Nitty Gritty Dirt Band has covered everyone from the Reverend Gary Davis to Stealers Wheels, and now the long-running folk outfit has turned their attention to the most famous folkie of them all with their newest album, Dirt Does Dylan. Tackling ten tracks written by the poet laureate of rock and roll, the group predominantly goes with Dylan’s most well-known efforts, while covering deep cuts like “Santa Fe” or “Caribbean Wind” here.
The group, Jeff Hanna – vocals, guitar, Jimmie Fadden – vocals, drums, harmonica, Bob Carpenter – vocals, keys, accordion, Jaime Hanna – vocals, guitar percussion, Ross Holmes – vocals, fiddle, mandolin, Jim Photoglo – vocals, electric bass, slide into songs, fitting like an old slipper around these classics.
“Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” uses the lyrics from The Rolling Thunder Review version of the song, but stays in the warm acoustic vein, while one of the lesser-known Dylan tracks covered here, “Country Pie”, gets a breezy run through, reminiscent of the original on Nashville Skyline.
The prettiest interpretation finds soft snare work, pleasant strings and rich harmonica supporting Carpenter’s lead vocals during “Girl From The North Country” while the free flowing “She Belongs To Me” is played with a looseness that would improve the majority of the offerings here. The group plays it safe and straight on the drawn-out and non-descript “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry” and the jam that fades out to end “Forever Young” sounds more interesting than the cover itself.
The band invites some friends to spruce things up as Larkin Poe delivers strong vocals to supplement the pianos on “I Shall Be Released” and the star-studded lineup of Jason Isbell, Rosanne Cash, The War and Treaty, and Steve Earle each contribute verses to a stout offering of the epic, “The Times They Are A- Changin’”. On second thought, perhaps covering “Santa Fe” or “Caribbean Wind” would have been a cool move as Nitty Gritty Dirt Band stays close to the chest on Dirt Does Dylan, some variety or freewheelin’ would improve things. As it stands, this collection is a courteous delivery of Bob Dylan classics.