Almost 50 years since the release of their iconic Will the circle be unbroken album, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band looks back not just on their legacy, but on that of another iconic and historic singer-songwriter with their latest project.
The Reconfigured Dirt Band Honors Bob Dylan’s Life and Music Catalog With Their Latest Effort Dirt makes Dylanout May 20. With new members Ross Holmes (fiddle), Jim Photoglo (a bassist who co-wrote the band’s hit song “Fishin’ In The Dark”) and Jaime Hanna (guitar) joining co-founding member Jeff Hanna (guitar ), Jimmie Fadden (drums) and Bob Carpenter (keyboards), the band remains firmly rooted in its past while adapting and evolving into the future.
That sentiment rubbed off on their latest collection of songs, which was born out of the band’s desire to recognize the work of a seminal artist, Dylan’s name being the first that came to mind. According to the elder Hanna, the band initially had a list of their 100 favorite Dylan songs which they whittled down to 40, eventually saving 10 for what he described as Vol. 1, hinting at the possibility of more projects like Dirt makes Dylan to come.
“He’s been making music that’s been in our DNA since we were kids,” Jeff Hanna told The Boot. “I first saw him perform live at a high school in my hometown of Long Beach, California when I was just a teenager in 1964. All he had for the show was his harmonica and his guitar. I was already a fan of his by then, but seeing him in concert really sealed the deal for me. Many of the songs we chose to record on this project were ones that me and other band members grew up on.
Dirt makes Dylan pays homage to all parts of the Minnesota-born songwriter’s discography, from the 1963 hit “Girl From The North Country” to her second album Bob Dylan coasting to 1974’s “Forever Young” planet wavesand 1969’s “Country Pie” Nashville Skyline. However, the first track released from the project was a memorable cover of the timeless 1964 hit “The Times They Are a-Changin'” which was released in February 2021. The band was eager to put new music out into the post-COVID world. -19 the pandemic caused their planned studio time to be unexpectedly pushed back.
“We just wanted to release one of the songs,” says Hanna. “This song is always so timely to capture change no matter what’s going on in the world.”
Featuring performances by Jason Isbell, The War & Treaty, Steve Earle, Rosanne Cash, the track is every bit as timeless as its original while providing a hard-hitting change into the present. The band released the song as a charity single to benefit Feeding America in hopes of helping food insecure families during the pandemic. As of this article’s publication date, the song has earned over $5,000 in donations.
During our conversation, Hanna – who has considered herself a fan of Dylan’s music for longer than Nitty Gritty has existed – reveled in the diversity of the artist’s catalog contained in Dirt makes Dylan. The track list ranges from history-changing hits like the aforementioned “The Times They Are a-Changin'”, the gospel-infused collaboration effort with Larkin Poe “I Shall Be Released”, to the jug-influenced band. Country Pie.
“That’s the thing with Dylan, on any record of him you can find something remarkably deep right next to something remarkably non-serious like ‘Rainy Day Women #12 & 35’ (“Everyone has to get high”),” says Hanna. “His music is like a big combo platter or gumbo filled with all your favorite items in one dish that tastes like pure heaven. We wanted this disc to be an overview of all the places Dylan has been, although in reality we could probably record three volumes of this and still have a long way to go to document all the places he has traveled during his legendary career. .
Although “I Shall Be Released” and “The Times They Are a-Changin'” are the only collaborative efforts on Dirt makes Dylan, the group has long welcomed this element of experimentation into the group. This is undoubtedly what helped to propel the years 1972 Will the circle be unbrokenwith sit-ins from Vassar Clements, Roy Acuff, Maybelle Carter, Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs, Randy Scruggs and Merle Travis, among others.
Dirt makes Dylan marks the first time Jeff Hanna stepped into the studio with his son Jaime to record together. According to Jeff, the couple often talked about joining forces on a musical project, but his own work with Nitty Gritty and Jaime’s busy schedule on the road with Hanna-McEuen (a duet with his first cousin Jonathan McEuen, the son of Nitty Gritty co-founding member John McEuen), The Mavericks and Gary Allan made it too hard to pin down. Things changed when Jaime joined the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band as an official member in 2018.
“We talked about recording together for years, but when this opportunity came along, we knew we had to jump on it because the proverbial clock is ticking, they say,” Hanna jokes. “Jaime has carved out a very good place for himself in the group, as has Ross. [Holmes] and Jim [Photoglo]. As a fan, I understand how hard changes with bands can sometimes be, but I love giving opportunities to new people because it’s inevitable that original lineups won’t last 50 years. There will always be an ebb and flow of people wanting to leave and do different things, which I respect. I’m just lucky to keep making music, and doing it with my son is even more enjoyable.
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