Monday, September 17, 2012

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band-Speed of Life

Speed of Life
With "Speed of Life," the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band has released one of the finest albums of its long and storied career. After a 5-year hiatus from the studio (a stretch longer than the entire lifespan of most recording acts), this group nearing its 45th anniversary has clearly gained a whole new head of steam.

Grammy awards may sit on their mantels and multi-platinum records may hang on their walls, but Jeff Hanna, John McEuen, Jimmie Fadden, and Bob Carpenter have decided not to rest on their much-deserved laurels.

Like most of the few remaining acts that began in the 1960s, the band could have lived out the rest of its days on the road, playing all of those chart hits for crowds of contented listeners. But these four musicians seem to think they still have something to prove - and with "Speed of Life," the proof that they're still a viable musical force today is evident in every single song on the album.

Hearing Fadden's chugging harmonica at the beginning of the first track, "Tulsa Sounds Like Trouble to Me," is like getting a call from a long-lost friend. In fact, throughout the entire album there's a sense of the familiar bordering on the nostalgic - but it can't be nostalgia if it's brand new - and that's the beauty of this band and this CD.

John McEuen shows off his composing and banjo-playing skills on "Lost In The Pines." Bob Carpenter takes the lead vocals on "Somethin' Dangerous" and "Earthquake." One has an almost involuntarily compulsion to turn up the volume when Jimmie Fadden and the band perform a rousing version of the old Canned Heat chestnut, "Going Up The Country." Fadden also takes the lead on "Tryin' To Try" - a song he co-wrote with Texas legend Guy Clark.

All of the other songs on this 13-track collection feature founding member Jeff Hanna on lead vocals, including "The Resurrection" - the prime standout in an album filled with standouts. Even though it tugs at the heart, "The Resurrection" is ultimately a song of hope. Co-written by Alice Randall and Hanna's wife, Matraca Berg, "The Resurrection" captures the essence of much of America at this point and time in history - and the song's title captures the best possible description of the disposition of the band that's performing it.

America loves a comeback story, and "Speed of Life" is all the evidence needed to prove that the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band has come back once more. The group has defied time, the odds, categorization, and a lengthy recording hiatus to come roaring back with perhaps the best album of the year - genres be damned.

Critics have been guilty of attempting to pigeonhole the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band into a specific musical category for over 40 years now. Call it country; call it country rock; call it Americana. It really doesn't matter. In this particular case, let's simply call it joyous music because it's clear these guys were having a great time making this record, and it's absolutely guaranteed to bring joy to all of those who listen to it.

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