Bob Dylan, Nashville Skyline (1969)
When Nashville Skyline, the last of Dylan’s brilliant ’60s albums, was released, fans examined every one of its twenty-seven minutes for portents of musical revolution like fortune-tellers poring over the intestines of a goat. Now, without the weight of those expectations, Skyline just sounds like a great country-folk record. It’s warm, full of love songs, and even features Dylan employing a baritone croon rather than his trademark wheeze. Dylan told Rolling Stone in 1970 that he hadn’t actually changed his singing style–he had just given up cigarettes. “When I stopped smoking, my voice changed so drastically, I couldn’t believe it myself,” he said. “I tell you, you stop smoking those cigarettes and you’ll be able to sing like Caruso.”
The album begins with a casual duet with Johnny Cash, “Girl From the North Country,” recorded when the two friends were both working in the same studio. Throughout the record, Dylan trades in his usual torrent of lyrics for a relaxed feel, and does well on the exchange; even slighter songs such as “Peggy Day,” “Country Pie,” and “Nashville Skyline Rag” (an instrumental!) are confident and charming. “Lay Lady Lay” with an offbeat percussion track built around bongos and cowbell, was the most successful of these, becoming Dylan’s last top-ten hit.
And the album contains “I Threw It All Away,” one of Dylan’s most gorgeous ballads ever. “Once I had mountains in the palm of my hand / And rivers that ran through ev’ry day,” Dylan sings ruefully. “I must have been mad / I never knew what I had / Until I threw it all away.” With a simple, heartfelt lyric and restrained finger-picking accompaniment, the song is the sound of a man with oceans of sorrow within him, asking you to taste just a few salty drops.
(By Gavin Edwards. Originally published (in a slightly shorter form) in Rolling Stone 949 (May 27, 2004).)