Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s upcoming concert harvests more than 50 years of music
New album pays tribute to Bob Dylan
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band invites Park City fans to roll up their sleeves and dig into more than 50 years of music on Friday, Aug. 5, at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
“When you come to a Dirt Band show, you will most likely hear the song you want to hear,” said Jeff Hanna, the band’s singer, guitarist and co-founder. “There’s plenty from the pop career back and plenty of music from the country years.”
Hanna promised fans would hear songs that include the band’s first Top 10 hit, a cover of Jerry Jeff Walker’s “Mr. Bojangles” to “Fishing in the Dark,” as well as some cuts from the trademark “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” album trilogy, and the new album “Dirt Does Dylan,” the band’s tribute to Bob Dylan.
“We don’t do a ton of stuff from the album, and it’s not like you’re laying a brand new song on everybody,” he said. “It’s like giving an old spot a fresh coat of paint. It’s been a blast.”
“Dirt Does Dylan” has been in the works since before the coronavirus pandemic, when Hanna and longtime keyboardist Bob Carpenter began listening to songs by “Rock ‘n’ Roll’s Poet Laureate.”
“Before COVID came along, I tore my achilles tendon and a bunch of muscles and was in a boot for three months and was kind of out of commission at the end of 2019,” Hanna said. “The idea of doing an album of songs by one person, sounded good. So, Bob and I started sending each other songs.”
According to Hanna, the two started with around 80 and had cut the list to about 40 by the time the whole band finally got into the studio in early March of 2020.
“We sat around with acoustic guitars and ran through them to see how they sounded,” he said. “We knew pretty quickly which ones would work. Some were a little tough to shoehorn into what we do, but some of the stuff felt like putting on old and comfortable shirts.”
The band — Hanna, Carpenter, drummer, harmonica player and original member Jimmie Fadden, bassist Jim Photoglo, fiddle and mandolin player Ross Holmes, and guitarist Jaime Hanna, who happens to be Hanna’s son — cut the list down to 40 and ended up recording 13 songs.
Then the world stopped, Hanna said.
“Everything got derailed when COVID-19 shut the music industry down the weekend of Friday, March 13,” he said. “We all went to different corners of the country. Bob lives in Los Angeles, Jimmy lives in Florida, and the other four of us live in Nashville.”
After a few months of lockdown, Hanna and the album’s producer Ray Kennedy, who has worked with Lucinda Williams and Steve Earle, sneaked back into the studio and pulled up the recordings.
“There was a lot of good stuff,” Hanna said. “So, we started chipping away and started doing overdubs and vocals.”
The two had completed eight songs by the time the band reconvened in the late summer of 2021 to finish the album.
“We cut two more tracks — ‘Forever Young’ and ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright’ — and put a few finishing touches on the others,” Hanna said. “Then in the winter of 2021, we mixed it all and found a partner to release the album.”
The album features an array of guests, including Jason Isbell, Rosanne Cash, Michael Trotter Jr. and Tanya Trotter of The War & Treaty, Steve Earle, Rebecca and Megan Lovell from Larkin Poe and Rosanne Cash.
“‘The Times They Are a Changin’ was a natural,” he said. “It’s an anthem, as it were. So everybody on that track were folks we knew, and have, at one time or another, have said how great it would be to record with one another.”
Cash had appeared on the second “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” album, and fellow singer-songwriter Emmylou Harris introduced the Dirt Band to The War & Treaty.
“We met Michael and Tanya Trotter at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in 2018, and we became immediate friends,” Hanna said. “When you meet somebody you admire personally, and then connect musically as well, it always comes down to ‘We’ve got to do something. We need a ‘collab,’ you know?”
While Isbell, The War & Treaty and Larkin Poe recorded their vocals on site in Nashville, Cash and Earle recorded their vocals in New York.
“We all came out of folk music, where people would sit around in dressing rooms and play together all the time, so to do this was a natural extension of that back-porch kind of vibe,” Hanna said. “Most musicians I know love doing that. The hardest thing is scheduling.”
“Dirt Does Dylan” is the first studio recording for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s current lineup.
“Jimmie and I have been there since day one,” Hanna said. “Bob came along with ‘Make A Little Magic’ in the 1980s, and was with us through all the country hits.”
Photoglo has played bass with the band since 2016, and Holmes joined in 2018.
“Jim is also the co-writer of ‘Fishing in the Dark,’ I might add, and Ross, whose background includes Mumford & Sons and Bruce Hornsby, is a great mandolinist, my gosh,” Hanna said. Then there’s Hanna’s son Jamie, who joined at the same time as Holmes.
“He’s played in some killer bands like The Mavericks and the Gary Allen Band,” Hanna said. “It’s so great having him on stage with us, and it’s a gas playing music with your family.”
After nearly 55 award-winning years in the music business playing different styles ranging from pop, folk and country, Hanna and the band have no plans of slowing down.
“We’re all at retirement age, as they say, but looking at the world, I don’t think anybody likes that idea,” he said. “It’s all about the idea that you have this purpose to carry out, and we’re so lucky we have a job that we love. As long as we’re healthy we’ll be out there doing this.”
Plus, Park City isn’t a bad place to play on a Friday night.
“We lived in Colorado for many years, and the mountains of Utah and the mountains of Colorado are family, first cousins at least,” Hanna said. “So Park City is a super comfortable scene for us. Sometimes we do need to grab a tank of oxygen, because it’s been a long time since we’ve lived in the Rockies. A lot of us are flatlanders, now. But so far, so good.”
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