This is a contribution from reader David Jones.
After over forty years in existence, you could forgive the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band a weak album or two. Fortunately, there’s no such need when it comes to the legendary ensemble’s new disc Speed of Life, their first since 2004’s Welcome to Woody Creek.
Of course, such a lengthy tenure for any band means line-up changes, but since the last record this has been limited to the loss of only one member, bass player Jimmy Ibbotson, whose most recent stint in the band began in 1982. Perhaps surprisingly, lead singer and guitarist Jeff Hanna is still up there by the mic after all these years, wrapping his warm tenor vocals around each line with consummate ease.
The opening track, “Tulsa Sounds Like Trouble to Me,” is undoubtedly one of the strongest here. It’s always the way when the first song is particularly good that it raises expectations for all the subsequent ones. Fortunately, we’re talking Nitty Gritty here, and the above-par four-and-a-half minute opus gives way to original member Jimmie Fadden’s delicious harmonica playing on “Brand New Heartache,” where he joins keyboard/mandolin player Bob Carpenter on harmony as Hanna takes the lead on a lushly harmonic chorus. Carpenter takes lead vocals himself on “Something Dangerous,” which features some especially stellar picking, as does multi-instrumentalist John McEuen’s too-short banjo showcase, “Lost In the Pines.”
It would be unfair to compare this latest work to the band’s vintage classics, so I won’t do that. Based upon their own merits, however, tracks like “Earthquake,” “Speed of Life” and particularly “Amazing Love” hold up very well. While other acts might be content to rest on their laurels, Nitty Gritty is not only still out there actively touring but also in the studio crafting worthy additions to its discography.
Although nothing present is particularly commercial – the band hasn’t been chasing the charts since their “Fishing In the Dark” and “Modern Day Romance” era of the eighties – this album will no doubt appeal to their existing legions of fans, and very likely convert some new ones along the way.