Nitty Gritty Dirt Band - Will The Circle Be Unbroken - Review
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critics' view

A must have on the shelf of any bluegrass or classic country aficionados, the deluxe repressing of Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s incredibly influential 1972 album, titled Will the Circle be Unbroken is, as deserved, a product in which the primary focus is quality. Released through Capitol Nashville in honor of its 40th anniversary, the triple LP set is pressed on 180-gram vinyl, while remastered from the original analog tapes by Chris Bellman at Bernie Grundman Mastering, and marks the first ever reissue of WTCBU in this format. The process was overseen by the band, resulting in a sonic triumph, while bringing new life to these celebrated songs.

Side A sets the tone, placing country classics beside energetic instrumental pieces. The “Grand Ole Opry Song,” a wise choice as the opener, serves as a roll call for the album’s performers (many of whom are mentioned by name) and features vocals by the “King of Bluegrass,” Jimmy Martin. A traditional piece of Americana follows with “Keep on the Sunny Side,” a tune popularized by the Carter Family in the late 1920s and sung by Mother Maybelle Carter herself on this release. Side A is rounded out with Roy Acuff and Merle Travis performing two of their more solemn original pieces, “The Precious Jewel” and “Dark As A Dungeon,” respectively, with the NGDB providing the instrumental backing.

Side B begins with Jimmie Driftwood’s Grammy-winning “Tennessee Stud,” featuring the incomparable Doc Watson on vocals and guitar. Prior to the start of the song, a conversation is captured on tape between Watson and the NGDB. These small behind-the-scenes moments are part of WTCBU’s allure and, thankfully, the album is full of them. That said, side B’s closer is one of the album’s highlights. Hank Williams’ country classic, “I Saw the Light,” receives a lively rendition, with Roy Acuff manning the microphone; Watson picking at the guitar; and banjo-legend Earl Scruggs plucking the 5-string. The track opens with Scruggs’ rambling banjo melody that weaves between foreground and background as the tune progresses. The song features a series of breaks spotlighting a different instrument after each chorus. First comes Watson’s swift crosspicking style; then a jazzy string bass break via Junior Huskey; and a fiddle break from the talented Vassar Clements.

“I Saw The Light” proved to be the most successful on WTCBU upon initial release, climbing the Billboard country charts, but the song that defines the album is the title track. “Will the Circle be Unbroken” is a who’s who of country luminaries, with Mother Maybelle, Martin, and Acuff each singing a verse while Clements, Watson, and Scruggs each lend their talents to a post-chorus break. The group chorus is sung by nearly 20 voices, and each one of them comes through with beautiful clarity in this format.

NGDB founder John McEuen’s liner notes comment on the quality of the album’s performances: “With Will the Circle be Unbroken we are told we all got it right.”

Noah Mino
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