At this point, arguments about whether or not Bob Dylan can sing are pretty tired. I did recently say on social media that I’d rather nap in a blackberry bush than hear Dylan sing Sinatra. As he’s been doing recently — his voice now more of a clogged carburetor than a musical instrument.
Nevertheless, listen to the Dylan classic Nashville Skyline and what strikes you most is the sound of Dylan’s voice: smooth, clear, crooning and devoid of a lot of those little tics and rollercoaster idiosyncrasies that make Dylan sound like Dylan.
Dylan’s always been a chameleon and a trickster (at least 30 percent of Martin Scorsese’s recent Rolling Thunder documentary about Dylan’s vaudevillian mid-’70s tour is completely made up) but for me, Nashville Skyline Bob has always been one of the most startling transformations he ever pulled over on us.
“I was just reading about that,” Aaron Nelson says. A bass and mandolin player, Nelson plays with a variety of musicians in Eugene, most notably Alder Street, Brittany Bailey and Megan Johns.
“He attributes it to quitting smoking at the time,” Nelson goes on. “It’s the only album that he sounds like that.”
Believe it or not, Nashville Skyline turns 50 in 2019, and to celebrate Dylan’s great country music experiment Nelson and a group of other musicians have planned a tribute show.
“I discovered Bob Dylan as a teenager,” Nelson says. “I really liked his early freewheelin’ stuff.” With Nashville Skyline, Dylan introduced Nelson to what country music can do. “He taught me country music can be good,” Nelson adds.
Along with Nelson, Eugene musician Ky Burt will be performing at the tribute show. “I came to Bob Dylan as I was starting to perform and play music and write,” Burt says. “After digesting older folk singers, it led me to Bob Dylan.”
“Over the years as my tastes have broadened — starting to get into country music as of late — Nashville Skyline keeps popping up,” Burt says.
“It’s a very sincere and heartfelt album,” Nelson continues. Nashville Skyline showed people a new side of Dylan, Nelson says.
In addition to Nelson and Burt, the Nashville Skyline tribute show will include performances from Brittany Bailey and Eugene folk-duo Gossamer Strings. Also performing are Jim Reinking and Brandon Olszewski of Breaker’s Yard.
Getting people interested in participating in the show was not an issue, Nelson and Burt agree. “Everybody that I approached just so happened to love this album as well,” Nelson says.
“We’re excited about country music, and bringing more of that to Eugene,” Burt says. “We have all yearned to see a ballroom country scene in Eugene. We’re starting to see it happen.”
Say happy 50th birthday to Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline 9 pm Friday, July 19, at Sam Bond’s; $10, 21-plus.