Formed in 1966 by multi-instrumentalist John McEuen and several like-minded pals, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band came to epitomize the stylistic diversity of the early 'Seventies roots music scene... An "Americana" band decades before the phrase became a brand, the Dirt Band were adept at country, rock, bluegrass and folk, hosting several editions of multigenerational "Will The Circle Be Unbroken" shows, and helping to bridge the gap between hippie longhairs and the traditional country and bluegrass fans... They also tapped into the booming Southern California country-rock scene, lending a hand to Linda Ronstadt and others... Here's a quick look at their work...
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band "Nitty Gritty Dirt Band" (Liberty, 1967)
(Produced by Dallas Smith)
On their first album, the Dirt Band was more distinctly in the hippie rock camp, albeit in the kooky, retro-oriented, antique-y end of that spectrum. Indeed, even with their West Coast psychedelic power-pop fringes, they were more into bizarre, minstrel-show/music hall nostalgia than the bluesy sound of the jugband revivalists such as the Lovin' Spoonful or Jim Kweskin. This album sounds more like an American edition of England's Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, or Ian Whitcomb, with odder, older sounds from outside of the Delta and Appalachian traditions of American roots music. Of course, the Dirt Band later became a repository of mountain music and bluegrass/old timey tradition, but they were on a different tack altogether when they started out. The lead track, "Buy For Me The Rain," was the band's first single, and scored them a minor pop hit, enough to put them on the map, and ensure a few more albums... Also worth noting is that, amid Tin Pan Alley jazz-standards oldies such as "Euphoria," "Crazy Words, Crazy Tune" and "I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate" were a couple of early Jackson Browne songs -- "Melissa" and "Holding" -- remnants of Browne's stint in the earliest lineup of the Dirt Band. An interesting and unique album, even during a very interesting and unique era in American pop.
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band "Ricochet" (Liberty, 1967)
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band "Rare Junk" (Liberty, 1968)
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band "Alive" (Liberty, 1969)
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band "Uncle Charlie And His Dog Teddy" (Liberty, 1970)
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band "All The Good Times" (United Artists, 1971)
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band/Various Artists "May The Circle Be Unbroken" (United Artists, 1972)
This top-selling concert album is an exceptional live bluegrass/old-timey selection, a grand variety show hosted by John McEuen & the Dirt Band, with guests ranging from country legends such as Roy Acuff, Merle Travis, Maybelle Carter to young'uns like Norman Blake and Vassar Clements. Jimmy Martin is featured on several songs, helping him find a new audience with younger listeners, ironically, just before the axe was about the fall over at MCA. This was a fabulously influential album, officially introducing the hippie generation to the living history of for-real mountain music. The performances are all rock-solid, and the spoken introductions and between-song banter reveals the depth of the younger generation's affection for their musical forerunners. A beautiful 3-LP set which easily stands the test of time, and is definitely recommended!
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band "Stars & Stripes Forever" (United Artists, 1974)
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band "Symphonion Dream" (United Artists, 1975)
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band "Dirt, Silver & Gold" (United Artists, 1976)
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band "The Dirt Band" (United Artists, 1978)
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band "An American Dream" (United Artists, 1979)
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band "Make A Little Magic" (United Artists, 1980)
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band "Jealousy" (Liberty, 1981)
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band "Let's Go!" (Liberty, 1982)
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band "Plain Dirt Fashion" (Warner Brothers, 1984)
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band "Partners, Brothers And Friends" (Warner Brothers, 1985)
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band "Hold On" (Warner Brothers, 1987)
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band "Workin' Band" (Warner Brothers, 1988)
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band/Various Artists "Will The Circle Be Unbroken, v.2" (MCA, 1989)
The 'Eighties update was another roots music lovefest, with guests this time around including Emmylou Harris, Rosanne Cash, John Hiatt, John Prine, Chet Atkins, and a slew of bluegrassers from the last couple of decades -- Jimmy Martin returns, along with the New Grass Revival, fiddle whiz Mark O'Connor, dobro king Jerry Douglas, etc. Some folks find this album a bit too slick and studio-y, but with a talent pool like this, it's are certainly worth checking out.
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band "The Rest Of The Dream" (MCA, 1991)
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band "Live Two-Five" (Capitol, 1991)
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band "Not Fade Away" (Liberty, 1992)
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band "Acoustic" (Liberty-Capitol Nashville, 1994/2005)
(Produced by The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band)
NGDB's short stint on Liberty Records in the 1990s didn't yield much in the way of chart hits, but it did afford them the chance to roll out a few more peaceful, easy albums, including this understated outing... For the most part, it's pretty nice and pretty hummable, even with a couple of cloying would-be hits that gum things up (such as the gimmicky "Hello, This Is Your Heart"). But for a nice, mellow country-rock outing that has little of the musical desperation of other harmony-oriented bands such as, oh say, Shenandoah or Restless Heart, this is a pretty nice option. What matters is the music, and this record holds up well. Definitely worth checking out.
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band "The Christmas Album" (MCA/Rising Tide, 1997)
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band "Bang! Bang! Bang!" (Dreamworks, 1999)
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band/Various Artists "Will The Circle Be Unbroken, v.3" (Capitol, 2002)
Third time's a charm (although the last two weren't so bad either... The post-millennial, 30th-anniversary entry into this series includes rootsy young'uns such as Iris DeMent, Alison Krauss and Dwight Yoakum, alongside a slew of new- and truegrassers (Del McCoury, Sam Bush, various Dillardses and Scruggses, and others) as well as some of the Nashville and roots country elite, many making repeat appearances from previous volumes: Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson and Matraca Berg.
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band "Welcome To Woody Creek" (Dualtone, 2004)
("Produced by U No Who")
An amiable set, with a relaxed feel and plenty of easygoing twang. Includes a mix of oddly compelling originals and vaguely unnecessary cover tunes (of the Beatles and Gram Parsons...) These old coots are clearly long in the tooth, but not short on soulfulness or conviction... This ain't earthshaking, but it's still kinda sweet... Certainly worth a spin!
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band "Twenty Years Of Dirt: The Best Of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band" (Warner, 1987)
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band "More Great Dirt: The Best Of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, v.2" (Warner, 1989)
The Dirt Band had a surprising commercial renaissance in the mid-'80s with a series of Top Ten tracks that, while not dazzling, were definitely a breath of fresh air amid the foofy, synth-laden pop of the time. This disc captures the best of their resaonably rootsy rockers, including the ever-timely ballad, "Workin' Man (Nowhere To Go)," which is probably my favorite tune on here. Traditionalists need not worry: they kept the faith.
Hick Music Index