Nashville Skyline

Bob Dylan

Columbia, 1969

http://www.bobdylan.com

REVIEW BY: David Bowling

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/13/2008

In which Bob Dylan goes country, stops reading the Bible (for a while) and finds a new singing voice.

Fifteen months has passed since the release of the apocalyptic and country-influenced John Wesley Harding. Nashville Skyline dropped the Biblical imagery and influence but continued the songwriting pattern of short, well structured tunes. But above all, Nashville Skyline took the country inclinations of John Wesley Harding and followed them to their conclusion, emerging as a full-blown country album.

Still, despite the shock of Dylan actually releasing a country album, the most striking difference of Nashville Skyline is his voice. Gone is the sometimes grating nasal quality; Dylan croons his songs in a laid-back style, which matches the country content perfectly.

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Dylan received a lot of criticism for this album. Released at the height of the Vietnam War, it contains no protest songs. Written and produced at a time when Dylan was focusing on family and domestic issues, he withdrew from the anger and protest songs of his previous albums and moved in a new direction. His original base of listeners may not have been pleased, but Nashville Skyline was a huge commercial success, reaching No. 2 on the United States music charts and No. 1 in England.

Dylan returned to Nashville for the recording of Nashville Skyline and surrounded himself with the cream of country session musicians. Rumor has it that Dylan also recorded an album’ worth of material with Johnny Cash, but only the song “Girl From The  North Country” made it onto the album. “Girl From The North Country” sets the tone for what is to follow and shows an unapologetic Dylan saying to the world through his association with the biggest country star of the day that he will do and play what he wants.

“Lay Lady Lay” remains one of Dylan’s signature songs and also one of his most beloved. It is like honey dripping from the hive into the ear of the listener. “Lay lady lay, lay across my big brass bed” is one of the more memorable and pleasurable images in the Dylan lyrical catalog.

“I Threw It All Away” and Tonight I’ll be Staying Here With You” are love songs. They deal with the eternal issues of longing and love lost. “Nashville Skyline Rag,” “Country Pie” and “Peggy Day” were pleasurable but ultimately up-tempo throwaway songs that keep this from being a classic, but also make it a solid listen.

Nashville Skyline is not his best album but it may be his most relaxed. In one sense, it marks the end of the first phase of Dylan’s career and a break with the past. The thoughtful songs, the complicated structure and even the Biblical influences would return, and as such Nashville Skyline remains a unique stop along the way in Bob Dylan’s musical journey.

Rating: B+

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© 2008 David Bowling and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Columbia, and is used for informational purposes only.