BOB DYLAN – ” Nashville Skyline ” 50th anniversary Released April 9th 1969

Posted: April 8, 2018 in Classic Albums, MUSIC
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Bob dylan nashvilleskyline

Released 50 years ago, it surely is one of his most controversial albums.. “Embracing” classic Country music & kicking off the “Country Rock” genre. I’ve always liked this album… It’s not a masterpiece, but a solid Dylan album.
Recorded February 12th–21th, 1969 Nashville Skyline was the ninth studio album by American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, released in April 1969 by Columbia Records.

Dylan looks inscrutable, or at least aloof, on many of his album covers. So it’s disarming to see him with a big grin, mid-tip of the hat, on the front of Nashville Skyline. As much as we’re looking at him, he seems to be looking back at us, and there’s a warmth to his gaze that feels all the more affecting coming from the trailblazer who once sneered, “How does it feeeel?”

He’s worn many hats throughout his career—rock star, folk crooner, musical intellectual and political troubadour—and 50 years ago, he unexpectedly added country singer to that list. Dylan released Nashville Skyline, one of the most noteworthy style deviations in his discography, it ranks high among the best albums of that year. It features the suggestive hit “Lay, Lady, Lay,” Bob Dylan’s finest drawl and a reworked version of his 1963 tune “Girl From The North Country” featuring the country king himself, Johnny Cash.

Building on the rustic style he experimented with on John Wesley Harding, “Nashville Skyline” displayed a complete immersion into country music. Along with the more basic lyrical themes, simple songwriting structures, and charming domestic feel, it introduced audiences to a radically new singing voice from Dylan—a soft, affected country croon. At the time, the album was viewed as yet another new direction for Dylan, whose previous album had been the spare, rustic, lyrically opaque, acoustic guitar-based John Wesley Harding(1967); itself a departure from the mostly electric sound of Highway 61 Revisited (1965) and Blonde on Blonde (1966). Both Blonde on BlondeandJohn Wesley Harding were recorded in Nashville, the latter using three local musicians exclusively, but when he returned to Nashville in February 1969 to record Nashville Skyline(released in April ’69), he embraced country music more than he ever had before—penning simpler, more straightforward lyrics, doing a deeper dive into country instrumentation as accompaniment, and also singing with a much warmer, sweeter tone than he had shown before,

The first track on the album was a retooling of a tune Dylan originally wrote and recorded in 1963 for The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (his second album), called “Girl from the North Country.” On Nashville Skyline it was sung as a duet with Johnny Cash, which might sound like an unusual pairing, but the two had actually been friends dating back a few years when both lived in Woodstock, New York. Cash even wrote an evocative liner notes poem for the Nashville Skyline.

When Johnny Cash began his three-year run as host of a popular—and excellent!—summer TV series, The Johnny Cash Show, which was shot at Nashville’s famed Ryman Auditorium and each week featured various country and country-leaning artists. Dylan, who had barely been seen in public since early 1966, agreed to appear on the June 7th episode of Cash’s show, and they sang this version of “Girl from the North Country,” no doubt baffling some of his old fans, while introducing himself to many, many new ones.

Watch Dylan perform the song “Girl From The North Country” live in Oakland, Calif., in 1988

Kris Kristofferson played an important (albeit uncredited) role in the recording of “Lay Lady Lay.” The song’s distinctive percussion features a pair of bongos and a cowbell during the verses, and Kristofferson — then working as a janitor at Columbia Recording Studios — was asked to hold these instruments for percussionist Kenny Buttrey, allowing him to play the drum parts during the chorus. Buttrey moved the drum microphone directly over Kristofferson so it could pick up these sounds more clearly, which had the added effect of making his drumming sound fainter. The first take wound up becoming the master take, and Buttrey would later call it one of his favourite performances.

The result received a generally positive reaction from critics, and was a commercial success. Reaching number 3 in the US, the album also scored Bob Dylan his fourth UK number 1 album.

bob dylan nashville skyline back

“Lay Lady Lay” turned out to be one of Dylan’s biggest pop hits, reaching #7 in the US, and giving him his biggest single in three years. “Lay Lady Lay” was originally written for the film Midnight Cowboy, but Dylan did not deliver it in time for it to be included in the score. He was initially reluctant to authorize the single’s release, but eventually approved at the insistence of Columbia president Clive Davis.

In the end, Nashville Skyline is a lovely album but not a heavyweight contender, though its effects were major ones. Country music was despised, hick music when Dylan took it up. People were divided into the hip and the non-hip. The counterculture was in full swing and riddled with its own self-importance and snobbery. Nashville Skyline was a hard pill to swallow: but it did ’em good. Nashville Skyline was a full-fledged country album, complete with steel guitars and brief, direct songs. It’s a warm, friendly album, particularly since Bob Dylan is singing in a previously unheard gentle croon — the sound of his voice is so different it may be disarming upon first listen, but it suits the songs.

So here he is, folks, Homebody Bob, singin’ ten songs for your listenin’ pleasure — well, nine, actually one is a hoedown sort o’ thing. Everyone knows by now, I hope, how intense that pleasure is. But hasn’t anyone noticed something odd? ….. but no one mentioned that by the mere trick of changing his entire vocal style, Dylan had crossed us up again, that “Nashville Skyline” was a bigger switcheroo than “John Wesley Harding.” It is touching that everyone wants to believe Bobby has settled down, but don’t bet on it. All those protestations of easy innocence may be just one more shuck.

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