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Published: 2008/07/22
by Randy Ray

Long Road – Drew Emmitt

Compass Records 4487

The road may go on forever, but sometimes, it circles back into a sweet place of friendly recognition. Drew Emmitt continues to nurture his Nashville roots after his long stint with Boulders Leftover Salmon, and his recent role in the Emmitt-Nershi band with the String Cheese Incident guitarist/vocalist. On his third solo endeavor, he gathers an all-star crew of country, bluegrass, and rock folks, cutting a hook-lined rug on new material plus three endearingly eccentric coversSupertramp’s "Take the Long Way Home," Van Morrisons "Gypsy in My Soul," and Marshall Tucker Bands "Take the Highway."

Are you recognizing a theme in these selections? Perhaps, the new material will give a better clue: Emmitt, on his favored acoustic mandolin, teams up with Nershi on dobro on "Get ‘er Rollin," while slipping into Jimmy Buffett-calypso land and walking to the Beat of the World, with Tim OBrien on harmony vocals, and, yes, the title track surveys that lengthy passage about the route that — you guessed it — takes the Long Road back to you. The road has been written about many times in numerous settings by legions of road dogs, but few have the Emmitt instincts to shake up the grizzled template by suggesting that its actually a pretty cool way to live.

Cloud Citya track co-written with acoustic guitarist Tyler Grantfeatures some fairly tasty mandolin duets between Emmitt and Ronnie McCoury, who, as they say, has been known to pick a song or two. This communal spirit is enhanced by Stuart Duncan on fiddle who seems to fly above the mix, steering with an invisible temporal rod as the axe-welders slip into each others melodies on the earth below, that long stretch of highway that brings elegantly flawless music back home. Im Alive, co-written with Jim Lauderdale, however, is a bad ass stretch of country blues. Jeff Sipe, of Aquarium Rescue Unit and Trey Anastasio Band renown, handles the self-assured beat while Alison Brown plays some wickedly bent runs on banjo. Each artist, in turn, brings a series of road experiences to play here, marking time, toying with the rhythm, or driving down the solo audio asphalt.

And thats the bit of truth one is searching for in this Emmitt/Long Road discourse; indeed, where Morrisons cut, Gypsy in My Soul, comes into play, serving as a dark counterpoint next to the whimsical passages canvassed on some of the other road tunes. The piece is also a wonderful bookend to the always intriguing Take the Highway, which features an excellent vocal duet with John Cowan on tenor, and Darrell Scott on baritone, and the inspired, low-key fiddle work of Duncan, who plays a key role in Emmitts band throughout the Long Road recording. If you’re wondering where youve heard Stuart Duncans name recently, outside of his fine work here, it is the rousing Robert Plant/Alison Krauss/T Bone Burnett Raising Sand revue. On Long Road, for the first time, Drew Emmitt has amassed a team of musicians who are able to give added weight to his thematically unified body of work, including covers, after two consistent yet less adventurous solo outings.

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