Nitty Gritty Dirt Band - Circlin' Back: Celebrating 50 Years
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Circlin' Back: Celebrating 50 Years (NGDB/Warner, 2016)

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

Reviewed by Kevin Oliver

Fifty years is a long time to do anything, much less keep a band together, but the various lineups of the Dirt Band/Nitty Gritty Dirt Band have managed to reach that milestone as one of the most influential and respected acts in country. To celebrate, the band performed a live concert at the Ryman in Nashville with special guests and former band members present. Highlights from the concert and subsequent DVD release are collected on this enjoyable 18-song set.

There are enough other hits albums from the Dirt Band that there was no pressure here to add to that canon; instead what we get is a parade of other artists playing their own hits with the Nitty Gritty guys. John Prine, a longtime songwriting legend himself, shows up with "Grandpa Was A Carpenter" and the archetypal "Paradise," while Jackson Browne, an early Dirt Band member, delivers "These Days", a song the Dirt Band recorded in 1968, introducing it as "from my 16-year-old brain."

Over the years, the Dirt Band would record many other writers' compositions and have hits themselves; Jerry Jeff Walker joins the band on stage for one such tune, his classic "Mr. Bojangles."

The cameos just keep coming throughout this set, but rather than being distractions, the guests bring different perspectives and approaches to the familiar material. Alison Krauss makes the chestnut "Keep on the Sunny Side" brand new, while the band has some instrumental fun with underrated guitarist Vince Gill on "Tennessee Stud."

Sam Bush, Rodney Crowell, Byron House, Jerry Douglas and longtime Dirt Band member Jimmy Ibbotson round out the guest list, and every one of them is brought up to join the band on their signature classic "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" finale.

While there are no essential performances here and the show sometimes feels too much like what it is - one of those PBS pledge drive specials that cater to nostalgia to get people to cough up their dough - the overall vibe is familial, familiar and finally just a good way to celebrate a worthy group's golden anniversary.

CDs by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

Dirt Goes Dylan, 2022 Circlin' Back: Celebrating 50 Years, 2016 Speed of Life, 2009

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