In 1972, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band did what was -- at least to some -- very unthinkable at the time. The band, which many viewed as part of the counter-culture movement of the times, teamed up with many of the pioneers of country and bluegrass music for the legendary album "Will The Circle Be Unbroken?".
The three-album set peaked at No. 4 on the Country Albums chart that year, and inspired multiple generations of music fans throughout the four decades that have passed. There were also sequels to the set released in 1989 and 2002. But, that original disc continues to be the one that defines the group's musical legacy.
The original "Circle" has just been re-issued in vinyl form, with the commemorative edition featuring the original, platinum-certified triple album on 180-gram vinyl, presented in faithfully restored gatefold packaging with an exclusive poster.
"We've been hearing for a long time from people at the autograph table after the show that 'My original version of the album has worn out," longtime member Jimmie Fadden told Billboard. "Of course, the digital CD compilation is out there, but we took that to heart. It's a beautiful piece of work. It's true to the original form -- if not better."
What comes to mind when he listens to the album all these years later? "I'm amazed I played that well," he says with a laugh. "What comes to mind is how fresh it still sounds, and the spirit and enthusiasm that we did this in."
Though the set is referred to now as legendary, in 1972 the mixture of musicians represented was very much cutting-edge. Fadden says that paying homage to the past was important to the band. "I think we all wanted to honor the sources of our inspiration. At some point, things like that started to happen with some 'Super Sessions' albums featuring blues greats. I think we were aware of who inspired us musically, and we loved talking about that and sharing that with people."
One of the most unique aspects of recording the album was that most of what you hear were first or second takes. Fadden says it couldn't have worked any other way. "The spirit of the album was that we're getting together and jamming, and it's live. It was also two-track, so there's not a lot of tracks for each individual instrument that we could later mix into one two-track mix, which was what was common in multi-track recording. But, this was skipping that process, and going straight to stereo. Any more than two takes would have killed the spontaneity."
The project paired the group with some of Music City's most legendary musicians, such as Roy Acuff. Fadden remembers that the "King of Country Music" was a little unsure about the album – and the band during the recording process. "At that time, it was interesting. He exhibited a minor distrust for the whole thing. He wasn't quite sure who we were underneath all the hair that we had."
Another legend whose work was front and center on the album was "Mother" Maybelle Carter, of whom Fadden remembered fondly. "I got to tune her auto-harp, which was a real honor. She was a guiding light for us, not only with her self-created guitar style, but also a connection to the roots of real country music. All the songs that AP Carter brought to the audience was a singular work from her biological family. It brought us all to the understanding of our rural musical history."
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band will be at a familiar place in 2013. "We're back on the road again, for our 47th season," says Fadden. "We were up in the northeast before the big snowstorm. We're doing MerleFest this year. That's always a big deal for us."
- Country