The Number of the Beast

Matching a country rock outfit with acoustic titans would hardly raise an eyebrow in today's tribute-happy environment, where diverse styles and generations are commonly intertwined.

Matching a country rock outfit with acoustic titans would hardly raise an eyebrow in today's tribute-happy environment, where diverse styles and generations are commonly intertwined. But in 1971, hooking up Nitty Gritty Dirt Band with such legends as Mother Maybelle Carter, Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson, Jimmy Martin, Merle Travis, and Roy Acuff was damn near revolutionary and a credit to open minds on both sides of the fence. The result was nothing short of genius, with the "longhaired West Coast boys" in the Dirt Band paying reverent homage to their heroes while tossing in many a spicy lick of their own. The relaxed, "turn the machine on" renditions of such unpretentious gems as Carter's "Keep on the Sunny Side," Travis' desolate "Dark as a Dungeon," and Watson's "Tennessee Stud" are a treasure. Crack instrumentals abound, particularly on disc two, including "Nashville Blues," "Black Mountain Rag," and a wistfully brilliant "The End of the World." Appalachian fatalism rears its head on "Wreck on the Highway" and traditional country is well represented with "Losin' You (Might Be the Best Thing Yet)." Reverence for things rootsy is trendy today, which is fine; but the concept had Dirt all over it in 1971.—RW