Monday, February 02, 2015
The country music station plays soft, but there's nothing, really nothing to turn off...
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, however. His abrasive, nasal vocal whine had vanished, replaced by a smoother approach to singing. Also conspicuously absent were the lengthy verses that had once stretched the limits of expression. While his foray into rustic, country-fried love songs was greeted warmly, many thought that Bob was royally 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.
Long exasperated by the labels that critics, contemporaries and fans tried to apply to his music, he purposely veered sharply away from the expectation that he should be landing in a silver spacecraft to deliver an important message through his latest record. Dylan's stylistic shift should not have been that jarring to those who were actually paying attention. The closer on his previous set, "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight", was a straight-up, dirt under the fingernails tune augmented by the sweet pedal steel of Pete Drake. Drake would factor heavily in the mix of Nashville Skyline, along with Kenny Buttrey who also had graced the skins on Blonde on Blonde and John Wesley Harding. Adopting the soundscape of Music City, his writing reflected the simple grooves that were a huge part of what he had 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 the homespun charm of "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.