Well, this was a natural: an album of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band playing Bob Dylan songs. NGDB founders Jeff Hanna and Jimmie Fadden used to play Dylan tunes together in high school, and it could be argued that Dylan and the Dirt Band emerged from the same musical gene pool—old folk, country, and blues. It’s always fascinating to see what nuggets from Dylan’s enormously deep catalog get chosen for tribute albums, and how they’re interpreted. On Dirt Does Dylan, all but “Forever Young” date back to the ’60s, yet every arrangement feels alive.
I rolled my eyes when I saw “The Times They Are A-Changin’” in the song list, but it’s a strong version that sounds appropriately urgent in this time (aided by guests Steve Earle, Rosanne Cash, et al.) There’s a splendid fingerpicked “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” a rollicking “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You,” an uplifting “I Shall Be Released” (with vocals by Larkin Poe), and a cool, bluesy “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry” highlighted by Fadden’s harmonica. The most pleasant surprise is the haunting “She Belongs to Me,” with Hanna and his guitarist son Jaime really capturing the chilly ambiguity of Dylan’s dark masterpiece in their vocals.
Jeff Hanna says he played a few different “mojo-laden, vintage” acoustics on the album: “Mostly Ray Kennedy’s 1950 Gibson J-45, but also his 1929 National Triolian resonator and his 1934 Gibson L-00 for slide guitar. And my 1951 Gibson Southern Jumbo saw some action as well.”