Why is “Nashville Skyline” Bob Dylan’s Best Album?
In 1969, when Country Rock was in it’s infancy, Bob Dylan had the foresight to go to Nashville AKA “Music City U.S.A” to make a new album influenced by his close friend Johnny Cash. This may or may not be my personal favorite…but it is in many ways Bob’s best! For one thing it spawned Dylan’s only top ten hit in his recording history which I think we can all agree is long. The top ten hit of course was: “Lay Lady Lay.” This song does not sound like Bob Dylan before or since. I think we can all agree with that? But what I’d like to question is: how did they get that sound out of Dylan in 1969? I call it “his ‘Nashville Skyline’ voice.” There’s really no other way to describe it.
Bob Johnston was the producer of the album who probably deserves a-lot of the credit for this. Neil Wilburn is one of the engineers who years later would go on to produce many Austin, Texas “Progressive Country” artists of note. There must have been something going on in that studio when they recorded this album in 1969 that we just can’t put our fingers on? Dylan was probably not afraid to emulate his friend Johnny Cash a little in the vocal department. It certainly is not the usual whiny Bob Dylan vocal with screeching harmonica filling in the spaces between vocal lines. Basically, it barely even counts as a Bob Dylan record…but yet…it still is one. A definite paradox. That’s just the way it is and will be.
Bob Johnston made sure he had what they called in Nashville: “The A-Team” playing on this record and capturing a smooth quality never before or since heard on a Dylan record. Guys like: Charlie Daniels on bass, Kenny Buttrey on drums, Charlie McCoy on harp & guitar, Pete Drake on steel guitar, Norman Blake on guitar, and Bob Wilson. Johnny Cash is of course listed as: “Guest Artist” on: “Girl From The North Country”, an exceptional first cut! Anyway, I can guarantee you that these guys could play most anything put before them as long as it was some kind of country music.
So here is Dylan in 1969…a year of: Peace, Love & Turmoil making some kind of never before heard “Country Rock” style album while everybody else is rockin’ out in the music business for the most part. Why did he even go to Nashville to make the album anyway? I think the key is: Johnny Cash. Imagine the phone conversations behind the scenes between Bob & Johnny? I wish I could have been there.
So give “Skyline” a second listen, and see if you don’t hear some magic goin’ on in there?