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.