A glorious album of Dylan covers from the legendary Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.
What do you get if you mix one of country rock’s finest ever bands with songs from the greatest songwriter of his (or anyone else’s) generation? The answer is the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s 23rd or is it their 24th (who’s counting anyway) album ‘Dirt Does Dylan’. After over 55 years of making music, the NGDB have finally gotten round to releasing an album of Bob Dylan covers and it’s a marriage made in heaven – maybe they should have gone knock, knock, knocking on Bob’s door well before this – but better late than never. There are ten superb tracks although on the whole they’re the usual suspects with the only surprise, the little covered, almost forgotten ‘Country Pie’ from ‘Nashville Skyline’ – the other nine tracks are all from Dylan’s greatest hits collection. But that doesn’t matter as NGDB put their stamp on some of the best loved songs of all time. To quote the band’s Jeff Hana when they decided to do an album paying homage to one artist “There’s an embarrassment of riches as far as (Dylan’s) songs go and the songs cover every possible place you might want to go musically.”
As for the songs themselves, the album opens with ‘Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You’ sung by Hana with harmonies from son Jaime. This is followed by ‘Girl From North Country’ where father and son trade places with Jaime taking the lead. The third track is ‘It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry’ with drummer Jimmie Fadden taking the lead. One of the things that give NGDB their sound is – like The Band – they have a number of lead singers who they mix and match with great aplomb. Track four is the aforementioned ‘Country Pie’ where Jeff is back singing lead but with keyboard player Bob Carpenter joining him. The fifth track is ‘I Shall Be Released’. It’s always hard to hear this song without hearing Richard Manuel’s plaintive, yearning vocals on The Band’s version but here the addition of the Lovell sisters (better known as Larkin Poe) gives the song a whole new take as they give it a bluesy feel accompanied by Megan Lovell on lap steel guitar. That’s followed by ‘She Belongs To Me’ and ‘Forever Young’ both of which have Jeff back on lead vocals.
The eighth song on the album is probably the standout track. ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’’ is now part of our DNA and it’s hard for anyone to give it a new slant and the band doesn’t in their version but they do make it interesting by having some guest vocalists after Jeff sings the first verse. He’s then followed by Jason Isbell, Roseanne Cash, The War And Treaty (Michael and Tanya Trotter) and finally Steve Earl – some line-up. They’re also joined on harmony vocals by Matraca Berg who is Jeff Hana’s wife so making it a family affair with son Jaime now in the band. It’s a hard song to follow but they manage it with an excellent version of ‘Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right’ and the album comes to a rowdy end with a raucous version (can there be any other way?) of ‘Quinn The Eskimo’ with the whole band singing their hearts out.
This latest version of the NGDB with Jeff and Jaime Hana on guitars, Jimmie Fidden on drums, Bob Carpenter on keyboards and accordion, Ross Holmes on fiddle and mandolin and Jim Photoglo on bass carries on the NGDB sound they’ve built over the past fifty plus years. Recorded at Room & Board Studio in Nashville (where else?) and produced by Jeff Hana and Ray Kennedy, ‘Dirt Does Dylan’ is a splendid addition to the band’s extensive catalogue and will bear many listens – and Bob Delevante’s stylish, gritty, dirt cover design should mean they sell lots of vinyl copies as it’s a real work of art in its own right.