“With all due respect to the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers, it took the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band with this album to come up with a merger of rock and country music that worked for both sides and everyone involved” (Eder). “The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, previously known for their country-rock and jug band music” (NRR), “was a young…band with a hippie look” (Wikipedia); “Roy Acuff described them as ‘a bunch of long-haired West Coast boys’” (Wikipedia). “For Will the Circle Be Unbroken, [they] brought together a stellar group of musical giants of country music” (NRR) who were “much older and more famous from the forties, fifties and sixties, primarily as old-time country and bluegrass players” (Wikipedia).
“The recordings, made in Nashville, showcased traditional songs and country music classics” (NRR). The result was “an unprecedented collaboration” (NRR) that “introduced acoustic country music to a new generation of audiences and revived the careers of several of the guest performers” (NRR).
The album’s title “comes from a song by Ada R. Habershon (famously re-arranged by A. P. Carter) and reflects how the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band was trying to tie together two generations of musicians” (Wikipedia). Artists such as “Roy Acuff, Mother Maybelle Carter, Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs, Merle Travis, Bashful Brother Oswald, Norman Blake, and others” (Wikipedia) “had become known to their generation through the Grand Ole Opry. However, with the rise of rock-and-roll, the emergence of the commercial country’s slick ‘Nashville Sound,’ and changing tastes in music, their popularity had waned somewhat from their glory years” (Wikipedia). “With the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band serving as catalyst and intersecting point for all of the talent involved” (Eder), the album “was an all-star country project that worked (and transcended its country and rock origins)” (Eder).
“The opening number, The Grand Ole Opry Song, set the tone for the album, showing that this band – for all of their origins in rock and popular music – was willing to meet country music on its terms, rather than as a vehicle for embellishment as rock music” (Eder)
“This was the first real country album that a lot of rock listeners under the age of 30 ever heard. Thus, it opened up pathways and dialogue in all directions, across several generations and cultural barriers; the dialogue between Doc Watson and Merle Travis alone was almost worth the price of admission” (Eder).
“Every track on the album was recorded on the first or second take straight to two-track masters, so the takes are raw and unprocessed. Additionally, another tape ran continuously throughout the entire week-long recording session, and captured the dialog between the players. On the final album many of the tracks begin with the musicians discussing how to do the song or who should come in where, and provides a rare insight into the workmanship and approach that these highly-regarded musicians used to make their music, and how they decided to work together” (Wikipedia).
“This was also one of rock’s very few multi-disc sets to be fully justified in its length and content; at a time when unnecessary double-LPs were all the rage, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and company gave a triple album that, if anything, left audiences asking for more” (Eder). As a result, “the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band made two subsequent albums, Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Vol. 2 and Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Vol. 3, in an attempt to repeat the process with other historically significant musicians, but these subsequent volumes are not as widely acclaimed as the first. However, Vol. 2 won the Country Music Association’s 1989 Album of the Year” (Wikipedia).