The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

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Icon Review

by Mark Deming

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band stood apart from the other country-rock bands that emerged in the late '60s and early '70s -- they were more deeply rooted in bluegrass and acoustic sounds than their peers, with banjos and mandolins prominent in their arrangements, and their landmark 1972 album Will the Circle Be Unbroken was a stronger and more ambitious example of a rock band embracing traditional country music than anything that emerged in the decade. In the '80s, the group's music became more polished and commercial, but the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band comfortably moved back and forth between radio-friendly sounds and the more organic fusion of bluegrass and folk-rock that was their original calling card, and they remain active in the 21st century. Icon is a collection that features 11 songs from their long tenure with Liberty and EMI Records; the set opens with their first major hit, 1970's "Mr. Bojangles," and closes with two tunes from a 1991 concert date, offering a brief but easygoing overview of the NGDB's first two decades of music at their most listenable. [Icon was also released under the title The Best of Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.]

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