Will The Circle Be Unbroken

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

Capitol, 1972

http://www.nittygritty.com

REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/13/2022

Sometimes an album is just an album. Sometimes, however, it changes music—even in a small way—forever.

In 1972, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band was a relatively successful country/newgrass band. Now, newgrass is an interesting thing in itself; so it’s time for Music History!

Newgrass started with the New Grass Revival, a band whose luminaries included Sam Bush, John Cowan, and Bela Fleck. NGR looked at bluegrass and said, “How can we spice this up?” So they began covering rock songs, adding instruments such as drums, dobro, and electric guitar, and generally breaking most of the rules Bill Monroe received on the stone tablets. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Surprisingly, it worked. Even more surprisingly, a good deal of traditional bluegrass accepted it and supported it; so much so that when NGDB asked American bluegrass legend Earl Scruggs to record with them, he said yes. Since that went well, they asked other people, and soon luminaries like Mother Maybell Carter, Doc Watson, Roy Acuff, Merle Travis, and Jimmy Martin were on board. Their goal was to tie together three generations of American traditional music and highlight some artists who they felt were underappreciated and forgotten. Thus was born Will The Circle Be Unbroken.

As a social movement or occurrence, it succeeded in highlighting the careers of many traditional musicians. But here at the DV, we do not do social commentary (much). So the question remains:
Is the album any damn good?

TL:DR – yes, but it’s not great. WTCBU is a great example of an album that needed an editor; to stretch to two discs, I feel like they included songs (especially a lot of NGDB-only pieces) that could have been left off. Anything with Doc Watson or Jimmy Martin is great; Mother Maybell Carter gives me chills; and Merle Travis’ collaborations made me want to listen to more Merle Travis. But did we really need another version of “Cannonball Rag”? And why does Roy Acuff always sound just a touch flat?

Are these minor quibbles? Maybe. Is this CD—which was a new generation’s first introduction to many of these brilliant artists—too important to criticize? Maybe. (No.) But listeners should go into this with an open mind, understanding that it is as much… or perhaps more… a piece of history as a piece of music.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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