Review: Leftover Salmon Tosses Everything Into Their Brew

Leftover Salmon/Brand New Good Old Days/Compass
Four out of Five Stars

Leftover Salmon have never made it easy for those pundits who may be determined to put an easy handle on their sound. In a career that spans over 30 years, the Colorado-based collective has gleefully blended a varied combination of bluegrass, rock, prog, jazz, and jamband sensibilities, while helping to create a new genre entirely, one loosely defined as “jam grass.”

In essence, it’s a populist precept that garners an overriding appeal from festival followers that have come to relish the instrumental dexterity shared on stage. And while it taps into certain traditions, specifically the fallow roots shared by the Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers, Phish and others of their ilk, it’s also given rise to any number of fellow travelers—Greensky Bluegrass, Railroad Earth, Trampled By Turtles, Yonder Mountain String Band, and the Steep Canyon Rangers, among them.

Appropriately then, Leftover Salmon’s new album, the aptly-dubbed Brand New Good Old Days, is, in many ways, a return to their roots, one that finds them reunited with Compass Records, the label that helped boost their stature a decade ago, and, as befitting that company’s stylistic stance, putting the focus on the mountain music they’ve favored all along.  They acknowledge their early origins in the freewheeling “Boogie Grass Band,” a song that deftly sums up the impact of those initial influences. So too, their commitment to the cause remains intact throughout the entire album, from the deliberate and demonstrative “Red Fox Run” to the straight-on shuffle of “Flyin’ At Night” and the down-home ramble of the title track and the easy stride taken with “Waterfront.”          . 

That’s not to say they refrain from tossing in some unexpected entries as well. A rousing bluegrass take on Soundgarden’s others morose “Black Hole Sun” finds them as adventurous as ever, while the subdued “Sunday,” penned by drummer Alwyn Robinson, allows for a more pensive perspective. 

Nevertheless, with all their traditional elements in place—Drew Emitt’s deft mandolin, banjo player Andy Thorn’s well-picked precision, Vince Herman in his role as guitarist and guru, and Robinson and bassist Greg Garrison effectively propelling the backbeat —the momentum rarely falters. Appropriately then, the concluding track, “We’ll Get By,” maintains a mantra of sorts, one that affirms their allegiance to the celebratory style that’s made them the indelible icons they are.

Photo by John-Ryan Lockman/ ShowLove Media

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