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Old 05-02-2010, 05:14 PM   #63 (permalink)
why bother?
Bulldog's Avatar
Join Date: Sep 2008
Location: UK
Posts: 4,826

First time I've tried a longer review in quite a while this, so apologies in advance if it's a bit dry, boring or whatever. Anyway...

Bob Dylan
Nashville Skyline

Girl From the North Country (w/ Johnny Cash)
Nashville Skyline Rag
To Be Alone With You
I Threw It All Away
Peggy Day
Lay Lady Lay
One More Night
Tell Me It Isn't True
Country Pie
Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You

I might just be insane or something, but the experience of listening to the original versions of songs like Mr. Tambourine Man, Blowin' In the Wind, A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall and the Times They Are a-Changin' in their purest, grittiest and most well-loved forms was never really one that appealed to me. I can definitely where the appeal in Bob Dylan's earliest musical output lies and, hell, I do admire the fire those songs have in their bellies. It just plain ain't my thing. Maybe one day though. After all, there was once a time when I used to say that about all of Dylan's material, which was basically two or three years ago. My mind was officially changed about the man the first time a mate of mine played me the Hurricane - a song which brought about my fairly slow exploration of Dylan's back-catalogue. Without going into too much self-indulgent detail, about six months ago I found myself in possession of this here album.

This is an album which is not only, in my eyes at least, among Dylan's very finest but also (and relevantly to this thread) one of the landmark albums in the exposure of a then-fledgling school of musical expression called country rock. It was about a year too late in being released to be called the first country rock album, but it still counts as one more of the most important in its reaching a wider audience. If you want to know exactly how a couple of guys by the names of Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman actually kicked the whole idea into life, check out my sig link. That's where you'll find a nice, long review of the Byrds' Sweetheart Of the Rodeo - the album which officially brought country rock to the masses. Nashville Skyline here helped it along, being not only the album that found Dylan trying to distance himself from the media's 'spokesperson of the generation' tag, but also trying to fit in with the current country vibe, that being a move away from the rural folk music celebrated by the said Byrds album and towards mainstream pop.

Not to call this album country pop or anything (far from it actually), but there definitely is much more of a leaning towards melody on this album as well as traditional country music and, as with the best of album openers, the revision of Dylan's Girl From the North Country, with the help of his chum Johnny Cash, gives you the perfect taste of the kind of album that lies ahead - laid-back, friendly, melodic and beautifully memorable as well. Unfortunately, this gorgeous little number is the only one of an album's worth of Dylan-Cash duets recorded during the Nashville Skyline Sessions that's officially available. Judging by the below video for Big River, it sounds like we're missing out on something pretty damn cool.

Anyway, on to Nashville Skyline Rag, this lovely little instrumental setting the tone for the cute little lovesong To Be Alone With You that follows it in that they both boast lively guitar figures and steel guitar augmentations that firmly stick the more instantly-recognisable country rock tag on both of them. Definitely both a good couple of songs, but not quite on par with the marvellous opener. I Threw It All Away, though, not only manages that but also ascends it, being a thoroughly miserable tune that's reason enough to go through the fuss of getting this album alone. As you might expect from the man, the lyric is pure gold and brought to life by a terrific vocal performance and ghostly organ flourishes that underpin it. Side A is brought to a close by a much more obviously (at least to the uninitiated ear) country-flavoured song by the name of Peggy Day; another song that's simplistic yet memorable and lively enough in its delivery to really have an impact - such is one of the main strengths of this album.

One of the hits from the album, Lay Lady Lay, is another short, fairly simplistic little song with that kinda punch to it (although this time with a bizarre cowbell-bongo-drumkit percussive arrangement) and, like I Threw It All Away and Girl From the North Country, is another of the much more melodic and catchy moments on the album. As good as this album is on the whole, there are two absolute peaks to its impact for me. One of them I've already mentioned, the other is One More Night. Again, it's another very uptempo and catchy part of the album, but one which really uses the new-found croon in Dylan's voice to such a great effect, making it all the more memorable for me. Tell Me That It Isn't True keeps the torch burning as a slower cut that rolls in on the back of a superb acoustic and pedal steel guitar motif and is another wonderful slice of country rock. The playful, 100-odd second ditty Country Pie eases the album to its climax which comes in the shape of Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You - another optimistic, mid-tempo lovesong of the kind that dominates this album and one that, like its bedfellows on the tracklisting, makes no effort to disguise its influences but also does well to expand into and take in pop melodies.

Such is the strength of this gorgeous little album, being one that combines the unmistakeable and totally unique vibe and essence of the country music tradition with catchy pop song structures and melodies, which at the end of the day gives us one of Dylan's most accessible albums. Don't take my word for it though - that's just how it comes across to me (ie some Brit who's going by only what he's read and heard) Whatever the case, this is definitely an album that belongs in any thread about classic country.

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