wed 29/06/2022

Album: Nitty Gritty Dirt Band - Dirt Does Dylan | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Nitty Gritty Dirt Band - Dirt Does Dylan

Album: Nitty Gritty Dirt Band - Dirt Does Dylan

Dirt dusts down Dylan

Here's to the sequel

I have to confess, it’s a long time since I’ve thought about the Nitty Gritty Dirty Band and a new album serves as a reminder of how good they were, and are.

Formed in Long Beach, California in 1966 by a Bob Dylan-obsessed high school student named Jeff Hanna, the band has been through many incarnations (Jackson Browne was briefly a member) and has worked with some great names, among them  Mother Maybelle Carter, Doc Watson, and Merle Travis on Will the Circle Be Unbroken (1972) and scored a hit with a cover of “Mr Bojangles”, thus helping to bring folk-rock to the mainstream.

Endless musicians have put out all-Dylan albums, some of them very good and some of them very weird, and while releasing this to mark the old man’s 80th last May might have been the obvious thing to do, it’s dropped just as The Bob Dylan Center in Tulsa opens its doors. And what a joyous album is Dirt Does Dylan, with songs drawn from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963) to Planet Waves (1973). There are also two songs from The Basement Tapes, released in 1975 but mostly recorded with The Band around 1967, Dylan in retreat after his motorcycle spill. Fittingly the album includes “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”, the first Dylan song Jeff Hanna learned to play, sitting in his bedroom, and painstakingly working out the guitar riff (a relatively intricate one for Dylan). He is joined here by his son Jaime.

None of the songs is deconstructed or reinvented. They are simply reinterpreted, much as a pianist would bring his own interpretation to a piano sonata. The vocal lines take their cue from Dylan’s own but are in no sense either imitation or parody, and the frequent use of harmony lines – just father and son much of the time – changes the whole dynamic. The songs are also, it has to be said, more carefully sung than is often the case, even with earlyish Dylan. Notes placed rather than simply lunged for.

And they are very nicely arranged: On “Country Pie” from Nashville Skyline, NGDB is in familiar jug band territory, Ross Holmes’ fiddle to the fore, as it is on “She Belongs to Me”. Megan Lovell, one half the Lovell Sisters and Larkin Poe, sings and plays lap steel on “I Shall Be Released”, the tight, high harmonies recalling The Band of course.

The starting point for “Forever Young” is the upbeat version that opened side two of Planet Waves back in the old analogue days – the song quickly became much more of an anthem, a prayer even, and worked well with that approach. This is rather jaunty, lead guitar, harmonica and country fiddle propelling it forwards.

On "The Times They Are a-Changin'", we hear a veritable supergroup, with Steve Earle and Rosanne Cash among those taking a verse. Cash, with Matraca Berg providing harmony, seems to be channeling Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary at Newport 1963 – if you haven’t seen that performance Google it, and marvel at the intensity and optimism and the festival that saw Dylan emerge as “the voice of a generation”.

“Quinn the Eskimo” rounds it all off, upbeat and energetic with superb mandolin, harmonica, and fiddle.

Jeff Hanna reports that he and the band began with a list of 100 Dylan songs they’d like to record, whittled it down to 40 and finally to 10. A sequel, More Dirt on Dylan, would be a nice album to have.

None of the songs is deconstructed or reinvented. They are simply reinterpreted, much as a pianist would bring his own interpretation to a piano sonata

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Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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