After the rock ‘n’ roll of The Basement Tapes sessions and the Biblical imagery of John Wesley Harding, Bob Dylan returned in 1969 with the release of a country album.
1969 would find a far different Dylan than just a few years previous. Gone were the angry protest songs and bohemian lifestyle. He was now married with three children and was shunning the limelight. Nashville Skyline, despite being rooted in country music, was a calm and even happy affair. His fans would flock to records stores to purchase this release as it would soar to the number two position on the National charts and reach number one in England.
I have purchased a lot of Bob Dylan albums during the course of my lifetime but I remember few as surprising as Nashville Skyline. It was not even the country direction of the music that initially caught my attention but rather his vocals. Gone was the gruff, nasal quality which had been replaced by a more smooth pop tone. Dylan attributed it to kicking his smoking habit.
Nashville Skyline would be Dylan’s shortest album, clocking in at less than thirty minutes. The songs would be structurally tight and the lyrics would turn away from the overwhelming imagery of the past. The songs would pick up where the last two songs of John Wesley Harding left off.
The beauty and lasting quality of Nashville Skyline is found in the love songs. “Lay Lady Lay” is an enduring Dylan classic and was recognized as such upon its release. His use of words to portray this love story and the understated smooth vocal push this delicate song along and make it a pleasurable listen. “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” is another mellow song, this time of lost love. Pete Drake, who played his superb steel guitar sparingly on John Wesley Harding, returns to provide some subtle underpinning for this song and others.