Sunday, 3 July 2016

"Will The Circle Be Unbroken" by THE NITTY GRITTY DIRT BAND and FRIENDS (2002 Capitol 2CD Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...



"…Let's Do It The First Time And To Hell With The Rest Of It…" 

Hand me that Jack Daniels buddy and the phone number of Hank Williams’ booking agent… 

Bringing together the old and new worlds of Country, Bluegrass and Old Timey Music could have been a fool’s errand for The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in 1972 – but as you can hear from this beautifully remastered 2CD set – the music transcends everything. 

What you get here is old-school musicianship steeped in eons of tradition (Doc Watson, Roy Acuff, Earl Scruggs, Merle Travis, Mother Maybelle Carter and Jimmy Martin) enjoying themselves with enthusiastic young bucks wanting to be respectful to people they love with every part of their DNA. It’s a feast of music, talent, characters and Americana…

And although the songs are mostly about the misery of whiskey, car crashes on the highway, coal mines, relatives and cattle going to that great gig in the sky, cheating women and even more untrustworthy husbands (while God oversees the whole shebang) – this is a jolly album – and with the giggling and friendly studio chatter in between takes  – a warm listen too. In fact as an event - you’re musically reminded of that other fantastic Old Timey Revival and Celebration some 30 years after this coming together – the Coens’ majestically filmed “O, Brother Where Art Thou?” from 2000  - a soundtrack that quietly nicked tunes from this 3LP set wholesale. Here are the black mountain rags and Tennessee studs…

Released May 2002 – “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” by THE NITTY GRITTY DIRT BAND and FRIENDS on Capitol 5351482 (Barcode 724353514822) offers the 3LP set Remastered onto 2CDs and fiddles and banjos its way into your heart as follows:

Disc 1 (57:28 minutes):
1. Grand Ole Pry Song [Jimmy Martin Lead Vocals]
2. Keep On The Sunny Side [Mother Maybelle Carter Lead Vocals]
3. Nashville Blues [Instrumental with Earl Scruggs on Leads Banjo]
4. You Are My Flower [Jeff Hanna, Les Thompson and Gary Scruggs on Lead]
5. The Precious Jewel [Roy Acuff on Lead Vocals]
6. Dark As A Dungeon [Merle Travis on Lead Vocals]
7. Tennessee Stud [Doc Watson on Lead Vocals]
8. Black Mountain Rag [Doc Watson on Lead Vocals]
9. Wreck On The Highway [Roy Acuff on Lead Vocals]
10. The End Of The World [Instrumental with Doc Watson and Earl Scuggs on Guitars and Pete “Oswald” Kirby on Dobro]
11. I Saw The Light [Roy Acuff on Lead Vocals – Hank Williams cover]
12. Sunny Side Of The Mountain [Lead Vocals and Guitar by Jimmy Martin]
13. Nine Pound Hammer [Merle Travis on Lead Vocals and Guitar with John McEuen on Banjo and Jimmie Fadden on Harmonica]
14. Losin’ You (Might Be The Best Thing yet) [Jimmy Martin on Lead Vocal and Guitar]
15. Honky Tonkin’ [Jimmie Fadden on Lead Vocals – Hank Williams cover]
16. You Don’t Know My Mind [Jimmy Martin on Lead Vocal and Guitar – Jimmie Skinner cover]
17. My Walkin’ Shoes [Jimmy Martin on Lead Vocals and Guitar]

Disc 2 (72:40 minutes):
1. Lonesome Fiddle Blues [Vasser Clements on Fiddle - Instrumental]
2. Cannonball Rag [Merle Travis on Guitar and Junior Huskey on Bass - Instrumental]
3. Avalanche [Vasser Clements on Fiddle and John McEuen on Banjo - Instrumental]
4. Flint Hill Special [Earl Scruggs on Banjo – Instrumental]
5. Togary Mountain [John McEuen on Banjo – Instrumental]
6. Earl’s Breakdown [Earl Scruggs on Banjo – Instrumental]
7. Orange Blossom County [Vasser Clements on Fiddle, John McEuen on Banjo]
8. Wabash Cannonball [Pete “Oswald” Kirby on Dobro – Instrumental]
9. Lost Highway [Jim Ibbotson on Lead Vocals and Guitar]
10. Doc Watson & Merle Travis First Meeting – Dialogue about albums and guitar styles
11. Way Downtown [Doc Watson on Lead Vocals and Guitar]
12. Down Yonder [Doc Watson on Guitar, Vasser Clement on Fiddle – Instrumental]
13. Pins And Needles (In My Heart) [Roy Acuff on Lead Vocals]
14. Honky Tonk Blues [Jeff Hanna on Lead Vocals – Hank Williams cover]
15. Sailin’ On To Hawaii [Pete Kirby on Dobro and Doc Watson on Guitar – Instrumental]
16. I’m Thinking Tonight Of My Blue Eyes [Mother Maybelle Carter on Lead Vocals and Guitar with Merle Travis on Guitar and Pete Kirby on Dobro – Carter Family cover]
17. I Am A Pilgrim [Merle Travis on Lead Vocals and Guitar]
18. Wildwood Flower [Mother Maybelle Carter on Lead Vocals and Guitar with Earl Scruggs on Guitar – Carter Family cover]
19. Soldier’s Joy [Earl Scruggs and John McEuen on Banjos – Instrumental]
20. Will The Circle Be Unbroken [NGDB with all Guests with Mother Maybelle Carter on Lead Vocals - Carter Family cover]
21. Both Sides Now [Randy Scruggs on Guitar alone – an Instrumental cover of a Joni Mitchell song]

PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED TRACKS:
22. Foggy Mountain Breakdown [NGDB cover of an Earl Scruggs song]
23. Warming Up For “The Opry” (Dialogue with False Starts Of Music)
24. Sunny Side (Talk with Maybelle Carter and other musicians rehearsing)
25. Remember Me [Doc Watson on Guitar]

Produced for Reissue by original band member JOHN McEUEN – the first generation 30 IPS masters were transferred/remastered at 24-bit resolution by MARK WALDREP and the sonic results are just gorgeous. This is a beautiful sounding set – warm and full of presence- all are to be praised for exceptional work here.

Those who bought the vinyl triple album when it came out in December 1972 on United Artists UAS 9801 in the USA were met with an elaborate package – a gatefold with an inner flap. Much of that detail has been transferred to the 16-page booklet with additional liner notes by the band in February 2002. Luckily someone has been smart enough to musician-credit every single song – otherwise you’d get lost as to who does what and where. I’ve filled out those details in my track list.

At first the studio-chatter and dialogue that precedes every track kind of throws you - but you very quickly twig why its there – it adds huge warmth to overly familiar Country songs – discussed with laughter and chat by the people who made them famous. It’s a clever trick and it works nine times out of ten. The first instrumental of many is a gem – “Nashville Blues” has Earl Scuggs tearing up a Lead Banjo storm while everyone else compliments the footstomping hoot. Back to songs and tunes as simply and as lovely as “You Are My Flower” hook you from the outset. Superlative acoustic playing and Norman Blake’s Dobro keep you there for the duration. So many are like this – just great tunes steeped in emotional longing and life struggle. Roy Acuff precedes “The Precious Jewel” with his policy for singing in the studio (dialogue titles this review)…

Then there are the ludicrously accomplished instrumentals like “The End Of The World” where Pete “Oswald” Kirby’s Dobro playing amazes. The frantic pace of all that picking is broken up very nicely by Mother Maybelle Carter doing two covers of Carter Family done-me-wrong ballads – “I’m Thinking Tonight Of My Blue Eyes” and “Wildwood Heart”. The dialogue between Doc Watson and Merle Travis is like eavesdropping on history – two giants of the genre enjoying each other’s art. Roy Acuff does his best Hank Williams impression on the Floyd Jenkins classic “Pins And Needles (In My Heart)” which is followed by an actual Hank Williams song – “Honky Tonk Blues”. Mother Maybelle Carter returns to lead the congregation on the massive title track. The whole rollercoaster ride ends on the loveliest and most peaceful of moments – Randy Scruggs on his lonesome with his Acoustic Guitar doing an instrumental of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now”. It last only two and half minutes but it feels perfect and reminds the listener of what brought them all together in the first place – music and a mutual love of tunes from whatever quarter.

All the musicians involved wanted their Country and Bluegrass musical heritage to be passed on to the next generation and you have to say they pulled it off. Thank God someone with skill was behind the control booth to document that poor boy paying the price for a life of sin…

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