A two-year break for Bob Dylan in the 1960s was as good as a lifetime. When he emerged from it with Nashville Skyline, he even had the voice to prove it. He was a new man and his silken tones, and the pipe and slippers nostalgia to the songs were the soaring testimony to the truth he had heralded a few millennia earlier, time changes everything—it’s natural entropy.
Dylan got off to such a trailblazing start that it was scientifically determined that he would one day slow down. Thankfully, when he put his feet up on the porch and basked in the bounty of the beauteous boon he had delivered to date, he was able to joyously drop his hat and deliver us all another triumph. What’s more, it was a triumph as truly unique as anything he had done before.
Usually, time adds a weathered timbre to the tones of a troubadour, but Dylan’s pipes of sand and glue had seemingly been power washed by the council who now rightly recognised him as an institution. He quit smoking, rested and cut back on everything else that causes a rock star harm, and thereafter, he never sounded sweeter than ‘Lay, Lady, Lay’.
His fighting days were over now, he was a lover and the transition to silky tones suits the record’s message of “Love and only love,” down to an Adagio tee. It’s a simple message, daringly so, but it is one that seems like the triumphant and wise culmination of everything that went before it. You can’t argue with it, and with that in mind, Dylan wraps the record up with ten tracks in 26 sweet minutes.
As for the song that spells the message out, ‘I Thew It All Away’, even the masterful Nick Cave wishes he had written it. He says, “There was always something about that song that was so simple. There is an audacity to the sort of simplicity of that song. It was so powerful at the same time, for me at least, I was always raging and envious of that song.”
It is high praise indeed and it hits upon the daring brevity of the album beautifully. There is a hallowed line in Shakespeare’s King Lear that just reads, “He died.” It seems dreadfully anticlimactic at first until it dawns that what is the point of aggrandising the death? Thereafter you look back on the sentence instead of the full stop, so to speak.
That seems to be the message with this crooning masterpiece. It is not Dylan hanging up his boots or acquiescing in any way, but rather taking a pause before a new chapter and rattling off a sigh of wisdom from all that he had learnt along the way. Then he serves it up with a sonic breeze that would be verging on saccharine if there was so much of the bittersweet beauty of life laden in the welter that surfaces with a speck just like a lover’s smile well into the relationship.