looking at the context in which it was delivered and what truth it taught about God and his kingdom.
This is a serious book about serious teaching of our Lord. One of MacArthur’s gifts is to be able to communicate in such a manner that the layperson can understand and benefit from. This book is no exception.


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My Review of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, rated PG-13
***

Captain Jack Sparrow and the gang return in a pleasing fifth episode in the Pirates of the Caribbean series.
Six years after 2011’s On Stranger Tides, one of my favorite film series returns. Truth be told, Johnny Depp had me in from the very beginning as he cruised into shore, doing his best drunken Keith Richards’ impersonation in 2003’s The Curse of the Black Pearl, a role for which he received a “Best Actor” Oscar nomination.
The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is the twelfth highest grossing franchise ever, with more than $1 billion in sales in the U.S. alone and about $3.75 billion in ticket sales worldwide. Three-time Oscar nominee Johnny Depp returns as Captain Jack Sparrow, and leads an outstanding cast in this film directed by the Norwegian directing team of Joaquim Ronning and Espen Sandberg. The film was written by Jeffrey Nathanson (Catch Me If You Can).  The budget of the film has been estimated to be in excess of $350 million and is projected to gross about $80 million in the U.S. over the Memorial Day holiday.  The music is handled well by Geoff Zanelli.
Brenton Thwaites portrays Henry, the grown son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom, Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit films) and Elizabeth Swann (two-time Oscar nominee Keira Knightley), who briefly return after missing episode four in the series.  Henry partners with Carina Smyth (Kaya Scoderlario, The Maze Runner), an orphan astronomer who is accused of being a witch. Henry has been seeking the Trident of Poseidon, a magical object that supposedly holds power over the seas, so that he can free his father from the curse of the Flying Dutchman.  While looking for Captain Jack Sparrow to get his help in finding the trident, Henry ends up in the Devil’s Triangle, where he encounters the zombified Spanish Captain Salazar, portrayed by Oscar winner Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men). Salazar has a history with Captain Jack and is seeking revenge.
Henry eventually finds the down on his luck Captain Jack and his magical compass; Jack agrees to help him find the trident, thinking it will lead to a great treasure.  Carina has a book that she received from her father that has clues as to the location of the trident.
Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush (The King’s Speech) again portrays Captain Hector Barbossa. Paul McCartney portrays Captain Jack’s Uncle Jack in a brief scene. Uncle Jack is heard singing “Maggie Mae”, which was included on the Beatles final album, 1970’s Let It Be.
I thoroughly enjoyed this film. All of the main characters deliver and it is a good story. The film does include some intense (and scary for young children) violence. The dialogue was sometimes hard to hear, especially the drunken Captain Jack Sparrow. Disney throws everything but the kitchen sink into this film, and it was almost too much. The film features some excellent messages about the importance of fathers, and has the theme of sacrificial love.
DON’T FORGET TO WAIT UNTIL AFTER THE CREDITS FOR A SPECIAL SCENE!


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BOOK REVIEW: Deserted by God? by Sinclair B. Ferguson

BOOK REVIEW:  Deserted by God? by Sinclair B. Ferguson. Banner of Truth Trust. 2013 edition. 182 pages.
****

Sinclair Ferguson is one of the most respected Reformed theologians of our day. He has been a pastor and seminary professor in churches and seminaries around the world. Among other roles he has currently, he is a Teaching Fellow for Ligonier Ministries and a regular speaker at their conferences where I have seen him speak several times. I’ve also read several of his books.
In this book, he addresses the issue of people having the sense that God has deserted them. He writes that the subject is deep and in many respects mysterious, belonging to the darker side of spiritual experience.  But he believes it is a subject of greater importance than we often care to acknowledge and it seems that more and more people struggle spiritually. He writes that the psalmists were our brothers in affliction, and his prayer is that the consolation God has brought to many others through their words may be as real for us today as it was for them.
Dr. Ferguson writes that the book discusses what our forefathers in the Christian church called ‘spiritual desertion’, the sense of God having forgotten us that leaves us feeling isolated and directionless. He believes that many Christians know what it is to feel at the end of their rope. The book will not remove all of their difficulties, but it may be a helping hand on the way and provide encouragement.
The format that the author uses, studies in the Psalms, is not accidental. Each chapter draws attention to experiences that did, or could, lead one to feel that God had deserted him. The Psalms show us how the people of God have grappled with their questions, doubts, desertions, and how God lifted them up and brought them into new light and joy.
As I was reading this book I was also reading through the Psalms and also using a devotional on the Psalms from Tim and Kathy Keller; it was a perfect time to read this wonderful book. Many themes – such as repentance, purity and contentment – are included in its pages.


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BOOK REVIEW: A Camaraderie of Confidence: The Fruit of Unfailing Faith in the Lives of Charles Spurgeon, George Müller, and Hudson Taylor (Swans Are Not Silent) by John Piper

BOOK REVIEW:  A Camaraderie of Confidence: The Fruit of Unfailing Faith in the Lives of Charles Spurgeon, George Müller, and Hudson Taylor (Swans Are Not Silent) by John Piper. Crossway. 128 pages. 2016 
****

This is John Piper’s seventh book in his popular biography series entitled The Swans Are Not Silent. This time the swans he looks at are Charles Spurgeon, the greatest preacher of the nineteenth century, George Müller, the great lover of orphans and supporter of missions, and Hudson Taylor, the founder of the China Inland Mission. Piper writes that some of the things that bind them together are that they were “all contemporaries, based in England, knew each other, encouraged each other, and took inspiration from each other’s lives.”
Piper states that all three were clearly nineteenth-century men. All three of these men were part of British culture. He states that the mark of evangelicalism that linked the three most clearly to their age was their activism. He states that in addition to the depth of their theology and spirituality, all three were consummate doers. All three rejected debt as a way of running any Christian ministry.
Spurgeon loved Müller as a close comrade in ministry and as one of his heroes. Müller preached occasionally in Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle. Spurgeon’s praise for Müller was unparalleled for any man in his day. Perhaps only slightly less was Spurgeon’s admiration for Taylor.
Piper looks at each of his three subjects in separate sections of the book. He writes that theirs was a camaraderie of confidence in the goodness, glory, and power of God.  He states that the glory of God was always the preeminent issue in their lives.
If you are looking for short biographical sketches of some of the great heroes of the faith, I highly recommend each of Piper’s seven volumes in his Swans are Not Silent series.  Piper states that the series title comes from the story of Augustine’s retirement as the bishop of Hippo in North Africa in AD 426. He tells us that Augustine’s successor, Eraclius, contrasted himself with Augustine by saying, “The cricket chirps, the swan is silent.” When Piper says that the swans are not silent, he means that there are voices from church history that are still heard, and should be heard, in the ongoing history of the church. This series gives voice to some of those swans.


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BOOK REVIEW: Heaven, How I Got Here: The Story of the Thief on the Cross by Colin S. Smith

BOOK REVIEW:  Heaven, How I Got Here: The Story of the Thief on the Cross by Colin S. Smith. Christian Focus Publications. 96 pages. 2015   
****

Scripture doesn’t tell us a great deal about the repentant thief on the cross. In this creative telling of the gospel message from the perspective of the thief, Colin Smith speculates about his life up to his final day on earth.
The thief tells us that how he got to Heaven is still amazing to him, but he is telling his story so that we can share the joys he has found.  He tells us that as he looks back on what happened on his final day on earth he can now see so much more than he was able to grasp at the time, and the more he discovers, the more staggering and wonderful the whole story becomes.
As he recounts his day it begins at 6:00 am when he awoke in his cell knowing what awaited him that day – torture, humiliation and a long, slow descent into death on a cross. He intersperses the story of his life, indicating that his story began in an ordinary home. He tells us that he had accepted what his mother taught him about God until his early teens, when he began to have questions about God and about authority in general. He tells us that after years of stealing, lying and taking advantage of others, the consequences of his lifestyle finally caught up with him, and led him to the cell where he began the last day of his life.
The thief takes us throughout his last day as he prepared for crucifixion and the excruciating pain he suffered. Shortly before noon he writes that a strange stillness came over his soul, and for the first time, he began to consider what lay ahead. That leads him to believe in Jesus and he asks him to save him. Jesus tells him “I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
The thief tells us that we can take it from him – a believer passes immediately from the end of his life on earth to the beginning of his life in heaven. There is no waiting. There are no delays. You will not be investigated outside the pearly gates. To be away from your body is to be at home with the Lord.
Through the words of the thief, the author communicates the basics of the gospel message. Heaven does not depend on what you do for Christ but on what He has done for you. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
The thief’s story proves that getting into heaven depends on Jesus, and on Jesus alone. It’s Jesus who gets you in. He opens the door for people who believe His Word and entrust themselves to Him.
He tells us that we shouldn’t expect it to be easy. Our faith will be tested, as his was. You may experience days of great darkness. You may go through times when you feel that God is far from you. You may experience great pain in your body, as he did, or great pain in your soul. But His presence is with you and the strength He gives will get you through.
The book ends with a brief Q&A with the author who tells us that the inspiration for the book is there is hope for every person in Jesus Christ. That’s what we learn from the thief. Amen and Amen!


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BOOK REVIEW: Between Heaven and the Real World: My Story by Steven Curtis Chapman with Ken Abraham

BOOK REVIEW:  Between Heaven and the Real World: My Story by Steven Curtis Chapman with Ken Abraham. Revell. 448 pages. 2017
****

Steven Curtis Chapman has been one of the most successful Contemporary Christian Music artists, with 11 million records sold and 48 #1 Christian radio songs. He and his wife Mary Beth have also experienced the loss of a child, of which he writes that 95% of marriages don’t survive.  In this book, Chapman takes the reader on a journey of God’s grace and His faithfulness through the mountains and valleys of his life. Throughout the book he is very open about the struggles he and Mary Beth have experienced in marriage, serving as a testament to others that marriage is worth fighting for and persevering in.
The now 54-year-old Chapman was born in Paducah, Kentucky. He has one brother (Herbie) who was actually conceived before his parents were married. His parents struggled early in their marriage and decided to have another child (Steven) to try to help their marriage. Chapman’s parents would eventually divorce.
Although Steven has a very good relationship with his father, he writes of words that his father spoke to him when Steven broke the pool skimmer, that still damage him today.
A revival at their church was an important time in the Chapman’s lives as his father and brother Herbie confessed Christ and Mom rededicated her life. A few months later, at age 8, Steven confessed Christ.
The first song he wrote was based on Jesus’ parable of the talents. Dallas Holm was an early influence. Early on, he would often play music with brother Herbie as the Chapman Brothers. Herbie was the better singer and was the lead, with Steven on guitar. He would eventually get a publishing deal with Bill Gaither, and had his songs recorded by the Imperials, White Heart and Sandi Patti.
He met his future wife Mary Beth Chapman, while they were both at Anderson College, where they shared a mailbox. On their first date, he showed up two hours late because a concert he was giving ran late. When he did show up, he greeted her with a big kiss.
Throughout the book, Chapman is open and transparent about his and Mary Beth’s struggles in marriage. She was used to order and structure growing up, and his life as a musician was anything but that. Mary Beth would become pregnant 8 months into their marriage.
He recorded First Hand, his first album in 1987 and his first single was “Weak Days”. His first number one song was “His Eyes”.
Many of Chapman’s songs come from his real-life experiences and God’s grace. He wrote “I Will Be There” for Mary Beth around the time of his parents’ divorce.
As success (awards, sales, etc.) continued to come, Chapman was conflicted between the adulation he received and ministry.
He writes of Mary Beth’s depression and the positive influence in his life of his pastor Scotty Smith and best friend and fellow music artist Geoff Moore.
The Chapmans would adopt three girls from China to go along with their three biological children.  They would later begin an adoption ministry Show Hope.
He writes of the night and circumstances in which he wrote his classic song “Cinderella” about his daughters.
He writes of daughter Maria wanting to go to God’s Big, Big House (after learning the song by Audio Adrenaline in school). She and her sister Stevie Joy professed faith in Christ at age 4 on February 20, 2008. Just three months later, Maria would die after an accident that took place in the driveway of the family home on May 21. Chapman writes of the dark days that followed Maria’s death for the family, including marriage counseling from Larry Crabb and Dan Allender. Later, they would introduce Maria’s Big House of Hope, a medical care center in China that provides health care to orphans with special needs.
Chapman’s story is one of God’s grace in his life through the good times and the dark times. This is a powerful read, certainly difficult at times, but one that I highly recommend.


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FAITH AND WORK: Connecting Sunday to Monday

Faith and Work News ~ Links to Interesting Articles:

REST:

  • Work Is Not Your Life: Why Sabbath Rest Is Essential. Hugh Whelchel writes “God rested not because he was tired, but because he had completed his work. God wanted to teach us that work is not an end in itself, which is why he instituted the Sabbath.”
  • How to Embrace Rest When Work Never Ends. Courtney Reisigg writes “Since work is a fluid part of my life (as a stay at home mom), with no real beginning and end, a question keeps arising in my own mind, and maybe in yours as well: What’s the difference between rest and play?” 
  • How to Harness Sleep to Boost Your Productivity. Michael Hyatt writes “When we face time crunches, sleep is often the first thing to get cut. It may seem efficient and even smart at the time, but it’s not.”
  • A Christian’s Secret Weapon to Prevent Burnout: Shalom. Hugh Whelchel writes “We must learn to live lives that are integrated around a single, common purpose. Here, we as believers have a secret weapon in the war against burnout. Our singular purpose is to glorify God, fulfilling this mission by living lives based on his design and desire.”

WORKING AT HOME:

REAL-LIFE EXAMPLE:

  • Every Role in the Assembly Line Matters. Bethany Jenkins interviews Matt Carter, pastor of preaching and vision at the Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas about how he integrates his faith and work.

YOUR PURPOSE:

  • The Why. In this “Minute with Maxwell”, John Maxwell states your why is your purpose.When you find your WHY you find your Way. Lose your WHY you lose your way.
  • What’s the Purpose of Business? HINT: It’s Not Maximizing Shareholder Value. Hugh Whelchel writes “Work was given to us by God as a tool to bring about flourishing for his creation. We all need to act purposefully to see that it is used for this end.”
  • Only One Platform Will Last. Karen Swallow Prior writes “Our real platform is the life we are living and the work and ministry we are already doing. Platform is our proven track record and the authority we’ve gained in whatever area God has called us to—whether we work out of the home and take care of children, or teach and research as a professor.”
  • Why Don’t All Jobs Matter?Paul Krugman writes “I don’t want to sound unsympathetic to miners and industrial workers. Yes, their jobs matter. But all jobs matter. And while we can’t ensure that any particular job endures, we can and should ensure that a decent life endures even when a job doesn’t.”

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THIS & THAT and Favorite Quotes of the Week

  • Ten Questions Christians Should Ask of Their Entertainment. Our friend Kevin Halloran writes “Discerning media consumption needs more than a litmus test of saying we shouldn’t watch excessive violence and sexuality (which is true). We need to understand the complex and often subtle effects of media on our lives.”
  • Why We Don’t Need to Fear the Moment of Our Death. Randy Alcorn writes “Though as believers we know that Heaven awaits us after death, many of us still wonder about or fear the moment of death. What will it be like? Will it be frightening to experience the soul’s departure from the body?”
  • Is it Possible to be Totally Free from Lust?Watch Dr. Jeremy Pierre from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary answer that question in this five-minute video.
  • Tim Keller: 3 Questions Fake Christians Can’t Answer. In this two-minute video, Tim Keller offers a group of “questions designed to wake up sleeping Christians”. His questions focus on three hallmarks of a growing relationship with God.
  • Sleep Disorders and the Glory of God. Eric Davis writes “With sleeplessness comes unique suffering. The side-effects tend to be many, complex, and severe. It can be hard to understand.”
  • Bible Reading is an Art. Watch this two-minute video from David Mathis.
  • Watching Your Spiritual Diet. John MacArthur writes “When believers aren’t growing, it’s almost always symptomatic of a failure to be in God’s Word. They may attend church regularly, but what they learn dissipates rapidly once they exit the building. They often complain that they’re not getting much out of church or the Christian life. They are weak and rundown when it comes to facing temptations, trials, problems, and challenges. They lack the vigor to do much of anything for the Lord.”
  • You Can Defeat Distraction. David Mathis writes “The trouble is especially pressing for Christians. We believe that the inner person is more important than the outer, and that where we focus our minds and hearts today counts forever. The very essence of what we believe to be true about the world hangs on where we direct our attention.”

Doug Michael’s Cartoon of the Week

BABIES:

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Knowing God’s Will for Your Vocation


Do you consider your work as a job? Or do you consider it a calling or your vocation?  Dr. R. C. Sproul defines vocation as being a divine call, a holy summons to fulfill a task or a responsibility that God has laid on us.  I like to think of what I do Monday through Friday as a calling or vocation.
As Christians consider their vocations, one thing that we want to assure is that our vocations are in God’s will. But how do we know that? A question we might ask could be “How do I know that I am in God’s will for my vocation?” I was recently helped in this area by re-reading R.C. Sproul’s small book Can I Know God’s Will?  (Note: The e-book version of the book, and all of the books in his Crucial Questions series, are available free). It is a very practical thing for us to know what God wants for our lives.
Sproul writes that whatever else we are, we are creatures involved in labor. God Himself is a working God, and from the very moment of creation, He conferred on our original parents the responsibilities of work. He also reminds us that work was given before the fall, and that work was part of the glorious privilege granted to men and women in creation. Sproul tells us that it is impossible to understand our own humanity without understanding the central importance of work.
Ready for a bit of theology? One thing that Sproul points out that we might not be aware of is that there are different aspects of God’s will. He helpfully leads the reader through the different ways in which the will of God is addressed in the Bible. First, he addresses the decretive will of God. That is the will by which God decrees things to come to pass according to His supreme sovereignty.  God said, “Let there be light” and there was light, for example.
He then talks about the preceptive will of God. The precepts, statutes, and commandments that God delivers to His people make up the preceptive will. They express and reveal to us what is right and proper for us to do.  Sproul tells us that the decretive will of God cannot be broken or disobeyed. It will come to pass. On the other hand, there is a will that can be broken, the preceptive will of God. God’s preceptive will can be disobeyed, and indeed it is broken and disobeyed every day by each one of us.
Sproul writes that the top priority of Jesus is that we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. All other things will be added to that.  I would phrase it that if we seek to obey his preceptive will, the will of God as revealed in Scripture, then our field of vocation is wide open to us.
In discerning our vocational calling, he gives us four important questions to consider:

  • What can I do?
  • What do I like to do?
  • What would I like to be able to do?
  • What should I do?

Sproul writes that every Christian is gifted of the Lord to fulfill a divine vocation, and that along with the gift, God gives a desire or a motivation to make use of that gift. Any vocation that meets the need of God’s world can be considered a divine calling. A vocation is something that we receive from God. God usually calls us inwardly and by giving us certain gifts, talents, and aspirations, and His invisible sovereign will works in the background to prepare us for useful tasks in His vineyard.
Other thought-providing questions that will be helpful in discerning our vocational calling are:

  • What would I most like to do if I didn’t have to please anyone in my family or my circle of friends?
  • What would I like to be doing ten years from now?

Sproul concludes with:
“As Christians, we have been called to be spiritual salt in a decaying world, to be spiritual light in the midst of darkness. We are to be wise stewards of God’s gifts and talents. That means striving to be the most honest, patient, hardworking, and committed workers we can be. It means settling for nothing less than excellence. God help us to live up to His high call for each of us.”
So where does that leave us in seeking God’s will for our vocation? I would recommend praying about it and following the helpful questions above. You probably won’t need to worry about being out of God’s will if you choose to live in Illinois vs. Florida or Texas, for example. Also, reflect back on Sproul’s comment that any vocation that meets the need of God’s world can be considered a divine calling. And for our millennial readers, remember that you don’t have to perfectly fulfill your passion and happiness in your choice of work.  Instead remember Jesus’ words:
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  (Matthew 6:33 ESV)
Enjoy this related message from Dr. Sproul’s series Knowing God’s Will, entitled “God’s Will and Your Vocation”.


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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS


The Real Royal Albert Hall 1966 Concert – Bob Dylan
****

The album’s rather strange title is based on the fact that for decades a famous Bob Dylan bootleg known as The Royal Albert Hall Concert was incorrectly labelled, having actually been a performance at the Manchester Free Trade Hall on May 17, 1966.  That performance was officially released in 1998 as The Bootleg Series, Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live, 1966: The “Royal Albert Hall Concert”. This is actually the recording of the Royal Albert Hall concert, recorded May 26, 1966, and originally recorded by Dylan’s CBS label for a live album. This is the 2-CD version, which is also included in the massive 36-CD 1966 Live Recordings box set.
From a historical context, Dylan was fresh off of the release of his classic Blonde on Blonde double album just ten days prior to the concert. His set included material from his incredible trio of albums from that period Bringing It All Back Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde.
The first CD is the acoustic set and contains seven songs, including an epic version of “Desolation Row”. Dylan’s voice sounds great, and he is backed only by his acoustic guitar and harmonica. The sound quality is excellent, and you hear the crowd’s appreciative but somewhat restrained applause.
The second CD is the electric set and has Dylan backed by the Hawks, who would become better known as The Band. The sound quality is not as a good as the acoustic set for some reason. The set begins with Dylan and the Hawks ripping into “Tell Me Momma”, a song he would never release a studio version of, and would play only 15 times on the 1966 tour, the final time being the concert after this one at the Royal Albert Hall. The music is raw and intense, led by Robbie Robertson’s guitar, and Dylan’s expressive vocals, spitting out the lyrics, quite a difference from the acoustic set. The crowd is energized and you hear Dylan interacting with them, stating before the start of a blistering “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat”, “Are you talking to me?  Come on up here and say that”. The blistering eight-song electric set ends with “Ballad of a Thin Man” and “Like a Rolling Stone”.
Recommended for Dylan fans and music fans who might not already have heard the earlier The Bootleg Series, Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live, 1966: The “Royal Albert Hall Concert”. Continue reading