Mountain Tracks, v. 4 – Yonder Mountain String Band
Frog Pad Records 106
I first came across Colorado’s Yonder Mountain String Band in 2003 when, on a whim I think, I caught their two-set hoedown at Northampton, MA’s Pearl Street.
Of course, I was not disappointed. They made a lot of noise with just four acoustic instruments and kept me and a roomful of hippies spazzing out for what seemed like hours.
But what really stuck with me was that they covered Zappa’s “I’m the Slime.” Which is not to discount their original material, swell as it is, but one has to take notice when a punky bluegrass outfit takes on a funk/rock cooker like Zappa’s “Slime” and does it justice. That’s not expected.
So here’s my point: these guys have more up their sleeves than your average set of pickers and pluckers. They’re playing bluegrass music, that’s for certain, and they’ve adopted the tools of the trade (banjo, mandolin, guitar and double bass), but their sound is edgier, and further-reaching than your garden variety Bill Monroe tribute band.
So, when I popped in Mountain Tracks: Volume 4, Yonder’s seventh release for Frog Pad Records (“an independent record label created to develop and promote the music of Yonder Mountain String Band”), I was not surprised to hear the Talking Heads’ “Girlfriend Is Better” leading things off. I was pleased, and impressed. It’s not every day that you hear a Stop Making Sense-era showstopper interpreted as an evil folk song, or a Talking Heads song covered well at all.
But, to their credit, Yonder have more to offer than cool covers. Also included on MT, v. 4, an album touting previously unreleased material from shows throughout 2005, are a pair of soothing Ben Kauffman originals, “Looking Back Over My Shoulder” and “River.” The latter, especially, has that timeless quality, stemming from the bass-man’s lyrics.
“I fell backwards when I opened my eyes / Found myself staring straight up in the sky / It seemed like there was something there to learn / When I realized I had nowhere else to be / And the only sound that mattered was the wind that blew so gentle through the trees / Such a harmony down by the river.”
Coolest of all though is the 63-minute bonus DVD documenting their 2003 jaunt through Europe. Watching the Coloradan quartet rock out onstage, give interviews, and lament that fact that most people think Phish wrote “Nellie Kane” when, in fact, Tim O’Brien wrote it, is fun, and interesting, and a great way to top off an excellent record.