How many more acoustic albums do we have to listen to?
What began as a neat idea to get seemingly electric bands to strip down and show their roots has become an exploding trend, often exploited by aging rock dinosaurs to jump start their waning careers.
With such a glut of “unplugged” releases clogging record stores these days, what possessed the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, which plays Kelly’s Grand Ole Opry on Saturday, to record the aptly titled “Acoustic” last year?
Easy: to show the rest of the world how an unplugged album is done. After all, acoustic-fired roots music is what built Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s long-lived legacy.
In fact, the band, whose four members include vocalist-guitarist Jeff Hanna, vocalist-drummer Jimmie Fadden, vocalist-bassist-guitarist-mandolin player Jimmy Ibbotson and vocalist-keyboardist-accordion player Bob Carpenter, played a major part in shaping the California folk-rock scene.
In the early days, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band associated with such luminaries as Buffalo Springfield, the Byrds and Crosby, Stills and Nash.
The band had a stint backing Linda Ronstadt and folkie Jackson Browne was an original member. During the late ‘60s and ‘70s it was embraced as a rock band, one that even toured with Aerosmith.
But after moving to Nashville more than two decades ago, the group, then a five-piece, maintained a level of folk music in its sound while veering more toward country.
The band’s legendary recording “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” surely hinted at the band’s forthcoming evolution. The album, a collection of traditional American songs that featured numerous guests, yielded a country hit with the song “I Saw the Light,” a duet with Roy Acuff. The album went on to sell millions of copies and is still considered an essential Nitty Gritty Dirt Band release.
By the 1980s, the band, garnering both loyal country and rock fans, made country music its focus.
In 1990, 20 years after “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” the Nashville band released “Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Volume 2.” Like its predecessor, this album was also a collection of old folk songs. It featured such guests as Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, John Hiatt and ex-Byrds Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman.
Even though the band has changed approach over time, folk-based, acoustic-oriented music has been constant in its sound.
So, recording “acoustic” was not only warranted but necessary, to show unplugged music’s new generation of fans what acoustic music has always been about.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Nitty Gritty Dirt Band Location and time: Kelly’s at State Line, Saturday, 8 p.m. Tickets: $15