Thursday, 19 July 2018
Bob Dylan - Nashville Skyline (1969)
Released April 1969
Sure to his seemingly perverse nature around this time, in early 1969, Bob Dylan gave his impatiently waiting fans, who were expecting the next work of genius, a half hour’s worth of light country music. The album has to be viewed individually and objectively, in order to get the positives out of it. Comparisons with “Blonde On Blonde” or “Highway 61 Revisted”, even with “John Wesley Harding”, are futile.
“Country Rock” was starting to become the thing to delve into in the late sixties/early seventies. The Byrds were heading that way, as were The Band. Crosby, Stills and Nash would put out their eponymous album a month later. Dylan appeared grinning on the cover, in a cowboy-style hat and holding an acoustic guitar.
“Girl From The North Country” is a wonderful country duet with Johnny Cash, whose resonant voice adds a real timbre to the song. Dylan’s voice is obviously much weaker, but not to the detriment of the song. “Nashville Skyline” is an energetic, finger-picking instrumental that is pleasant enough. “Is it Rolling, Bob?” Is the voice from the studio that introduces the tuneful and bassy, almost rocky “To Be Alone With You”. It was a fun workout, but hardly “Like A Rolling Stone”. People had to get used to the fact that Dylan wanted to do this sort of material now and that was that. The best cut on the album, in my opinion, is the sad and yearning “I Threw It All Away”. A gentle, laid-back piece of country rock. “Peggy Day” is another jaunty, pleasant song. There is nothing dark or sombre about this album, despite some of the sad-sounding vocal deliveries. The album simply does not bear to much over-analysis. To me it is simply a pleasurable half hour.
The rhythmic “Lay Lady Lay” is the best known track. It has an addictive percussion sound and a witheringly endearing vocal from Dylan. “One More Night” is spirited and uplifting. Some great instrumentation on it. Who would have thought Dylan would release gentle toe-tappers like this? The album had a charming, laid-back, homely feel, as indeed had Dylan’s crooning-style country voice, affected for this album. This would continue into parts of “Self Portrait” and “New Morning” too. Indeed the sneering, urban drawl of those classic sixties recordings had gone forever.
“Tell Me That It Isn’t True” is underpinned by some lovely acoustic guitar, piano and organ. Another gentle, harmless melody. How Dylan fans got their heads round this at the time is unclear. “Country Pie” is a lively country romp, enlivened by some excellent guitar licks and a entrancing bass sound. It finishes, unfortunately, all too soon. The brief half hour was over with the steel guitar backed and wistfully romantic “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You”. Kris Kristofferson is quoted as saying that himself and many other artists “owed their careers” to this album, as it opened many more eyes to country music, which previously had been a conservative, closed shop. With the release of this album, it became “cool” to dig country, man.