Going hand-in-hand with the ongoing museum exhibit of the same name, A New Music City does an outstanding job defining the sweeping influence of Dylan and Cash throughout the 1960s and 1970s.
Nashville might be particularly known for its sinewy girth of country music origins, standing strong as the bearer of the ceremonious Grand Ole Opry concert series for the past 90 years, featuring artists from the Binkley Brothers’ Dixie Clodhoppers to Blake Shelton in its illustrious history. What the country capital is more known for in modern times, however, is the sudden attraction that artists standing beyond the traditional western line have for it, including but most certainly not limited to Jack White, Paramore, and the Black Keys; and what younger, less anointed music enthusiasts may not be privy to is the fact that this isn’t the first go-around that this trend has maintained in Music Row. The mid-1960s was met with an explosion of roots rock fronted largely by the names Dylan and Cash – a legendary friendship between two Americana icons that had sprouted a worldwide musical income centered from none other than Nashville.
The album entitled Dylan, Cash, and the Nashville Cats: A New Music City sonically encapsulates what the ongoing Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum exhibition of the same name depicts visually in taking its audience back to a time when Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash ruled the Nashville scene, bringing with them a teeming influence that spread its wings over names as similarly notable and broad in musical origins as Joan Baez, Paul McCartney, and the Monkees. With a subtext exploring pop, rock, folk, and country musicians and specifically-chosen cuts that exemplify their contributions to the American music scene as it relates to the widespread influence that Dylan and Cash had maintained over the industry at the time, the two-disc record features names like Neil Young, Linda Ronstadt, and the Byrds across 36 separate tracks. They’re also joined by the titular Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash themselves for a solid five, including a previously unreleased recording of the former’s “If Not For You”. Featuring a lilting steel guitar-ridden melody courtesy of Lloyd Green, this version of the track carries a countrified procession much unlike Dylan’s better-known, chimey version of the song from off of 1970’s New Morning.
The dense emotive simplicity of Nashville Skyline opener “Girl from the North Country” remains a must-listen – arguably one of Cash and Dylan’s collective bests as they exchange quiet croons against a brooding refrain, as well as the only duet between the two titular artists to be featured on the record. While a bit of a missed opportunity to afford another couple of tracks to showcase the indelible relationship between the two singer-songwriters in song, such as the Dylan-Cash Sessions’ takes on “You Are My Sunshine” or “Ring of Fire”, the other Nashville Cats more than pick up the pace for the exclusion. From Kris Kristofferson’s comedic, candid (and true!) “If You Don’t Like Hank Williams” to Eric Andersen’s beauteous “Blue River”, and from Flatt & Scrugg’s bayou-flavored rollicker “Down in the Flood” to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s defining bluegrass rendition of the Christian hymn “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?”, Dylan, Cash, and the Nashville Cats: A New Music City’s tag-along record does a fine job of elucidating the vast musical depth of the era as fronted by two respective legends of the art field.
The physical release of this album also includes an informational pamphlet on each of the 36 songs featured on the discs, with an introduction from Tracy Nelson regarding the broad influence of that 60s-70s Nashvillian era as a whole as seen through her eyes. In and of itself, this is one record worth picking up from off of the shelves instead of seeking the immediate rewards of our digitized age.