Nitty Gritty Dirt Band - Will the Circle Be Unbroken

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band: Will the Circle Be Unbroken - Part 1

Album #160 - July 1972

Episode date - September 1, 2021

The Alternative Top 40
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    In the seventies, the generation gap was at its most severe.

    On one side were children of the depression who lived through a world war and were immensely proud of their patriotism and the lives that they built out of such turmoil. The ideal was to blend in. Fashion and hair styles were more or less defined. Along with church on Sunday, a job, a house and a car provided enough reason to live.

    On the other side were children born in the fifties, a comfortably predictable decade that almost affirmed the American Dream, which left that generation restless and searching for meaning. Assimilation was no longer important, so fashion and hair styles had no boundaries. Distrust for authority and rebellion came naturally. “Because I said so” no longer worked. In the aftermath of the turbulent sixties, lines were drawn in the sand.

    Each side had serious distrust for the other, and this was the scene that defined the spirit of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken”. 

    Few institutions were more conservative than the Grand Ole Opry. It was a beacon of tradition, and by the seventies, the old guard could see their ways slipping away. The mountain music of the Carter Family, Doc Watson and Earl Scruggs had given way to a slicker type of ‘country’ music that relied heavily on production. Despite the changes, Nashville put up a wall that made it virtually impossible for outsiders to enter the fold.

    The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band had tremendous respect for the rich musical tapestry of American music that came of age in the previous generation. Being young and ambitious, they got the idea that they should collaborate with these fading legends, but the feelings were originally far from reciprocal. When the idea was presented, reactions were suspicious or downright dismissive. What subversive scheme were these California longhairs up to? When Bill Monroe was asked to participate, he flat out refused to have anything to do with the project, but in some corners, resistance wore down as it became apparent that the purpose of the project was not about manipulation, but respect. They soon recognized that the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band didn’t want to make a psychedelic hillbilly record. They wanted to make old-fashioned American music, the type that existed before Nashville became big business.

    Side by side, the two generations played their way through a series of standards, and the results were beautiful and often quite moving. “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” did more to break down generational distrust than just about any other album before or since. One of its best features is the dialogue between the tracks and the false starts, making it feel about as spontaneous as it actually was. It destroyed the stereotypes of the drug-addled hippie and the cornpone hayseed offered by ‘Hee Haw”. Musicians like Merle Travis, Roy Acuff and Vassar Clements (and those mentioned above) were humanized for a younger generation, and decades-old classic songs like “Wabash Cannon Ball”, “Dark as a Dungeon” and the title track were revitalized. In the wake of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken,” traditional music became a key ingredient in contemporary styles. By embracing the past, this album connected an entire generation to the roots of its own influences.

    Feature Tracks Include:

    Grand Ole Opry Song

    Keep on the Sunny Side

    Nashville Blues

    You Are My Flower

    The Precious Jewel

    Dark as a Dungeon

    Tennessee Stud

    Black Mountain Rag

    Wreck on the Highway

    The End of the World

    July 1972 - Billboard Charted #68

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