Nashville Skyline begins with a reprise of Girl From the North Country, a song from Freewheelin’. Dylan sings it with his new smooth, country-style voice, trading verses with the man in black himself, the face of country music, Johnny Cash. Like most duets with Dylan, it’s a bit ragged, as his partner tries and fails to synchronize with Dylan’s idiosyncracies. But it’s a charming performance, relaxed and loose.
I imagine that many Dylan fans at the time were not thrilled when this song first rang out of their turntable. It was 1969 and the hippy era was in full swing. Rebellion against the establishment was at a fever pitch. And here was the “voice of their generation” gone country, singing the sounds of the hard-right establishment. Once again Dylan was (gleefully I assume) confounding his faithful.
Although the country sound of Nashville Skyline was new to Dylan’s recordings, country music wasn’t anything new to Dylan.
He was intimately familiar with the style. He included Roy Acuff’s Freight Train Blues on his first album. He had recorded his last two records in Nashville with session players who typically played on the records of contemporary country stars.
Cash and Dylan had exchanged letters prior to actually meeting in person at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival. Cash had given Dylan his guitar, a traditional sign of respect among country musicians. Cash happened to be recording his own album in the same studio when Dylan was working on Nashville Skyline so the two were bound to hook up.
Bob Johnston, Bob’s longtime producer, saw the proximity of the two as a golden opportunity. He readied the studio to record. He tried to create an intimate, inviting setting in order to lure the two into recording.
It worked, sort of. Cash and Dylan recorded eighteen songs together, a mixture of Cash, Dylan, and traditional tunes. And while it is great fun to watch and listen to them in the studio together (see below), the end results are spotty at best. Lots of forgotten lyrics, wrong notes, and bad timing. Girl from the North County is arguably the best of the lot. One Too Many Mornings works as well.
A clean-cut Dylan performed I Threw It All Away John Cash’s popular variety show. Terrific.
A stellar version from 2019.
Other artists’ interpretations.
Liam Clancy – from the documentary No Direction Home
Bluegrass great Tony Rice.
A very weird Version by Pete Townsend
A less weird version
I always liked John Gorka