Wax Wednesday #7: “Nashville Skyline” by Bob Dylan

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I always find it interesting when an artist goes outside their genre of comfort. While bands like Gorillaz or Childish Gambino seem to do this every album or so, it’s even more curious when someone so synonymous with a genre decides to branch out. Such is the case with Bob Dylan’s 1969 country-western venture “Nashville Skyline”. Not only was this Dylan’s first venture into another genre (that he didn’t define), I would argue that it is his best.

The album bleeds a simplistic, cheeky sound that’s hard not to tap your toes along to. Listening to songs like the classic “Lay Lady Lay” make me feel like I’m staring out over a beautiful Kansas sunset, driving towards some destination typical of a road trip movie. But I think many Bob Dylan songs on this album evoke that feeling. And I love that about this record, it seems to me that the emotion Dylan evokes on the record is distinctly American. That feeling of wanting to be somewhere else, anywhere else than where you are now.

This isn’t the only emotion the album evokes, however. Many of the songs tackle themes like adultery and the loss of a relationship. The solemn, most likely improvisational jam between legend Johnny Cash and Dylan on “Girl from the North Country” has become my favorite breakup song. There’s more emotion on the track this time as compared to Dylan’s original take on his 1963 album “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan”, a bit more harmony, and a heck of a lot more depth.

It’s for that reason that I feel this album rises just above some of the others in his long discography. It’s emotional. Now I’m aware that many Dylan albums have this quality to them. But it’s the instruments that further help give the stories around them more weight. Something about those twangy acoustic and whiny slide guitars give an even greater emotion and longing to the songs that is, to me, more distinctly “Americana” than other projects of his.

Speaking of Americana, how about that cover? It’s so distinctly Dylan, yet he seems more friendly and close than other album covers (Highway 61 Revisited), with his cap tipped to the listener and huge acoustic guitar in hand against a possibly sunset backdrop. This image perfectly complements the warm, sunny, and relaxed feel of the record to a tee and tells the listener exactly what they’re in for, and hopefully, by the end, puts them in the same grinning mood that Dylan exemplifies on the cover.

Dylan took a bit of a gamble on this record, and it paid of wonderfully. Not only do I think his idea of doing a more Country-Western theme was perfectly executed, but he showed that he wasn’t just a folk singer spilling out countless anti-war protest songs or 13 minute ballads with lyrics that require multiple listens. “Nashville Skyline” is a testimony to just how good an album can sound when an artist wants to get out of their comfort zone.

Next Week: nothing! This is the last Wax Wednesday Column of the Spring 2017 semester! I won’t be posting regularly again until the fall (Mid-August), but if I come across something special, I’ll post it. Until then, thanks for reading and I’ll see you all in a few months!