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Nitty Gritty Dirt gets back to roots

By David McPherson, November 2004

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"Ibby has a really nice room that he had built ... it's a really great room for playing music," he continues. "We augmented some of the gear he had with that of a friend of ours from Denver named John Macy who has engineered a couple of records for us. He came up with his big old hard-disc rig and a bunch of great vintage mikes, and we just kind of hunkered down. We only recorded there for about a week, but managed to get down 8 of the 12 tracks that are on the record."

Keeping with the sense of renewal and rejuvenation that permeates the new album, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band recorded "Welcome to Woody Creek" without a record deal and then decided to shop it around.

Hanna had heard good things about the boutique Nashville label Dualtone, and this new relationship has proved the perfect fit.

"I had my eye on them for a while," Hanna says. "There are guys that are part of our management team in Nashville that had worked with them in the past, and they had given them really high marks. We really like the vibe of the music that comes out of that label and their grassroots approach to promoting records and distributing them."

"They were very hands off when it came to the production, which we appreciated," he adds. "In fact, essentially we turned it in and said 'here's the record."

Not wanting to lose any of the rustic feel created at Ibbotson's mountainside retreat, the band searched out a legendary studio back in Music City to complete the record.

"We then came to a studio here in Nashville called Quad, which also has a great history to it," says Hanna. "Neil Young recorded a lot of 'Harvest' there ... Dylan and Fogelberg and a bunch of great folks have also come through there. They had a long list on the wall at the studio, and it was pretty amazing. It definitely had more of an old-timey vibe too, and we enjoyed that. Just getting off the clock a bit, which is how we used to make records, and that was really refreshing."

When it comes to keeping things fresh while on stage, Hanna says that it's about achieving a balance between the old and the new songs, and between keeping the band members happy and their longtime fans satisfied.

"The stuff that's most fun for us to play is the brand new stuff," he says. "As much as we enjoy playing the new music, audiences really love the classic stuff. So we go out and play 4-5 songs on average from the new album, and that's a nice taste."

"We try to make our concerts something for everybody, including us," Hanna continues. "We want to have a good time or it's a waste of everyone's time. As a fan, I hate going to see somebody, and they virtually ignore their old stuff, that's always frustrating ... it drives me crazy. The extreme of that is that you go see somebody, and they are just sleepwalking through these old songs that they are obviously tired of, so it's finding that balance."

If the new album is any indication, it looks like the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band are managing that balance quite well. "Welcome to Woody Creek" features a couple of choice covers, along with the 10 original tracks.

One cover is a foot-stomping, bluegrass version of the Beatles' "Get Back." Hanna reveals that the group used this classic Fab Four hit as their sound check song throughout the recording sessions.

"We had actually been playing that version of 'Get Back' on stage since the late seventies...just messing around and audiences really seemed to enjoy it," he says. "When John (McEuen) started playing with us again, one of the first things we did was to bring that back into the fold. We got into the studio and did it in like two takes, and it sounded great, and we said 'okay we got the first track.'

"It's kind of strange doing covers," Hanna adds. "We have always enjoyed playing them, and we have recorded quite a few over the years...Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers and stuff like that, but it gets a little sacred with the Beatles...but they are just as fair game as everybody else."

The other cover on the new album is Gram Parsons' "She." It's a warm reworking sung by Carpenter that features harmonies that only the Nitty Gritty boys can create.

"The Band was a big influence on us," Hanna explains. "When we came up with that arrangement, we were thinking in terms of how would The Band do it. I think it worked out pretty well with the mandolin, the accordion and the harp."

Elsewhere, the harmonies are as sweet as ever; especially on the country ballads "Jealous Moon" and "Old Time's Sake." Hanna likens choosing the rest of the songs for the Woody Creek sessions to shopping. "It's just kind of like going into a shoe store," he says. "You try to get the stuff that is comfortable or stuff that you know you can at least break in after a week or so."

The album closes with an earthy acoustic instrumental - "Midnight at Woody Creek" by McEuen (acoustic guitar) and Fadden (harmonica), which displays their accomplished playing, and perfectly captures the spirit of the band's mountainside retreat - showing that these old timers only get better with age.

So, beyond promoting the new disc, what's next for these old timers?

"We have some ideas banging around," concludes Hanna. "We would like to put a box set together and some of the folks at other record companies that we have worked at in the past are talking about other compilations...sometimes stuff comes out without our input - these greatest hits records and stuff, usually they are more successful when we're hands on, so we are going to try some of that going on again, which would be a cool thing."

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