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<i>Dylan Country</i>:  A Tribute to Mixed Genres - 2004-07-14

In the not-too-distant past, no self-respecting country music fan would admit to listening to rock music, and rock fans wouldn't listen to country. There were very few exceptions to that unwritten rule. But today, every form of American popular music borrows from those who came before, and we're finally appreciating those pioneers who weren't afraid to mix their music styles. Dylan Country is a collection of 16 songs recorded over 35 years by respected country artists who weren't afraid to mix genres.

Dylan Country opens with a raw version of "Nashville Skyline Rag," by Earl Scruggs, performing with Bob Dylan back in 1971.

It is safe to say that country music changed Bob Dylan, as much as Bob Dylan changed country music. He was a fan of the style even before he started performing. Dylan also recorded, but never released, a Hank Williams tune for his first album. And while Bob Dylan became both a folk and a rock star over the five years following his first release, he never left country music far behind.

When he came out of a self-imposed exile in 1967, he embraced the genre even more; first on the John Wesley Harding CD, and later on Nashville Skyline. Meanwhile a fan, named Johnny Cash, was breaking down similar boundaries, inviting rock bands to star on his country music television show, and even recording Dylan songs, like "It Ain't Me Babe."

In addition to Johnny Cash, heard there with June Carter singing in the background, Dylan Country features traditional country artists like Willie Nelson, Glen Campbell and Waylon Jennings singing the songs of Bob Dylan. The Byrds, Nanci Griffith and Tim O'Brien also contribute material. There are even a few rarities among the previously-released tracks. One is Buck Owens' long out-of-print reworking of "Love Minus Zero/No Limit."

Buck Owens recorded that version of "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" for his 1971 album, Bridge Over Troubled Water. The disc has been out-of-print for many years, but you can find that track on a new compilation called Dylan Country.

The legendary bluegrass band, The Country Gentlemen, are on this one, too. Their version of "Girl From The North Country," featuring John Duffey singing high harmony, dates back almost 40 years, to 1966.

Bluegrass music historians consider that version of "Girl From Fhe North Country" a very historic track. "The Gents" were a Washington, D.C.-based band that was playing progressive bluegrass before there was such a thing. They were among the first bands to not only play "straight traditional bluegrass," but to also convert hit pop and country songs to bluegrass. Their version of "Girl From The North Country" dates back to 1966, making it one of the earliest covers of a Bob Dylan song.

Dylan Country is a rare item: A tribute album that actually works. It's an album that will satisfy country and Bob Dylan fans alike. Emmylou Harris' version of "When I Paint My Masterpiece" was recorded in 1996, and until now, was only available on the compilation set Portraits.