Nitty Gritty Dirt Band - Speed of Life

When you get to the lauded level that the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band has gotten to, it's easy to 'coast' with new releases that don't really have any difference from what's found in past recordings.  Thankfully, the NGDB isn't that kind of band.

The album opens with “Tulsa Sounds like Trouble to Me”, penned by Shawn Camp and Mark D. Sanders, which paints a picture of painting the town red where sin appears nearly irresistible. No matter how old we get, those same urges will forever stir our souls; it’s in our DNA. “The Resurrection” speaks of entirely different town trouble, however. Instead of spotlighting a city as some sort of personal pleasure center, this sadly beautiful tune details a place nearly in ruins. With its impatience for civic health, this city may well be a metaphor for our country (or the world, for that matter) during the current recession.

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band has always had a long memory of country music’s treasured past, and that comprehension and appreciation is best exemplified here with “Jimmy Martin”, a song about one of Bill Monroe’s greatest sidemen. And speaking great musicianship, John McEuen shows off his 5-String banjo work with the instrumental, “Lost in the Pines”.

McEuen’s banjo prowess is also put to good use on this disc’s title track. Young people cannot understand how fast life moves; only those that have lived a little get it. “Speed Of Life”, with its pretty piano and banjo, is the kind of song that will stop you in your tracks if you listen to it late at night. It might even make you say, ‘Wow, where did all the years go?’ “Amazing Love” is equally contemplative. It comes with this not-so-subtle warning: Don’t miss out on amazing love! Sometimes the speed of life causes us to get so caught up in it all, we miss the deep love right under our very own roofs.

You get the feeling Speed of Life is a serious CD, for the most part you’re correct. However, the band also covers “Stuck in the Middle”, an old Gerry Rafferty song that is lighthearted. Their bluegrass-y spin gives it even more down home-y-ness than the original, if such a thing is even possible. And if you like banjo, McEuen’s solo on this one is particularly sharp. “Earthquake”, where world shaking is referred to as “the devil’s locomotion,” at least feels happy with its snappy western swing groove. Earthquakes are never happy, though. I should know because I live in Southern California.

Speed of Life closes with “Good To Be Alive”, which ends the recording with a swaying, Cajun vibe. It’s as if to say, even with all the darkness and despair in this world, it’s still good to be alive. Granted, many moments during this disc won’t make you feel particularly good to be alive. But life itself is sometimes its own reward. Ah, but it’s over so fast.