In 1966 Bob Dylan had retreated from the public eye after two years of loud electric rock & roll, and 1967's John Wesley Harding had been a quiet, country-tinged affair which signalled a shift in both musical style and character (or at least the sides of his character he chose to allow the public to see). Nothing was heard of him throughout 1968, leading some to believe that he had packed it all in, and the album he finally released in 1969 came as quite a shock to many.
Nashville Skyline was recorded in Nashville with a group of top country session players, including Kenneth Buttrey, Fred Carter, Pete Drake and Charlie McCoy. It showed Dylan fully immersing himself in country music, leaving the politics of protest folk and the controversy of electric rock far behind. He also abandoned the dense, wordy lyrical style he had become known for, instead coming up with mostly simple, concise romance-themed songs. Most startling of all, he was now singing in a new voice, adopting a mellow country croon. This drastic change in style attracted its fair share of criticism, but the truth was that Nashville Skyline ended up being a quality piece of country-pop. The single "Lay Lady Lay" even made it to #7 (and #5 in the UK).
One of the songs in particular stood out - a remake of his old classic "Girl From The North Country", sung as a duet with country music legend Johnny Cash. Cash had been an admirer of Dylan's work from the very beginning, and had covered several of his songs.
The album turned out to be a major success, getting to #3 on the US album chart and #1 in the UK, and retrospectively it has often be described as a key release in the country-rock movement - not so much as any sort of inventive stylistic fusion (it's country pure and simple), but more in the way that it showed an established rock artist embracing traditional country music without the need to explain himself. If Dylan did it, it had to be cool!
John Wesley Harding (1967) <|> Self Portrait (1970)
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