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Uncle Charlie and His Dog Teddy
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

Liberty LST-7642
Released: November 1970
Chart Peak: #66
Weeks Charted: 32

Jim IbbotsonJohn McEuenLes ThompsonJimmie FaddenJeff HannaSo much of the new country-rock thrown out today is dirge-quality serious. The faces of the artists show the fearful haunted faces of the Civil War. It's probably a reflection of the times, but someone could get the idea that Americans were a grieving, introspective and shattered people. Most of this music is good, but if its purpose is to make a more relevant and "real" American music, then it must show, also, the open and exuberant quality that has marked American music since it began.

Uncle Charlie and His Dog Teddy is a Grade A movie in this direction. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band has cut a varied and vital album with both a sense of history and a smiling face. In theme, and often in sound, it reaches back to that form of Appalachian music that pretty much ceased as an indigenous form long about death of Charlie Poole (1935) or shortly thereafter. With the emergence of modern country music, this kind of boisterous, nasal and downright charming music was relegated to providing incidental music for Hoot Gibson.

This isn't the first time it's been reanimated, but is one of the better jobs. Actually, Uncle Charlie contains about half a dozen musical styles, none of them of musicological purity. But all the cuts, bits and codas, together with the Uncle Charlie interview, come out of a cohesive country comfort.

First, let me tell you about Uncle Charlie. He died a few years ago about age seventy-four at his country home. But he left this tape wherein he coughs up a little history and sings and plays a couple of songs. His dog, Teddy, sings "Rugged Old Cross" (yup, he does). They set the tone.

The Dirt Band does a couple of traditional, instrumental things like "Chicken Reel" and "Clinch Mountain Backstep." They're full and vigorous.

Better, though, are the contemporary songs done with an old-timey flavor. Generally, this sort of thing is about as convincing as an English Pub in Pasadena and often cheapens the material. Here, it enhances it.

For instance, there are two fine Mike Nesmith songs, "Some of Shelley's Blues" and "Propinquity" that are just right for the light treatment dealt by the banjo-rock sound. Randy Newman's "Living Without You" is sad without being heavy. A beautiful song, but usually sung so wistfully that the genuine pathos is destroyed. The Dirt Band makes it both sad and amusing.

They do some straight rock. A Buddy Hollyish "Rave On" and an original, "House at Pooh Corner," that in spite of its story, doesn't cloy.

One of the Dirt Band's strongest points is instrumentation. Each of the five members plays from three to six instruments, all without that boring virtuosity that mars many a modern stab at country. They have a great deal of life, even on their bluegrass stuff, and none of it slavishly follows anything. Once cut, in fact, "Opus 36" is one of the most original things I've heard on the banjo.

Further reading on
Super Seventies RockSite!:

Album Review: Will the
Circle Be Unbroken

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band Lyrics

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band Videos

There are cuts that drag some, and after five or six times you'd wish that Uncle Charlie had died young, but these aren't serious defects. This isn't a great record, but it doesn't try to be. It's an enjoyable record. It might even remind you that Americans could be really enjoyable if they weren't so dangerous.

- Alex Dubro, Rolling Stone, 10/29/70.

Bonus Reviews!

The country/pop style of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band has come up with another good album. An interview and old recording of a Spanish fandango by Uncle Charlie are featured, but this highly talented group has many notable cuts here, including their "Mr. Bojangles" single. Acoustically or rhythmically, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band is equally at home. The cuts are delights vocally and/or instrumentally.

- Billboard, 1970.

This is the album that gave them a career. Their laidback mix of country and California folk gave a breezy feel to well-selected songs, including their million-selling version of Jerry Jeff Walker's "Mr. Bojangles."

- Michael McCall, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

Uncle Charlie and His Dog Teddy includes the group's biggest hit, "Mr. Bojangles," as well as a minor-hit version of Michael Nesmith's great "Some of Shelley's Blues" (recently covered by the Continental Drifters) that's typical of its hippie eclecticism. * * * 1/2

- Gil Asakawa, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

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