Nashville Skyline

Bob Dylan

Columbia, 1969

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Fans of Bob Dylan had to be wondering what was going on with the singer in the late '60s. Having survived a motorcycle accident in 1966, he essentially disappeared off the radar, popping up only to release John Wesley Harding in 1967 and appearing at a Woody Guthrie tribute concert.

So, when Nashville Skyline appeared in 1969, fans of Dylan had to be asking themselves two things. First, “When did Dylan go country?” And second, “Who knew the sonofabitch could sing?!?”

In a sense, the shift to a smoother country sound shouldn't have surprised anyone; Dylan started to move in that direction on John Wesley Harding, albeit with minimal instrumentation and with the same gravelly vocals people had come to expect. However, this time Dylan's tones come through in a way that they never quite did again; I once read somewhere that the reason his vocals were clearer was due to him quitting smoking.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Whatever the case, Nashville Skyline remains quite possibly the most underrated album of Dylan's career up to that point – I hesitate to say “of all time,” since I'm plowing through his discography as I write this review – and the only complaint I've found with the disc is this: it's too damn short!

There is no biting social commentary on this disc, no messages of morality to be found, no subcutaneous proselytizing about God in any of the songs. This is all laid-back, country-tinged music which often sings about love (“Girl From The North Country,” “Lay Lady Lay,” “To Be Alone With You”). There is even the first dip into the instrumental well – at least that I can remember in Dylan's discography up to this point – with “Nashville Skyline Rag” – and his first duet, as he welcomes Johnny Cash to share in the vocals on “Girl From The North Country.”

Through it all, Dylan's vocals are crystal clear, as he croons – croons! – his way through the nine vocal tracks on this one. Honestly, he's never sounded better – and from my dabbling in the post-Nashville discography to this point, he never did sound better. The combination of country-oriented songs and smooth vocals works, and works well.

The only complaint is that Nashville Skyline is a short album, clocking in at under a half hour. I easily could have listened to a double album’s worth of these songs, if they were all of the same caliber as these ten tracks. Then again, Dylan seemed to always know how to leave the listener wanting more while making an exit before his welcome was worn out, so quite possibly he knew exactly what he was doing.

If there is one must-own album of Dylan's 1960's output, I'd easily put Nashville Skyline at the top of that list. Even for people who don't like the nasally sing-song voice of Dylan that so many of us – myself included – have made fun of over the years, this one will surprise them. Yes, kids, it's that good.

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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