With a Woodstock, N.Y. “How do?” staring at you on the cover, the question is what has Dylan has left behind for the remainder of his career by 1969; by the time ‘Nashville Skyline’ was released? There was a time when (follow me now), putting on an earlier Dylan album was akin to dumping out a 2,000 piece puzzle that you could never quite fit together. Shards and scraps of images and lines that you somehow had to conglomerate to paint a meaning. As of ‘John Wesley Harding’, the bard now gives one a steady structure in lyric, plenty of bones for you to walk on your own.
It’s on in the background and my first opening impression is of the thick production. Not at all lingering in the high end frequencies. Secondly, I fell obliged to mention the vocals. Dylan is not a vocalist, he’s a singer-songwriter crucified by the populous for not having a sugar-gum-voice. This album though, smooth and produced with a near silk sound, Dylan sings. Not remembering where, I had read once Dylan quoted as saying he quit smoking for six months for his chords to produce that sound. Fair trade. It croons and holds onto those long vowels much like Johnny Cash whose recordings together are officially released now and on boots.
For those unfamiliar, this is a country album, purely. Bamboozled to record in Nashville with a whole host of new musicians to him, Dylan lays down ten timeless tracks. None will make you march on Washington or even change your political affiliation. Unknown to me, there does not seem to be a reason for near track by track commentary. More is the need to impart on the reader the new costume he wears for the recording, such a departure from the previous four albums.
Though the sound is not new to the genre but a new expression for Dylan and at best a bridging album again from ‘John Wesley Harding’. This time though, a draw bridge where Dylan leaps over the open gap. To know ‘Nashville Skyline’ is to love it. The tromping bass and drum combination. The electric slide of the steel guitar. The churned butter vocals and there are times, certainly, no other album will do to put on the speakers.
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