Nashville Skyline

Bob Dylan

Columbia, 1969

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


Bob Dylan is such an enormous figure in popular music that his albums have become synonymous with stages of artistic development. A band’s largely ambitious double-album is known as their Blonde on Blonde. A breakup album is their Blood on the Tracks. And calling an artist’s album his or her Nashville Skyline is a polite way of saying it doesn’t cover any new ground and it’s inevitably going to be known as an album released in the middle of an artist’s career.

Gone are the ten-minute-plus opuses of “Sad Eyed Lady of Lowlands,” gone are the loud crowd-parting electrical guitars surrounding Highway 61 Revisitedmy_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 . Nashville Skyline, Dylan’s ninth album, follows the country rock path paved by John Wesley Harding. Clocking in at less than 30 minutes, the only song that clocks in at more than three and a half minutes is the opening track, “Girl From the North Country.”

“Girl From the North Country” opens Nashville Skyline with a dream paring of Johnny Cash and Dylan. And while Dylan may not reveal anything drastically new, he still manages to make the album sound as distinctive as his earlier masterworks. The main thing Dylan changes is his voice. Gone is Dylan’s patent nasal delivery; in its stead is the sound of Dylan crooning a la the Statler Brothers or George Jones.

Nashville Skyline yielded Dylan a top ten hit with “Lay Lady Lay.” The song, a seductive, moody ballad, boasts one of the catchiest choruses Dylan has ever recorded. The song opens the second half of the album, which has some ballads that foreshadowed his Blood on the Tracks period. Steering away from the metaphor-heavy writing of his mid-60s output, a song like “Tell Me That Isn’t True” has Dylan coming into a straightforward, plaintive style of writing.

“They say you’ve been seen with some other man, that he’s tall, dark and handsome and you’re holding his hand / Darlin’ I’m a countin’ on you / Tell me that isn’t true,” Dylan sings on “Tell Me That Isn’t True.” The stark, plainspoken lyrics and the minimum instrumentation show Dylan going further and further into country music. The simplistic arrangements backfire on occasion, such as the hokey “Country Pie” and the rather forgettable “Peggy Day.”

Nashville Skyline may not have been revolutionary, but it enable artists like The Byrds (good) and The Eagles (not so good) to lay down the groundwork of what is now considered country rock. The album was also the end of Dylan’s strongest streak of albums in his career. What was to follow was Self Portrait, which, unfortunately, would later become a term that would describe a commercial and critical failure.

Rating: B

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© 2008 Sean McCarthy 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.