Like driving an antique car through New York City, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band revives a lost sound in an age of digitally produced music. Given the skill and musicianship of the Nitty Gritty, the music is delivered immacultely – free of any error. The synergy of ‘Circlin’ Back’ certainly puts today’s music into perspective – at least through the scope of craftsmanship. Through eighteen tracks of wholesome country, there is no talk of tailgating or summer night parties – injecting ‘gone but not forgotten’ soundwaves to Ryman Auditorium – a place with as much history as the band itself.
“When we were kids, we had dreamt about someday making a record with our heros” admits Nitty Gritty Dirt Band pillar member Jeff Hanna on ‘Circlin’ Back: Celebrating 50 Years’ – the band’s most recent album which presents a collection of endearing tunes performed live at the band’s fiftith anniversary celebration. The childhood dream has finally become a reality for the country music legend as numerous country music heros make appearences throughout the celebratory performance. Artists Vince Gill, Jackson Browne, Allison Krauss and more contibutre their talents to the veteran group’s dream release of ‘Circlin’ Back’
The album awakens with upbeat favorite “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” while sending listeners and fans home happy with the closing gospel hymn “Will The Circle Be Unbroken”. Between numbers throughout the record, members alternate personal reflections of what has transformed into an incredible journey of a career. They touch upon how it began and where they are now – that ‘reiminicent but current’ atmosphere of the record radiates through every strum and hit.
Circlin’ Backs setlist is arrranged to a randomized order where each next song swings differently than the previous – an underutilized tactic in live performance. The production bounces between highs and lows – similar to the journey musicians face throughout their roller coaster-like lives – with fan favorites like ‘Fishin’ in the Dark’ and ‘Mr. Bojanngles’ and special duets sprinkled throughout.
The one downside of the live record is the difficulty it faces falling into the hands (or playlists more accurately) of a younger generation whos awareness of the Nitty Gritty Band’s legacy is minimal. If marketed and distrubuted properly, that legacy should grow into the millennial generation.
Given today’s fast-paced society, where artists and everyday folk alike scurry around town buried in the pixels of their phones, it’s refreshing to witness country art from a simpler era – an era where musicianship was crafted through church music and discplined practice. The sensitive clarity of NGDB’s music is displayed throughout ‘Circlin’ Back’ in harmonies, string licks, and steady but solid percussion. Where most would hope to hear twenty member bands playing radio pop country – Dirt Band provides a humble gift of music for anyone willing to simplify their ears to a delicate but detailed sound.