Nashville Skyline, Bob Dylan’s ninth studio album and one of his all-time best selling efforts, was originally released to mixed reviews. Some critics accused him of becoming a crooner who lost his way—even as they ignored the era’s increasingly polarized social issues embedded in his new music. Dylan’s connection to Nashville had been growing since his trip to Columbia’s recording studios in 1966, ventures that resulted in Blonde on Blonde and the follow-up John Wesley Harding.
All of the aforementioned records share a rhythm section comprised of Nashville stalwarts Kenny Buttrey on drums and Charlie McCoy on bass. One way of gauging just how successful Dylan’s Nashville records were in taking country mainstream is to trace Buttrey’s crossover into pop via Neil Young’s Harvest and Tonight’s the Night. What sounded like abdication with Dylan in 1969 by 1972 seemed mainstream with Young’s releases.
Of course, Dylan’s voice did sound different than before—a result of his having quit smoking and lost some of his prior rasp. And instead of spinning out visionary poetry (with Blonde on Blonde, he had taken that avenue as far as it had ever gone), Dylan accomplished a subtler form of revolution with a pioneering country-rock crossover album packed with songs that both opened the door for country music’s huge expansion and popularity over the last half century—and shaped the course of pop. “Girl from the North Country” (with Johnny Cash), “Lay Lady Lay,” “I Threw It All Away,” and “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You” remain iconic and among the finest entries in Dylan’s catalog.
Akin to Dylan’s other Nashville-recorded albums, Nashville Skyline is not an audiophile recording or in the same league with the sessions recorded at the 30thStreet Studio. The sound lacks the three-dimensional “you are there” sound of Columbia’s best recordings, but it’s not bad at all. The original pressing possesses immediacy and impact, but lacks any real depth of stage or instrumental texture. Unlike some of the other Mobile Fidelity Dylan reissues, the label’s 45RPM reissue of Nashville Skyline is produced from something other than the original master tapes. Nevertheless, it registers an improvement over the original. The 2LP set doesn’t make any significant enhancement to the vocals of Dylan or Cash, but the instruments sound much better and the string instruments occupy a more clearly defined spatial context. Plus, there is a little more depth to the stage, and when strings vibrate, the LPs create a more convincing reproduction of a vibrating instrument than the flat two-dimensional image provided by the original.
Like all of Mobile Fidelity’s standard 45RPM sets, the LPs are included in a fold-over cover with a reproduction of the original artwork. Those who look closely may notice some of the tree branches have disappeared in the new cover, but fortunately, Dylan does not fade away.
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