Rodney Dillard got the band back together. As the pieces started to naturally fit for the veteran bluegrass band, whose career spans nearly 60 years since 1963 debut Back Porch Bluegrass, putting out any new music, today, would have to be a labor of love—not rushed. In the end, they had Old Road New Again.
“We didn’t rush into this album because we had to have a new project out, but instead it was a project of love and concern, and it was put together over a period of several years to make a statement and create a true work of art,” Rodney Dillard tells American Songwriter. “The songs were carefully selected to reflect a perspective of 60 years of making music and writing songs.”
The first new music since The Dillards’ 1992 release Take Me Along For the Ride, new single “Take Me Along For the Ride,” is a fitting continuation of band’s story, and legacy. Originally written and recorded nearly 30 years ago by Dillard and bassist Mitch Jayne, who passed away in 2010, “Take Me Along For the Ride” is one of six tracks The Dillards’ longtime band member Herb Pedersen returned on. Pedersen, who also co-founded The Desert Rose Band with original Byrds bassist Chris Hillman, first joined The Dillards during its Wheatstraw Suite and Copperfields era, before parting ways with the band in 1971. Regrouping with The Dillards throughout the years, on Old Road New Again Pedersen brings a classic, textured harmonization that seals the band’s classic sound.
“To me, Herb never really left the band because of his influence on the sound that made the Dillards famous from the Wheatstraw Suite days,” says Dillard. “We have remained friends for all of these years, always ready to find something that we could share. The sound has traveled full circle back to the sound of the Dillards that influenced so many.”
“Take Me Along For The Ride” is timeless, says Dillard. The Dillards are also timeless, and although some time has passed, Dillard has still continued to perform the band’s music live as Rodney Dillard and The Dillard Band.
Still resonating in its lyrics, the swift moving “Take Me Along For the Ride” is caught between a deep unease with the current state of America and an homage the U.S. in its stirring chorus America I love you / I’m glad you caught the train / You left a lot of homeless people waiting in the rain / Hear the voices of the children when they cry.
“To revisit a song written by my longtime friend Mitch Jayne and I was a homage to our past collaborations,” says Dillard, the sole surviving member of the original lineup. “This country was started as an experiment and became an incredible system of government where people had the opportunity to improve themselves. The problems that have always existed in society were there 30 years ago, and I felt like they were becoming more intense today.”
He adds, “Besides all the political inferences, the current Dillards really kick it, giving it an opportunity for a new, younger audience to hear this message.”
Formed by brothers Rodney and Doug Dillard (and the band’s banjoist) in Salem, MO, The Dillards soon relocated to Los Angeles where they first gained notoriety for a recurring appearance as the brothers of a family of reclusive hillbilly performers, The Darlings, on “The Andy Griffith Show.” The Dillards continued to solidify their presence beyond their bluegrass roots by 1968 with their groundbreaking fourth album, Wheatstraw Suite, which found the artists exploring more expansive arrangements wrapped around a country-rock sound.
Teaming up with longtime friend, producer Bil VornDick (Bob Dylan, Alison Krause, Vince Gill), the concept for Old Road New Again, according to Dillard, was to bookend Wheatstraw Suite.
“Wheatstraw Suite was a departure from what was happening musically at the time, and it sort of dealt with love and rural life,” says Dillard. “Old Road New Again was more moving into another musical frontier for me, to blaze another trail.”
After Dillard picked two of the three songs VornDick submitted and recorded them, everything started driving toward Old Road New Again. With Dillard’s wife Beverly penning two tracks, including “Funky Ole Hen,” and also taking on banjo duty, Grammy winning writer John Vezner was also tapped to rewrite a song called “Common Man,” the story of the journey how most people live their lives and look forward, not back.
“It reflects the lives of people in their day to day life and the consequences that come from our decisions,” says Dillard. “Some people don’t, and some people do.”
VornDick ended up working triple duty on Old Road New Again—producing, engineering and mixing the entire album. “I wanted to step back, enjoy myself, and throw myself fully into the experience of recording and enjoy the ride that I took myself along for,” says Dillard.
As everything locked in, The Dillards were left with a collection of 11 old and news songs, with some rewritten to reflect the current times. “Whole World Round” was completely redone to reflect some old and new, while “Save the Last Dance for Me,” is a longtime classic looked at from a bluegrass musical point of view.
Adding more depth to the album, Dillard also pulled in friends Don Henley—who is featured on three of the album’s songs, including the title track (also featuring Bernie Leadon), ”Always Gonna Be You,” and “My Last Sunset”—along with Ricky Skaggs (“Tearing Our Liberty Down”), Sam Bush (“The Whole World Round”), and Sharon and Cheryl White (“Save the Last Dance for Me”).
“I had these specific people in mind, because I have admired what they have contributed to the world through their tremendous talents and successes,” says Dillard, “and because I knew these artists before any of that ever happened.”
While bookending Wheatstraw Suite was the concept, Old Road New Again is really about coming full circle. It’s a more linear evolution the band, reflecting the here and the now. “Wheatstraw Suite was light and whimsical and humorous and Old Road New Again is more serious with its moments of fun,” says Dillard. “Whereas, Wheatstraw Suite added orchestra, drums, and electric instruments to bluegrass, I wanted to go in a new direction. My idea was melding cello with clawhammer banjo, which is classical and old-time, to support the lyrics.”
Old Road New Again is a new beginning for The Dillards. It’s something old. It’s something new, and there’s still that familial tie.
Dillard says, “My friends who agreed to be guests along with Herb adding his talents made the circle unbroken.”