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Published: 2004/09/30
by Mike Greenhaus

Welcome to Woody Creek – Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

Dualtone Records 80302-01176-2
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band only began recording Welcome to Woody Creek last February, yet the roots of the veteran quintet’s latest CD can be traced back a good 25 years. In 1971, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band relocated just outside Aspen, Colorado, to the small town of Woody Creek. An old-time mining community (and home of Hunter S. Thompson), located just a ski trail away from Aspen’s high-society mix of art and athletics, Woody Creek offers a comfortable solace for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s California-bred country cuts. Quickly absorbing the small town’s flair for bluegrass, zydeco, and bar rock, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band has long since cemented its sound, taking bits and pieces of Woody Creek’s community around the country. So, as a tribute to their adopted hometown, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s latest album offers listeners a glimpse into Woody Creek itself, by presenting a polished collection of the quaint town’s most popular sounds.
Taking up shop in guitarist Jimmy Ibbotson’s Woody Creek house eight years ago, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band grew a handful of this album’s tracks grassroots style, before returning this spring to begin recordings. Opening with "Walkin’ in the Sunshine," Welcome to Woody Creek evokes the sunny, good-time feel which no doubt characterizes their hometown. ‘I never knew what love could do,’ Jeff Hanna sings after a welcoming harmonica solo on ‘Walkin’ in the Sunshine.’
And, for 45 minutes on Welcome to Woody Creek, this blissful line doubles as the NGDB’s thesis. Stringing this breezy California-by-Colorado message through 12 country-rock tracks, the NGDB dip into their local roots on each relatively straightforward country-rock number. Highlighting Jimmy Ibbotson’s accordion playing, ‘Forever Don’t Last’ is the disc’s most heavily influenced zydeco number, while ‘Party on the Mountain’ finds its feet in more traditional bluegrass territories. ‘Its Morning’ is among the album’s twangiest tracks, a gentle old-time number which unintentionally nods to Ricky Skaggs. Yet the album’s highlight is a reworking of The Beatles’ ‘Get Back,’ transformed into a country-rock bar anthem without losing its gritty swing. Though slight stylistic variances touch-up each number, the NGDB manage to tie their collection together through a steady series of swirling pedal steels, mandolins, and, of course, the occasional twelve-string guitar.
In fact, for a band whose roots dip into the 1960s, it’s appropriate for a sense of stability to guide the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Welcome to Woody Creek is tried and true country-rock, which nods to the bluegrass fare favored by many modern grassroots musicians without succumbing to its influences. Twenty-five years removed from their California roots, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band have lost touch with contemporary rock and roll trends — and that’s a good thing. The vocal ballad ‘Old Time Sake,’ which is filled with teary, Johnny Cash passion, would seem overblown on modern radio, but here it is endearing. Similarly, the sunshine daydream message which thematically ties Welcome to Woody Creek together reaffirms a message The Byrds lost en route to Nashville. Yet, after venturing away from their country roots in the late 1990s, it’s comforting to know that the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band has returned home to Woody Creek.

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