CK Retro Review: Nashville Skyline by Bob DylanPosted: May 31, 2013
While it may have confused a lot of people at the time of its release, 1969’s Nashville Skyline turned out to be anything but a novelty record from Bob Dylan. Sporting a voice that made him sound like Engelbert Humperdinck’s slightly soused cousin and flaunting a crack studio band that could make even the simplest compositions come to life, Dylan made country music filled with energy and warmth. The album became one of the most popular of his career and includes a few stone-cold classics for good measure. Here is a song-by-song review.
10. “Nashville Skyline Rag”- It’s an in-depth examination of the insidious effects of smog on a typical Southeastern American city and …. Just checking to see if your paying attention. It’s actually a peppy instrumental with a dueling instruments motif.
9. “Peggy Day”- I made light of Bob’s voice in the intro, but, in truth, he really did develop quite an affecting croon for the album. Listen to the way he flitters through the bridge of this light-hearted song and you’ll see what I mean.
8. “Country Pie”- The recording is a bit of a wild scramble, but that’s what makes it so much fun. At under two minutes, the song leaves just enough time for some of Dylan’s most bizarre lyrics, which, with their food-centric theme, could be seen as a country cousin to The Beatles’ “Savoy Truffle.”
7. “To Be Alone With You”- This one is far more rhythm and blues than country, and benefits from an excellent band performance. The lyrics are a pretty straightforward ode to intimacy, even quoting Ray Charles at one point. An understated but effective number.
6. “One More Night”- The contrast between light and dark has always been an important theme in Dylan’s music. It’s utilized here by the narrator of this acoustic shuffle, who finds the light constantly eluding him since his estrangement from his former love. Bob’s respect for the meter of the lyrics, something he never worried about in past years but is integral to the country material, helps make this one memorable.
5. “Girl From The North Country” (with Johnny Cash)- So what if the harmonies are wonky and the pair aren’t always singing the same lyrics? The song itself is unassailable and lends itself well to the duet format, while the emotion that both men bring to the table makes it clear that this wasn’t just a pair of stars mailing in a duet. This was Dylan and Cash, a mutual admiration society, bringing out the best in each other.
4. “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You”- Much like the narrator who is longer in a hurry to get out of town, this closing track takes its musical time, with Pete Drake’s pedal steel washing languorously over everything. It was a sentiment that must have resonated with Dylan, who had slowed his recording schedule down to a crawl compared to his mid-60’s frenzy. That ease could be detected in winning tracks like this one.
3. “Tell Me That Isn’t True”- The protagonist of this song just wants verbal confirmation from his girl that the rumors of her wayward behavior are untrue. There are really only two ways this can go down: Either she confirms that she’s been cheating or his mistrust wrecks a good thing. It’s a bad outcome either way, and that inevitability hangs heavy over this perfectly-executed, downbeat tune.
2. “Lay Lady Lay”- Never before has Dylan been so direct with his declarations of ardor as on this big hit song. As a result, “Lay Lady Lay” casts a sensual ambiance that is embellished by the music. Kenny Buttrey’s bongo-and-cowbell combination works in spite of itself, and the hazy organ is the audio equivalent of candlelight. Bob’s vocal is as charming as it is randy. The urgency of the melody in the bridge makes plain the intensity of his desire. Maybe Dylan’s sexiest song ever.
1. “I Threw It All Away”- If Nashville Skyline is Dylan’s ultimate homage to Hank Williams, then consider this song his “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” as both are majestically woeful. As if it isn’t bad enough that he has lost the love of his life, the narrator here has to spend his weary days knowing that he himself was to blame for her departure. The simple yet moving tune is set up by the nifty little guitar riff that opens and closes the song. Dylan doesn’t overdo the vocal, coming off as a man made wiser by his mistakes and wishing to pass that wisdom on because it’s no use to him now. When they list Bob’s all-time heartbreakers, “I Threw It All Away” can stake a pretty good place for its status.
(E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For more on Bob Dylan, check out the link below to my upcoming book Counting Down Bob Dylan: His 100 Finest Songs.)