Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
t would be easy to be cynical about a group like the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Still plying its musical wares and no longer a factor on the charts, they could be accused of surviving and living on their past.
But that would be cutting the band, which started in Long Beach, Cal. in 1966, short. Very short. With an excellent new album ("Dirt Does Dylan") out earlier this year, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band showed it still has something very much to say in its sixth decade together.
There was a lot to like about the sold-out show from the songs to the singing to the musicianship.
NGDB could have relied solely on their hits, and maybe it seemed like they would when lead singer Jeff Hanna launched the night with Dylan's "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere." In reality, this was the table setter because here – and throughout - there was a freshness to the delivery (Interestingly, the song does not appear on "Dirt Does Dylan").
That started with Hanna, whose voice remains well intact at 75. But he was far from a one-man band. He also has an affable, easy going stage presence, telling a few yarns. His son, Jaime, took lead vocals on a fine reading of Dylan's "Girl From the North Country." Drummer and harp player (he'd sometimes play them at the same time) Jimmie Fadden and keyboardist Bob Carpenter also took turns on lead vocals, capably spreading the love.
And as for the music, each of these guys could play, especially Jaime Hanna on electric guitar and fiddle/mandolin ace Ross Holmes. He soared near the end with "Orange Blossom Special" in a spirited display.
NGDB truly crafted the songs – adding the right coda here or switching up the instrumentation there. Perhaps one of the least known songs of the night, "Ripplin' Waters" from 1975's "Symphonion Dream," was one of the standouts with an elongated, muscular take.
And they also closed strong with the 10-minute plus encore of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" (oh, those harmonies!) segueing into The Band's "The Weight."
The one complaint? At only two songs, the group gave extremely short shrift to "Dirt Does Dylan." There were any number of songs that could've, should've been played from it – "I Shall Be Released," "The Times They Are A-Changin'," "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" and "Quinn the Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn)" - but why they didn't was a mystery. One suspects fans would have readily given up the band's take on Hank Sr.'s "Honky Tonkin'" for "Forever Young" (note: the first song played over the speakers when the concert ended was "Quinn"). Or, heck, play them both.
Hopefully next time. Decades on, though, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band was it was forever young.