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The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

Will The Circle Be Unbroken – 2002 (Capitol)

Reviewed by Rick Bell

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CDs by The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

Much like The Byrds helped open country music to legions of young rock 'n' roll fans, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band similarly turned on thousands of kids onto bluegrass in the early 1970s. No single album - OK, it was originally a three-album set - opened that door more widely than this. Not only was it the long-haired members of the Dirt Band, they enlisted traditional country and bluegrass artists like Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs, Merle Travis and Roy Acuff.

Capitol has dusted off this gem of an album and re-released it in time for its 30th anniversary with a couple of previously unreleased tracks. Normally, unreleased cuts add depth to the original album, but here it's just icing on the cake. "Circle" has withstood the test of time and remains one of the most influential and best-made country records of all-time. Acuff's "Wreck on the Highway" is still a jolt to the nervous system, and Watson's renditions of "Way Downtown" and "Tennessee Stud" are as rollicking as ever.

Mother Maybelle Carter, the bluegrass instrumentals, the singalong finale of the title cut, this is as definitive a country and bluegrass album as ever was made.

As revolutionary as the concept was - the joining of two distinct generations for a sort of hand-me-down session - the use of studio banter throughout the record was a stroke of genius on the part of producer William E. McEuen. The conversation between Watson and Travis is absolutely fascinating. The timing on this re-release couldn't have been any better either. The renewed interest in folk and country thanks to the "O Brother Where Art Thou" soundtrack adds that much more of a boost. As the album cover says, music forms a new circle. Thirty years later, thanks to this album, that's still the case.