Albums You Might Like: Nashville Skyline by Bob Dylan
I grew up in a household steeped in Dylan. The triumvirate of Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61, and Blonde on Blonde were a sacred trio of albums that eclipsed all other 60's music, even the Stones or Beatles. Blood on the Tracks and The Basement Tapes were also revered. My mother didn’t necessarily relate to Dylan’s early-60s folk albums, although she lived through those times and could sing along with the lyrics. She liked Dylan at his most raucous, most enigmatic, and most obtusely and originally lyrical and blues-rock oriented.
It wasn’t until I was in college — when I was listened to Gram Parsons, Uncle Tupelo, the Jayhawks, and other country rockers — that I finally listened to Nashville Skyline, basically Dylan’s country album. This 1969 gem wasn’t really part of my household, other than listening to the single “Lay Lady Lay.” Country music had always been difficult for me, since I grew up near Texas and only liked old or what I call “authentic” country. I liked some Western swing, Honky-Tonk, Outlaw Country, alt-country, Americana — the country music that wasn’t popular. I couldn’t take Hee-Haw country music or Urban Cowboy-era music of my youth. I’d rather have listened to Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Lucinda Williams, or Lyle Lovett than anything on the popular country radio. I went to Nashville Skyline with a few reservations, but was rewarded with another great Dylan album.
Once I started listening to it, I couldn’t believe this was Dylan: his thick, syrupy singing and straightforward lyrics were nothing like the mid-60s Dylan with the big afro and nasally whine. I could see how this album helped set the stage for country rock. But, opposed to what you might read in Peter Doggett’s great book Are You Ready For The Country?, I don’t think this is a country rock album or even the progenitor of “country rock.” It’s really just a plain, ole’ country album.
You’ll buy Nashville Skyline for “Lay Lady Lay,” but you’ll stay for “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You,” “I Threw It All Away,” and “Girl from the North Country,” a beautiful recreation of the 1963 Dylan tune sung as a duet with Johnny Cash. Dylan’s Nashville-based backing band — The Nashville Cats — are as tight as any of Dylan backing bands. It’s a mellow, Sunday morning pancakes album, with its gentle steel pedal guitars and smooth production. This isn’t a rowdy Saturday night album, this is to soothe you over the next morning.
Dylan had had many phases in his career, as marked in Sean Wilentz’s interesting book of essays, Bob Dylan in America. But, his country period between Blonde on Blonde and his disastrous Self Portrait album, remains one of his most interesting. The big Gibson guitar and tip of the hat on the album cover is an invitation to settle in with one of America’s greatest songwriters at his most accessible and most endearing.