Bob Dylan – Nashville Skyline

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 5)

You may be wondering, where the fuck is Blonde On Blonde? Well, it’s currently in the re-sell pile. Everyone thinks that double album is Dylan’s crowning achievement, but I find it self-indulgent. The songs get longer and the melodies more oblique, and Dylan seems to focus on the personal in a way that hinders accessibility and prevents any universality. It’s an album where it sounds like Dylan has started buying into his own hype, and there is a strong sense of detachment and remove to the songs. Also, I think there are some troubling signs of misogyny and sexism (though there may have also been on other of his albums and I just didn’t pick up on them); “Just Like a Woman” is highly problematic, and “Visions of Johanna” seems to trade in the Madonna/whore dichotomy. Dylan had written lengthy songs before, of course, but on those tracks, there was a sense of inevitability. The opposite is at work here, where in no circumstance is there any good reason for these songs to last as long as they do. “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” just drags on and on, squandering what is a pretty melody. “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)” is one of the stronger songs on the album, but it also overstays its welcome. The same is true of “Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again.” And whatever the merits of “Visions of Johanna,” they are diluted over more than seven minutes. No thanks. Also, I absolutely hate “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.” I should also admit I’ve never listened to John Wesley Harding.

What I Think of This Album

I can’t help but feel this is a minor, though enjoyable, entry in Dylan’s catalog. It’s only got ten songs, one of which is an instrumental (was anybody clamoring for a Dylan instrumental?), one of which is an unusual reworking of an earlier song, and with two other tunes lasting under two minutes each. In fact, nothing cracks the four minute mark, which is highly unusual when compared to the songs on Blonde On Blonde and Highway 61 Revisited. Relatedly, the surrealistic narrative geyser has been shut off in favor of straightforward, plain-spoken lyrics, set to simple country music arrangements at that. Also, Dylan sings rather pleasantly on this album, which by itself should lay to rest any complaints about his vocal abilities. If he sings in a less traditional manner on other albums, it is by choice, and maybe that’s something his critics should consider.

There are at least two classic songs on Nashville Skyline. One is the regretful and clear-eyed “I Threw It All Away,” with a nice organ part in the background. Yo La Tengo (among others) covered this song. Even better is “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You,” on which Dylan sounds invigorated for the first (and last) time on the album. One of the more romantic songs in his oeuvre, I think of it as a cousin to “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?” Unlike the rest of the album, this is less country than it is soul – I can imagine Otis Redding covering this spectacularly. The piano is wonderful and Dylan sings with warmth and humanity.

“To Be Alone With You” just barely escapes being filler, with an energetic, daresay lively, presentation (the bass runs are impressive). “Tell Me That It Isn’t True” is decent without being substantial. “One More Night” also squeaks by, with another really nice Dylan vocal. Some people really like “Lay Lady Lay.” I don’t know. I find the melody annoying. But it’s a sweet song of seduction, and unexpected at that. I just don’t enjoy listening to it; the percussion is cool, though.

There is a fair amount of fluff here. Instrumental “Nashville Skyline Rag” is pointless. “Peggy Day” almost seems like parody (and it is downright criminal that it comes right after “I Threw It All Away”). “Country Pie” is insultingly silly (fortunately lasting just 95 seconds). The duet with Johnny Cash on “Girl From the North Country” strikes me as very strange. Both men sound fine, but this song does not work as a duet. At. All. Between this rerecording of a tune from 1963’s The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, the obvious filler, and the middling quality of those songs that rise above disposable (i.e., “To Be Alone,” “Night,” and “Tell Me”), it seems Dylan was creatively parched at the time.

That piece of shit Charlie Daniels played on this album, unfortunately. Bob Johnston was in charge of the board, once again. Kris Kristofferson was working as a janitor at the studio when this was recorded, and was recruited to hold the bongos and cowbell for drummer Kenny Buttrey on “Lay Lady Lay.”

The Best Thing About This Album

“Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You”

Release Date

April, 1969

The Cover Art

Look at Bobby smiling! A gold star just for that.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Proudly powered by WordPress | Theme: Baskerville 2 by Anders Noren.

Up ↑