The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (self-titled)

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band is perhaps best known for helping to bridge the gap between the older generation of American folk musicians coming out of the 1940s and 1950s, and the rock and roll youth of the 1960s. Their seminal double record Will the Circle Be Unbroken presented the band alongside a number of country and bluegrass luminaries such as Maybelle Carter and Roy Acuff, and more or less proved that American musical traditions could span the generation gap.

Listeners dropping the needle on the Dirt Band’s self-titled debut for the first time may be taken aback at how far removed the record sounds from the group’s later material. Indeed, the opening cut “Buy For Me the Rain” is firmly in the west coast folk-rock tradition. The chiming guitars and soaring orchestral flourishes may make it clear as to how this tune landed the Dirt Band their first American chart hit, but they also spotlight the dissimilarity between the 1967 Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and its later incarnations. The band here is more Beatle boots than cowboy boots, despite sporadic country and bluegrass touches. Jug band roots certainly make themselves clear on the second song, “Euphoria,” with funky instrumentation continuing into Jackson Browne’s “Melissa.” Browne had actually been a founding member of the Dirt Band before splitting to pursue a solo career, and though he does not appear on any of their records, a number of his songs remained in the Dirt Band’s repertoire.

In fact, it is another Browne composition that closes the first side of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and provides the record with its second highlight. Banjo and harpsichord drive “Holding,” yet another slice of folk rock featuring strong harmonies. “Song To Jutta” takes the mood into more ominous territory, with its plucky guitar picking acting as a weird foil to the chain gang beat and the slow, monotonous vocal. It’s a rather unnatural mood for the Dirt Band, but they’re quick to catch on and the next couple of cuts are back in the ole jug band tradition again. Mississippi John Hurt’s “Candy Man” receives a great arrangement, comparable to that of the Rising Sons, while the banjo comes back out for “Dismal Swamp,” a rollicking breakdown that calls together bluegrass instrumentation and a rock and roll beat. There is a lot going on during the course of this record, and if it were not for the band’s tendency to lean towards novelty numbers such as the snappy “Crazy Words, Crazy Tune,” it may have established them as pioneers in American music far before Will the Circle Be Unbroken.

Though The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band is currently out of print in its complete form, about half of the tracks found their way onto a 1970 compilation entitled Pure Dirt, which is available on compact disc from Beat Goes On Records. This album is a rather weird combination of tracks off of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and the Dirt Band’s second release, Ricochet. As to why someone chose to reissue this instead of the original records…well, it’s beyond me, but fortunately original copies are still quite easy to find.

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:) Original Vinyl | 1967 | Liberty Records | search ebay ]

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  • Len Liechti

    Top stuff. I got into NGDB via the Eagles after I discovered country rock. I always loved them for their consummate musicianship, but also for their honesty; they never seemed to fall into that ol’ Laurel Canyon cynicism like the Eagles, SHF, J Browne et al. Their later album Symphonion Dream is, IMHO, their meisterwerk, combining all their musical strands with a perverse late-onset psychedelia.

  • Jason

    Song To Jutta was always my favorite track on this album. It reminds me of a really good early Byrds track….Uncle Charlie’s Dog is my favorite album by them – amazing record but I always loved the triple and double LPs that followed Charlie and Ricochet is terrific too

  • Love this album, love this review.

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