Wednesday, July 01, 2015

CHRIS SQUIRE



A truly gifted musician, singer and composer passed away this week. He was dedicated to his craft and was in the vanguard of a completely new genre of music called progressive rock. Co-founder of Yes, Christopher Squire was an innovative bassist who was virtually without peer, though the exploration of the upper fretboard of his Rickenbacker overshadowed his abilities as a harmony singer. He effortlessly tracked Jon Anderson line for line on some of the most complex, melodic compositions ever committed to tape. Even now, the ground that he and his bandmates covered seems futuristic.

It is impossible to measure the influence that he had on other musicians. No less a light than Geddy Lee has often stated that without Squire, his own playing would not have flowered in the way it did. Trail blazing and brilliant, "Fish" will be sorely missed by family, friends and a legion of music fans.

For those that want to celebrate his talent, listen to his solo debut "Fish Out of Water" from 1975. It showcases his vocal, instrumental and compositional prowess. Turn it up loud...

Thursday, June 11, 2015

THE BYRDS: THE NOTORIOUS BYRD BROTHERS



Meticulously crafted and sporting an inside-joke cover photo, this under appreciated disc represented the last vestiges of the original Byrds sound. Fighting, firing, and quitting marred the sessions, though no hint of that toxicity crept into the final product. The group was reduced to just two original members upon its release in early 1968.



David Crosby, fired from the band during the recording process, turned into a horse. Years later, he still called bullshit on the story that this wasn't planned. If you care to read more about this, take a moment and check this out

I'll wait right here.

Sgt Pepper cast a long shadow over the music industry in 1967. In its wake, record companies began to throw money at bands to create their own "psychedelic masterpieces". As it goes with most trends, much of the resulting product was unlistenable and dated quickly.

The Byrds neatly avoided such traps.

Gary Usher did take production cues from the Pepper playbook, but to positive ends. Legendary producer/engineer Roy Halee recalls the sessions:

I worked with a guy out in L.A. who loved to imitate everything The Beatles were doing — Gary Usher. He loved to copy them. 'Here, listen to this record, Roy,' and it would be some phasing thing; no big deal.

Usher helped to weave together very diverse styles of music, staying away from tedious explorations of the outer limits (with the exception of the closing track) At barely 29 minutes, it's tightly edited without bands of silence between cuts (another nod to Pepper).



Pyramids on the moon, tribal hippie gatherings, 1920's cowboy film directors, and smiling dolphins all make appearances on this patchwork quilt. "Artificial Energy" explores the wonders of speed, with compressed horns that resemble the brass parts from "The Prisoner" theme. Gated snare sounds appear as if flown directly from Abbey Road studios.

Sitting comfortably next to McGuinn's chiming 12 string and those trademark harmonies is the Moog synthesizer. A new toy at this point, it was deployed with great taste. What sounded futuristic then is a bit amusing now. Used sparingly, it did provide an esoteric feel, without overpowering everything else (as in "Natural Harmony").

A single, insistent cymbal introduces "Draft Morning", which is a model of lyrical economy:

"Sun warm on my face, I hear you
Down below movin' slow and it's morning.
Take my time this morning, no hurry
To learn to kill and take the will
From unknown faces
Today was the day for action
Leave my bed to kill instead
Why should it happen?"

Shifting from languid to intense, it is a startling aural commentary on the Vietnam war. The listener is left to draw their own conclusions.



Wild stylistic shifts are the rule here, some occurring within the boundries of a single song. The full stop to feature heavily phased strings in the otherwise country-fried "Old John Robertson" is an extreme example . Jazzy themes ("Gathering of Tribes"), woozy country waltz time ("Get To You") chamber pop ("Goin' Back" ) and synth drenched chant ("Space Odyssey") shouldn't work well together, but here they do. "Gathering of Tribes" flirts a bit too closely with Dave Brubeck, though the vocal harmonies are a highlight, as they are throughout the LP.

Gene Clark even returned to the band. It was only for three weeks, but he managed to make a TV appearance with the others before he was gone again. Their cover of "Goin' Back" should have been a massive hit, though it managed to escape the attention of record buyers and radio programmers. They should have listened more charitably as it is arranged and performed beautifully.



Personally, I would have included "Triad" here instead of "Dolphin's Smile".

Future Byrd Clarence White shows up to add stellar breaks on his modified Telecaster, pointing to the style of their next album, which would be a full plunge into country with Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Easily one of the best of their offerings in the sixties.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

GENESIS - SELLING ENGLAND BY THE POUND



Progressive rock hit a definite stride in the early 70s with a number of groups exploring the outer limits in grandiose fashion. Traditional three minute pop songs disappeared into album length presentations. Themes were varied, solos interminable and audiences were invited to lose themselves in fanciful flights of imagination, which could be mind blowing depending on the quality of your stereo equipment.

Having a decent stash didn't hurt, either.

Genesis honed their brand of art rock to a fine point on "Selling England by the Pound". Epic battles, knights, lawn mowers and quintessential English eccentricity fuel the disc. Instrumental passages push running times past the ten minute mark twice ("The Cinema Show", "The Battle of Epping Forest") with unfathomable lyrics adding further density.

Your patience is required.

Fortunately, it is rewarded with Tony Banks quasi classical keyboards that enliven "Firth of Fifth", complete with an excellent guitar solo from Hackett. The relatively brief (but great) "I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)" came as close to "a hit single" as this incarnation would manage. Mike Rutherford's sitar lines are tasteful, employed much in the same manner as Steve Howe's work with the instrument.



Incorporating theatrical presentation, costumes and genuine stage presence, Peter Gabriel gave the band an incredible visual dynamic. His vocal style infused their work with soul. The others were hidden behind keyboards or drums (in Steve Hackett's case, seated for the duration of live performances) rooted in place, faithfully replicating the complex arrangements of their recordings.



Banks and Rutherford were driving forces with respect to composing at this time, though everyone contributed ideas in what could best be described as a song writing collective.

There are some interesting glimpses into the future found in Hackett's use of fretboard tapping on "Dancing With the Moonlight Knight", prefiguring Eddie Van Halen's revolutionary expansion of the technique by five years. Phil Collins also steps into the role of lead vocalist on "More Fool Me". His playing is inventive and solid throughout.

Seriously fine contributions from all members puts this in contention as one of their best efforts.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

FORGOTTEN MUSIC THURSDAY: NILSSON SCHMILSSON


Before delving into the content of this truly fantastic disc, please take a moment to ponder the subversive sense of humor at work behind the cover photo.

Is the shoot today? Man, I had a heavy night. Just take the picture and I'll start the coffee...

The guy in the bathrobe certainly didn't phone it in when it came to delivering his seventh record. Harry Nilsson was a gifted singer/songwriter who came to prominence in the late sixties. Astonishing vocal chops perfectly complimented his natural touch with a tune, winning praise from both critics and peers. Nilsson also had a knack for taking other peoples songs and deftly rearranging them as if they were his own. (If you can find it, the 1970 LP Nilsson Sings Newman is worth every penny that you'll spend to drag it home.)

Supporting players here are all top class session pros (Jim Gordon, Gary Wright, Jim Keltner, Herbie Flowers, Chris Spedding, Bobby Keys...the list goes on) with all of the layers blended perfectly under the direction of producer Richard Perry. The cast of brilliant musicians never overwhelm the artist, always playing in service of the songs.

Revealing a quick wit, the lyrics are whimsical ("Gotta Get Up"), clever ("Driving Along") and esoteric ("The Moonbeam Song"). Embracing novelty, he also pulls off "Coconut", sung, straight-faced, by separate "characters" that are carefully voiced and overdubbed by Nilsson, who was also a deadly accurate mimic. Caribbean breezes blow gently through the track, adding a touch of the islands.

Curiously, he was not moved to take his act on the road. While he didn't do proper tours, he did acquiesce to participating in filmed TV performances. The sheer melodic strength of "Gotta Get Up" is evidenced by his ability to sell the tune as a solo piano vehicle in this clip.



Conversational marker: "Without You" is a shining example of Nilsson's aforementioned talent for not simply covering material but breathing new life into it. Written by Pete Ham and Tom Evans of Badfinger, the song had built in pathos to begin with. Harry sang the shit out it, aided and abetted by very tasteful orchestration arranged by Paul Buckmaster. Personally, I believe that he wrenched untapped levels of emotion from this ballad, though his reading is entirely convincing and never strays into schlocky territory. The original version is staid by comparison. You believe that this man is on the precipice when he effortlessly hits those high notes.

Small wonder that it was such a monumental hit when released as a single, earning him his second Grammy award.

Therein lies his genius, as this was but one facet of his musical personality. "Early In the Morning" is yet another side of the coin, with as soulful a vocal as a white male could achieve. Minimalist masterpiece best describes this rendition as Harry ends up owning another cover, accompanying himself on keyboards. The stark arrangement is completely carried by his voice. Easily the best place to start on your journey through his body of work, Nilsson Schmilsson showcases his strengths, nicely beveled under Perry's direction into a final product with nary a wasted note.

As a Beatle obsessed kid, I discovered his music through reading about the unanimous endorsement bestowed by the group upon his second release (Pandemonium Shadow Show). The infamous, hard-partying exploits with John Lennon in the mid-70s and their collaboration on Pussycats was another point of reference. His brilliance has been criminally overlooked, though there was a decline in the quality of subsequent output causing his star to fade. Since he passed in 1994, his profile has remained low in terms of how his catalog has been marketed. It is a great shame that this effort falls into the category of forgotten music.

POSTSCRIPT


It's never too late to find out why people were wild about Harry. Here's the trailer for a 2006 documentary called "Who is Harry Nilsson? (And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him)". It was released on DVD in the fall of 2010 and comes highly recommended.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

DIVER DOWN AT 33



Today marks the 33rd anniversary of the release of Diver Down. Van Halen's fifth LP in a four year span was greeted with mixed reviews back in '82. Granted, no one was looking for a grand statement from the quartet nor was their fan base scouring the contents for hidden messages.

Hey, wait a minute! Play it backwards, man...

Though admittedly not a lyricist of consequence, David Lee Roth did liken the cover art to clever subterfuge on the part of his band. To wit, what is going on beneath the surface isn't readily apparent to the observer. Let's take this thought down a fathom or two further, gentle reader. Van Halen offered up entertainment on a grand scale. Roth played the hyper, over-caffenated ring master with a wink, always delivering on the promise of a party. This leering veneer masked a far more substantial thought process. The Van Halen brothers themselves were (and are) prodigiously gifted musicians who played up their swaggering, beer guzzling onstage personas. Michael Anthony rounded this out with his flawless harmonies, precision playing, though fans focused on his propensity for chugging Jack Daniels rather than his low-end fretwork. Eddie Van Halen had the touch of Paganini, wanted to widen the scope of what the group could do and wade into more serious compositional waters. Playing to type was expected, fun beckoned and Diver Down was recorded quickly with covers taking as much space on the record as original material.

Flash and substance meet in a duel and agree to disagree.

Once again they dig into the Kinks catalog for the opener ("Where Have All the Good Times Gone"), knock a Roy Orbison classic out of the park by virtue of their inspired, muscular playing ("(Oh) Pretty Woman") and "Big Bad Bill" best illustrates what I was alluding to in my scattershot opening thought (scroll back up a bit). The lads display a wealth of taste and chops, with zero pyrotechnics and a side of clarinet courtesy of Jan Van Halen.

With me so far?

"Hang 'Em High" and "Secrets" are my personal favourites, featuring all of the heavy and melodic elements that made these guys so compelling. Classic rock radio programmers have, mercifully, managed to avoid bashing these selections into the ground, which is another plus. If you aren't convinced of the genius that Eddie possesses, take "Cathedral" and the intro to "Little Guitars" into your brain. These brief, complex interludes have the effect of a quick, cool breeze on a sweltering day. Just a taste that leaves you wanting a bit more. Gathering around the campfire mic to dash off "Happy Trails" in four part harmony, they break down in fits of laughter and provide the perfect ending to an eclectic selection of tunes. The only track that could have been ditched is "Dancing in the Street" which is uncharacteristically turgid. Despite all efforts to inject some excitement, only Alex really shows up on this one.

Diver Down is an inspired charmer, very easy to digest and smartly brings back some silliness into the mix after the serious tones of Fair Warning. Overall, the set has aged well and really deserves much better than the poor notices that it has attracted. If they had spent more time on the project, there is a good chance that the spontaneity would have been sacrificed in favour of overthinking. Well deserving of another spin at 33 (and a third).

Saturday, February 28, 2015

PHYSICAL GRAFFITI 40 YEARS GONE



Changes fill my time, baby, that's alright with me
In the midst I think of you, and how it used to be


Anniversaries offer an opportunity for both celebration and reflection, with misty-eyed platitudes often overriding objectivity. Unpleasant memories safely tucked away, the gory details surrounding said occasion (whatever it may be) are often swept aside in a wave of toasts, tributes and trivia. February 24th, 2015 marked forty years since Physical Graffiti was made available to the Led Zeppelin faithful. Jimmy Page had been campaigning for the release of a double album since the sessions for their fourth disc. All was not well within the group dynamic, though the outside world remained oblivious to the fact that any feelings of rancour existed in the Led Zep camp at that time. Manager Peter Grant and the band had a fairly hostile attitude toward the press which guaranteed that virtually no inside information of any substance made its way into print or electronic media.

Let's take a quick look at events leading up to the completion of LZ's sixth record.

Plant-Throat surgery following their '73 tour which left him unable to speak for nearly a month. In recovery, he would lose some of his former ability to bounce notes into the stratosphere. He had also started to formulate a plan for solo work.

Page- Devoting time to personal business ventures, creation of a movie soundtrack (Lucifer Rising) and the launch of their new SwanSong label, while also drifting into abuse of harder substances.

Jones- Tiring of the pressures of an intensive tour schedule and mayhem behind the scenes, he tendered his resignation (though he fortunately had a change of heart) and started working with other artists, playing and producing.

Bonham-Still continued to hone his craft as a drummer, while also increasing his daily intake of alcohol and drugs, which lead to increasingly erratic/violent behaviour.

NEW MATERIAL

Initially, the quartet took a first pass at some tracking in late 1973, though the sessions quickly fell apart and were postponed until the new year. Eight tunes emerged from the work that was undertaken in opening months of 1974. These selections are uniformly excellent and would have made an incredibly tight set if they had been presented on their own. With no tour cycle planned for this calendar year, Zeppelin floated gently back to earth to enter a fallow period, during which time some further overdubbing was done on the most recent recordings. The fighting unit that had made their way around the world filling stadia, wrecking hotel rooms, fucking, drinking, smoking, snorting and playing some of the longest, most mind-blowing shows of that era would now down tools for the short term.

TREASURE TROVE

Uncertain that Jones would return to the fold, Page began sifting through the music that had been stashed aside since Led Zeppelin III. Seven additional pieces rescued from the cutting room floor would now be in the running order of the next grand statement, finally bringing his wish for a double set to fruition. Careful consideration was given to the mixes to ensure that all of the music had a uniform feel, which meant that the mastering process also took longer. It was important to balance the volume of material that had been captured over the course of the past few years with the new recordings. Originally intended for unveiling in fall of '74 to reap the benefit of pre-Christmas sales, the release was pushed out due to further tinkering with the master tapes and delays with cover design.

You may learn more about the construction/inspiration of that iconic sleeve here

With an upcoming tour schedule looming and no new product in stores, the four musicians had to regroup (Jones now back in) for some hasty rehearsals and learn how to be Led Zeppelin again. Reports from the initial dates were not great. Plant was ill and losing his voice, while the others struggled to shake off the rust that had accumulated in the year and a half spent off stage. By the time that their new offering was available for purchase, they were two months into the '75 tour and beginning to fire on all cylinders once again.

APOTHEOSIS

All of their finest elements as composers and multi-faceted musicians coalesce on Physical Graffiti. Free from the confines of a single disc format, there are several long form tracks that virtually swallow needle time over four sides of vinyl, the centrepiece being "Kashmir". Speaking of the black circle, the first half of this staggering listen is comprised of six uncompromising slabs of melodic hard rock and blues, all filtered through the tasteful lens of world class chops playing. "Custard Pie" leads the charge with a simple, effective riff and Bonham's deep pocket groove. The lyrics are an amalgam of several Delta Blues paeans to the joys of oral sex, deliberately slurred by Plant and topped with red hot harmonica blasts. Cribbing from Sleepy John Estes, Bukka White and Blind Boy Fuller, this would be another overt dip into the well of lyrics created decades earlier in the fabled American south by these innovators. While points get subtracted for neglecting to give credit where it should have been due, the instrumental sparks fly as Page leans hard into a wah-wahed solo. Heralded by Bonham's bass foot and high hat accents, "The Rover" offers a sample platter of guitar motifs from Page and an exhortation to get together and see ourselves as citizens of the planet. Plant bemoans the way we treat mother Earth and intimates that things would improve "if we could just join hands". Hippy idealism aside, the remaining time from here until the runout grooves is taken up by a devastating new take on an old theme. Essentially a slide guitar fuelled monster, propelled by Bonham's explosive fills, "In My Time of Dying" is a gripping 11 minute feast for musos. Though his parts are not as flashy in the mix, John Paul Jones burns on the fretless bass, while Robert adapts "Jesus goin' a-make up my dyin' bed" from the mists of traditional gospel as it was imagined by performers who dutifully interpreted Psalms 41:3 "The Lord will strengthen him upon the bed of languishing, thou wilt make all his bed in his sickness".

No words do justice to masterful delivery.



From the dark comes Satan's daughter...

"Houses of the Holy" leads off the second side in style. Wonderfully tight and punchy with typically slick runs from Page, it curiously did not make it on to the previous album which bore its title. Similarly, "The Rover" met the same fate. It is here that the erudite listener will find the delta (not in the Mississippi sense) between Plant's singing voice pre and post surgery. While he still possessed great pipes, the top part of his range never really fully returned. Anything done before 1973 features him reaching noticably higher notes, while vocal takes from 1974 onward contain more gravel in the delivery and are scaled back by comparison.

Never cared for "Trampled Underfoot", which wears out its welcome quickly and is fairly disposable.

Strong melodic themes are very much in evidence throughout, though the highlight of this monster outing is "Kashmir". Built in rehearsal with Bonham, Page apparently had much of this rotating motif worked out in his home studio before uncorking it and letting it breathe with the group. Hypnotic in execution, it succeeds by virtue of the sheer tension that is built by the stalwart, bricklayer hands of Bonham, which keep the ship steady and reverberates in your sternum. Jones adds beautifully decorative touches (and likely contributed to the orchestral arrangement) while the lyrics far outstrip anything that had been attempted up to this point, showing great maturity in terms of subject matter. It is a high watermark in a stellar catalog, rich in imagination and should have been placed last here, as it destroys all that comes after.

Oh, pilot of the storm who leaves no trace, like thoughts inside a dream

INTERMISSION

Jolted as the arm skids out of the fade into the run-out grooves, it's time to get up, empty that ashtray, grab another beverage, divvy up that weed you have left on the back of the die-cut cover and roll it up. Take a moment to recover from the first blast before you slide the second record out of its jacket and apply the stylus...a steadily rising drone begins to fill all space in the room. In the light you will find the road

THE BACK NINE

Side three opens under an opaque fog of Morrocan hash smoke, with ethereal sounds conjured from Jones' synth, Page scraping a violin bow across acoustic guitar strings and massed vocals that float above it all. The spell is broken by the intrusion of crashing drum accents, followed by a flourish of distorted guitar notes. "In the Light" is a very intricately constructed piece, which ebbs and flows, tied together by the clavinet that provides the outro which leads out of an atmospheric verse into yet another meticulously crafted guitar passage. The wealth of great ideas on display within the boundaries of this stunning creation is enviable. Interestingly, it also has the effect of drawing back curtains to allow the morning light to fill a room. As that warmth spreads, the gentle interpolation of "Bron-Yr-Aur" becomes your soundtrack. Fetching and brief, this soothing acoustic instrumental on the "light side" of Physical Graffiti gives way to the Neil Young inspired "Down By The Seaside". Heavy tremolo effects are applied to the guitar and the lads even pinch the gargling harmony vocal trick from "Octopus's Garden". Surprisingly, they manage to pull it off, digressing momentarily in a wild 180 degree shift to a bridge that is far removed from the main theme. Closing the introspective side is the exquisite "Ten Years Gone". One of my personal favourites of the entire Zep songbook, Page scores bonus points for his choice of chords in the silky intro which toggles back and forth from A major to F6/Dm, and then runs from A major to E flat diminished 7th, E minor, D major 7th and finally lands on C major 7th before transitioning to another signature pice of riffage that comes back to rest in A. Setting a wistful, somewhat sombre mood, there are a myriad of overdubs that comprise the guitar army that Jimmy was known to assemble on many occasions. None more memorable than this with fine support by way of a superb lyric and vocal from Plant.



According to author Stephen Davis, Bonham held a few late night drum practices in his suite at the Hyatt House, playing along to the records of jazz drummer Alphonse Mouzon (Mind Transplant being his latest LP at that time) who was a heavy hitter in his own right. Davis was jolted from a dead sleep as his room was directly below the nocturnal percussionist. John Henry Bonham is nothing less than a force of nature throughout, leaving nary a blemish on the foundation work that he lays down. His playing is infused with jazzy touches and that single magic bass foot of his did the work of ten. Fitting that his high-hat starts off "Night Flight" which he populates with triplet fills, raising the game of an otherwise straightforward tune. He continues his grooving, four on the floor streak with "The Wanton Song" as Jones and Page lock into a fierce octave seesaw riff with stop time crashes, which the Red Hot Chilli Peppers would build a future career on. The Leslie treated guitar tone that appears in the instrumental bridge is another mini-masterclass in chord choices for players rolling from F minor to B diminished 7th to C minor 7th into a C sharp diminished 7th. This is followed up by another series of jaw-dropping phrases that end in a full stop with backward echo. This is top shelf musicianship from all involved, the product of very disciplined, schooled song craft.

John Paul Jones always seemed to be overshadowed by the extrovert musical personalities of the other three, though he expertly handles bass guitar, organ, acoustic and electric piano, mellotron, guitar, mandolin, VCS3 synthesiser, Hohner clavinet, Hammond organ and all string arrangements here. Versatility is a woeful understatement in terms of what he brought to the table. That's his mandolin boogieing along with Ian Stewart in the Ritchie Valens tribute (Ooh My Head) and the inside joke that became "Black Country Woman". It isn't fully substantiated, but Zeppelin roadies knew that a certain blonde lead singer had been having a fling on the side with his wife's sister...which may have led to that beer in his face. The line about "I know your sister, too" crops up in a many blues templates as well, so it may have just been coincidence.

Hey, hey mama, what's the matter here????

"Sick Again" provides the closer, bringing everything together in one swaggering blast with a fulsome tribute to the groupies, LA queens and all in attendance at the non-stop backstage touring party so redolent of that timeframe. Muscular in structure with an excellent turnaround, it featured prominently in their set list through to their last gigs and is a stellar tune.

Kashmir still should have been sequenced as the last track

Though Zep III gives this one a run for its money for the top tier in their discography, I rate Physical Graffiti a notch above. When rock afficianados toss out the big ticket names who have painted their masterpieces in broad strokes over two discs, this ambitious set should be involved in the conversation. Very little filler is present, the material is eclectic, interesting and the playing/singing impeccable. No "Revolution 9" or "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" here to detract from the overall pace of the program, either. Simply put, it is work that anyone should and would be proud to be associated with. Which is why we are still talking about it and lending an ear to this timeless record today.

As for the 2015 remaster, it is nice to have, though only completists will listen to the bonus cuts more than once. What really should have been offered as a companion piece are highlight reel, soundboard quality live performances from different stops on their 1975 North American tour.

Jimmy Page gets the final word on this one.

It gave us the chance to put in the material that was left over from the first visit to Headley. There were three tracks that were left off of the fourth album, and that was "Boogie With Stu," "Night Flight" and "Down by the Seaside." If you think about it, you couldn't have substituted anything off the fourth album with any of those tracks, quite rightly so. Each of them had their own individual charm and character.

So with those, plus the fact that "Houses of the Holy" was a track that wasn't included on the album Houses of the Holy, that was four things straight away [to include]. And, you know, given the chance of having a good run at this writing and recording process, I didn't want it to be a double-album with any padding on it. It would be a double-album with all character pieces, the way that Led Zeppelin did their music with the sort of ethos of it, if you like, that everything sounded different to everything else.


Trying to get this airplane on

No, leave it...



Monday, February 02, 2015

NASHVILLE SKYLINE



Bob Dylan closed out his 1960's discography with a set of tunes that confounded even his staunchest supporters. Important to note that this LP did very well commercially, hitting #3 in the US and topping the charts in the UK. The voice that emanated from the speaker grills was not a familiar one, though. Trading in his more abrasive, nasal vocal style, the artist now adopted a smoother approach to singing. Gone were the lengthy verses that stretched the limits of expression. Though greeted warmly, many listeners thought that Bob was pulling their leg. Surely there HAD to be an eight minute long, backward message from the bard tucked away in the run out grooves of this laid back LP?

In the game of chess, it is advisable to:

1. Open with a center pawn.

2. Develop with threats.

3. Knights before Bishops.

4. Don't move the same piece twice.

5. Make as few pawn moves as possible in the opening.

Nashville Skyline took inspiration from the fourth item on this list.

Taking exception to any labels that critics, contemporaries or his fans tried to apply to his music, he veered sharply away from the expectation that he should be landing in a silver spacecraft to deliver an important message through his songs. Instead, you hear a definite scaling back of the operation, lyrically, to take a crack at country stylings that were a huge part of what he heard on the radio as a kid. For the uninitiated, the commitment to this concept is unwavering from the "Howdy, neighbor!" cover art right on through to "Tonight, I'll Be Staying Here With You".

Is it rolling, Bob?



With Johnny Cash guesting ("Girl From the North Country") and "Lay Lady Lay" hitting big as a single, there is lots to like here. It was his most polished recording of the decade in terms of production values, though he never did anything quite like this again.