Starting the Circle
Side 1, Track 8 – Clinch Mountain Backstep
Side 2, Track 8 – Randy Lynn Rag
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band is best known for its Will The Circle Be Unbroken album, an epic masterpiece that brought together some of the legends of country and bluegrass music with the young upstarts.
Perhaps more than any other tunes on Uncle Charlie and His Dog Teddy, “Clinch Mountain Backstep” and “Randy Lynn Rag” may have established the Dirt Band’s right to be in the same studio with those legends.
While the band often tapped into old-timey music, just as often it was with a wink and a nudge. Even on Uncle Charlie, “Chicken Reel” and “Swanee River” are played for a bit of a laugh, although perhaps more affectionately than on previous Dirt Band albums.
But on “Clinch Mountain,” penned by Ralph Stanley, and Earl Scruggs’ “Randy Lynn Rag,” the young men just play straight up, full tilt – and brilliantly. Stanley is said to have declared, upon meeting a band member, something to the effect of “You’re the boys who played ‘Clinch Mountain Backstep’ the way it was meant to be played.” (Or is that what Scruggs said about their “Randy Lynn Rag”? In either case, both musicians were impressed.)
My favorite side of the three-record Circle album is Side 4, in which the group and their esteemed guests rip through eight of these sweet little instrumentals one after another (Tracks 1-8 on Disc 2 if you’re stuck with the CDs). It’s bluegrass heaven, and in these two Uncle Charlie tracks the NGDB set the stage for that moment as they showed they could keep up with the good old boys.
One of my habits is to listen to Joanna Penn’s “The Creative Penn” podcast every Monday on the way to and from work. It’s an engaging show about writing and self-publishing and the business of self-publishing your writing.
This week’s guest is Beth Buelow, author of a book called The Introvert Entrepreneur. During the course of the interview is mention of a TED Talk by Susan Cain, who wrote a book called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.
Here is Cain’s TED Talk. I listened to the podcast and the talk and discovered stuff about myself that I always knew but always wondered if I had some kind of disorder. Seems I’m just a serious introvert in a world built for serious extroverts.
At least watch the TED Talk. It explains a lot about my quirks, and it may tell you about yours, too.
The Coming of Uncle Charlie and His Dog Teddy
Side 1, Track 4 – Travelin’ Mood
Side 1, Track 5 – Chicken Reel
If you think of an album as a small concert, then after the full-band intensity of the first three songs, it was time to take a breath and do some smaller songs that spotlight individual performers.
Jimmie Fadden’s harmonica dominates “Traveling Mood,” a quiet little blues by New Orleans songwriter James Waynes (who recorded the song as Wee Willie Wayne in 1955) that ambles along with mandolin, bass and drums keeping company. The harmonica punctuates the intro and roars back in for two verses worth of solo. The mouth harp is such an integral part of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band “sound” that it’s hard to imagine them without it.
Then we kick in with fiddle and banjo on a lighthearted 55-second version of the old-time classic “Chicken Reel.” The guys add chicken bawks and squawks and are clearly having fun. It has the feel more of an outtake, as if they kept recording during a break from the serious business of making an album.
These two tracks have the whimsy of the earlier Dirt Band, but the production is up close and personal, emphasizing the humanity of the musicians having fun. The older recordings seemed more like attempts to recapture the way the ancient songs were first recorded on with a single microphone and everyone standing back. Here, everyone is leaning in.
Sufficiently loosened up, next it was time to get back to business, or, as a band member says before the fiddle intro to “Yukon Railroad,” “You got get that convincing …”