Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash: 1969 was quite the year: the Woodstock music festival in the summer was the crown jewel of 60’s rock and roll. Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead, Joe Cocker, CCR, CSN and myriad more all on the same stage. The Beatles were making great music while simultaneously breaking up, rock n’ roll was remerging from the psychedelic haze, regaining its roots and shooting off into many directions. Bob Dylan, on the other hand, was happily unheard from. Dylan had reached the pinnacle of his new electric style and fame with 1966’s Blonde on Blonde, but the momentum seemed to stop, or at the very least take a 90 degree turn. His 1967 John Wesley Harding introduced a striped down sound, and clearer voice, and shades of country music. He had retreated from the public eye and was holed up with The Band in a house in NY, working diligently on their albums and his own work (hence, The Basement Tapes). After 1 year with no new records, Bob began recording Nashville Skyline, debuting a new (and never revisited) voice and an unapologetic country style. Dylan began recording in Nashville (where he had recorded Blonde on Blonde) and frequently hung out with Johnny Cash, with whom he shared a mutual admiration. Dylan fans will remember the duet of “Girl from North Country” on the album.
What many don’t know is that the duet wasn’t just the one song. Although they just were jamming for the heck of it with no intentions of a release, a bootleg of “The Nashville Sessions” exists on record and CD which contains the two sharing the traditional “You are my Sunshine”, Jimmie Rodger’s “T for Texas”, Cash’s “Ring of Fire” and “Wanted Man”, Carl Perkins’ version of Blind Lemon’s “Matchbox”, Elvis’ version of Arthur Cudrup’s “That’s Alright, Mama” and Dylan’s “One Two many Mornings”, and many more Cash, Dylan, and traditional tunes.
Those who have heard Dylan’s new “Nashville” voice might cringe at the though of Dylan taking the harmony on “Ring of Fire”, but those who have actually listened to NS and recognize the quality of the musicianship and lyricism would expect something different. I myself, although a huge fan of NS, had my reservations before giving this a listen. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It is a simply wonderful album, with a real relaxed feel that works its way within and without the songs to take them to that much more of a higher level. Although I respect personal property and opinions, it is a real shame that these recording were not made commercially available.