The Dallas Morning News Saturday, April 19, 1969
Hand Sown, Home Grown
By marge Pettyjohn
Raspberry, strawberry, lemon and lime,
Bringing it all back home has never been easy to do. And Bob Dylan only once professed to do that (and that was by implication only, via the 1965 album title). But with last year's "John Wesley Harding" album the consensus was that the Thomas Paine of Rock has done just that, had found his roots and settled down.
But that was last year. And with this month's release of "National Skyline" (Columbia) it seems that Dylan has dug just a little bit further and finally gotten to the heart of the matter.
Although the boy from the North Country began his career as a "folk singer", his roots nevertheless remained deep in country and blues (he's always listed Percy Mayfield and Charlie Rich among his favorites and his debut LP was more more blues than folk).
BUT A STRAIGHT line isn't always the shortest distance between two points. The bridge between country and folk is not necessarily a wide span but many paths lead that way and Bob Dylan experimentally took every fork in the road before landing safe at home.
Public reaction to Dylan's latest album is mixed (Wasn't it always?). His only concern all along has been just his music, for he never purported to carry the entire music world on his guitar string.
"I never thought I would shoot lightning through the sky in the entertainment world," he once said. But nevertheless has taken a stalwart lead since 1962 at attempting to show us where it's at.
IT'S REALLY hardly necessary - and rarely possible - to critique a Dylan work; rather, the main thing is just to report on it.
Bob Dylan's music, according
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Bob Dylan: North Country boy in Nashville.
to sundry critics along the line, has "reached maturity" several times since that first album ("Bob Dylan") in 1962, and always with such an array of labels pinned to it.
But try, for once, listening to the music, not the categories. Too many have wanted more to find out what he's trying to say instead of just listening forgetting that the way to understand is to listen. And the more you listen the more it begins to fit together. (Which, in turn, makes a report on "Nashville Skyline", even after a week, seem a bit preliminary).
SIMPLE, straightforward, uncomplicated and clear, "Nashville Skyline" speaks for itself and, most of all, for Dylan's new state of mind. Revealing further the serenity that first appeared in "John Wesley Harding", the ten country songs here are absorbing but not complex, without Dylan's previously characteristic swirling imagery, subdued nightmares and intertwined rhetorical devices.
The lyrics flow easily and with much less harshness in sound and idea ("Love is all there is, It makes the world go round") he sings in "I Threw It All Away").
Dylan's near-menacing roguish growl has been replaced by a captivating, richer voice that is still immensely powerful in an almost reverent way, but quiet, restful, rhythmic and, yes, even tender.
THE LP BEGINS with a duet with Johnny Cash in "Girl From The North Country" in about as relaxed a mood as you can get (they rarely come in on the lyrics together). The tempo of the instrumental "Nashville Skyline Rag" sets the mood for the rest of the album, which was recorded of course, in Nashville (with several of the same musicians who played on his "Blonde On Blonde" and "John Wesley Harding" albums).
"Peggy Day", "Tell Me That It Isn't True", "Country Pie" and "Lay Lady Lay" (which the Byrds have already recorded as their next single) are immediate standouts.
It should be evident by now that rock music is intrinsically connected with much of the country and western tradition. The vitality of Dylan's performance here, a natural and logical step forward, makes what he is doing all the more clear.
But to run "Nashville Skyline" through an analysis mill and grind it down is like following leaders and not watching parking meters.
The only pertinent thing to remember is that the medium is the message and "you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows".
But pass the grits, please.