Try to calculate the influence of Bob Dylan and you're in for a long night with quantum physics. The industry gushes out Dylan book after Dylan book, singer-strummers who (40 years on) still feign Bobness and tepid bands who have blanded that wild mercury sound into Triple-A fare. And yet Dylan rarely gets props for one of his deepest contributions to American music: his country work. Nashville based neo-traditionalist Paul Burch
gets the point. Nashville Skyline
, New Morning
and the twangiest moments of Blonde on Blonde
are his touchstones: He measures himself against them, finds his own soul mirrored in their warm fusion of mainstream country structures and lyrical risk. One listen to the flowing "Isolda," with its pleading chorus of "I want you soooo baaaaad" provides a hint of his obsessions; one trilling phrase from his sly, rich baritone evokes the shock of hearing "Lay Lady Lay" for the first time; one spin of his best record, Last of My Kind
, with its stripped-down lushness, chunky rhythms and folksy simplicity, and you feel a heart as big and bright as a hundred Texas honky-tonks. In country music (however you define it), there's no better-kept secret, no sweeter yodeler, no finer songsmith working today.