This is the first in what I hope to be a series of album blogs. These will be album reviews in a relaxed and informal manner. My observations are not intended to be critical of the artists or their art, merely comments and observations and reconsiderations of albums that meant something to me at some point in my life, which is obviously why I bought the recording in the first place. I am using the Discogs randomizer to pick the albums for me and I hope to do one review per week. I will do multiple listens of the recording and probably on more than one format if they are available. I will also do some research on the history of the recordings and what relevant information that entails, at my discretion. I am trying to avoid reading other reviews because I feel that may taint my observations.
First up is a recording from 1969, which was a very good year in my life and in my music collection, the album is Nashville Skyline by Bob Dylan. This is the ninth studio album by Bob Dylan and shows a departure from the stylings of his previous recordings. The album that preceded Nashville Skyline was John Wesley Harding, an album that was well received by critics and fans alike and had a distinctly folk feel to it. The album that came after Nashville Skyline was Self Portrait, an album that alienated both fans and critics alike but has weathered the turbulence and has come to be fairly well regarded in the lexicon of Dylan. Nashville Skyline is between these two, it has elements of folk simply because it is very difficult to pigeon hole music like this, and it has a distinctly country and western feel that is different from the explosion of country rock that was flooding the world.
First off is the title that grabs me. I have seen the Nashville Skyline, walked it’s streets and listened to its music. So I have a connection to this recording before I hear a single note of music. I also have expectations because of the many, many C&W records that I have heard, Nashville Skyline does not disappoint.
The first note of music is Girl From The North Country, a duet with Johnny Cash. Their voices mesh interestingly. At times I can hear Johnny trying to match the cadence of Bob Dylan, a cadence that suits him well but is different from most other singers, including the very versatile voice of Johnny Cash. I can also hear Dylan holding back to allow Cash to come along with his voice and Cash does, sometimes better than others but on the whole, it is a well-done interpretation of Olde English folk tune with an interesting pairing of musicians in Cash and Dylan.
The rest of the album seems to flow seamlessly with no further duets but extremely competent accompaniment by the musicians behind Dylans singing and playing, talented artists like Charlie Daniels on bass guitar, Pete Drake on pedal steel and Bob Wilson on keyboards. Having this level of veteran Country and Western musicians allowed Dylan the freedom to concentrate on singing in 4/4 time and playing a variety of instruments in accompaniment but not aggressively out front.
The lyrics speak of the basic human conditions, such as love that everyone sings about, especially C/W artists. They are either singing about being lonely and searching for love, being in love, or falling out of love. Dylan does not disappoint, Nashville Skyline is full of references to love, love lost, and a goose, but no dog.
Lay Lady Lay is arguably the most well-known song off the album, although I Threw It All Away and Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You were also released as singles. Lay Lady Lay hit 7 on Billboard and has been covered by a list of musicians that would fill this page.
A litmus test of music for me is how well the recording stands up to repeated listens and how well it ages. This recording has been in my collection for a long time, I do not remember when I bought the record, but I know it wasn’t in 1969, which is when the record came out. It must not have been too long after because the copy I have is a 1969 pressing, so it is before the reissues came out in the mid-’70s.
Regardless of when it came out, I have been listening to it for a good number of years and still enjoy it. For this blog, I listened to it multiple times on vinyl, CD and digital. Nashville Skyline passes both of the tests with ease. In fact, I think I’ll listen to it again today just for the pure enjoyment of listening to it again.
Take away observations; this is a very good record with some stellar musicianship, just listen to the instrumentation and try to block the lyrics in your head. The pedal steel and drumming blow me away. For another listen ignore the interments and focus on the lyrics and what they say to you or interest you. And then listen to it in a relaxed manner, such as reading a book or doing a hobby, and just bask in the pleasure of hearing music and singing at a level that many strive for but few attain.