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Published: 2012/08/15
by Philip Booth

Leftover Salmon
Aquatic Hitchhiker


Jamgrass? All-American string music? By whatever definition, Colorado’s energetic acoustic/electric goodtime band Leftover Salmon quickly attracted a large and loyal following when singers and multi-instrumentalists Vince Herman and Drew Emmitt organized the group with banjo virtuoso Mark Vann more than two decades ago. Their “polyethnic Cajun slamgrass,” a refreshing spin on various bluegrass antecedents, proved to be a favorite of Americana and jamband devotees, and their fusion of various roots-music styles influenced a generation or more of younger players.

Seven years after starting their official hiatus, and eight years after their last studio recording, Leftover Salmon, the band is back with a new album and concert dates, and it feels much like guitarist and mandolin player Herman (Great American Taxi), mandolin, guitar and fiddle man Emmitt (Emmitt-Nershi), and young banjo master Andy Thorn (successor to the late Vann) picked up where they left off. The group, with bassist Greg Garrison and drummer Jose Martinez, sounds revitalized and fans will likely be thrilled by the prospects of a new chapter for the quintet.

The new album, produced by Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin, is music that moves, as suggested by several of the song titles. The road-goes-on-forever stomper “Keep Driving,” a nod to the endless journeys of ever-travelling musicians and their yearning for loved ones, gets its kicks from fast and furious mandolin and banjo workouts, and a litany of evocative place names, while the shuffling, slow-grooving “Walking Shoes” is sweetened with down-home harmonies and Garrison’s bowed bass solo. The title track, a sprawling, ambitious instrumental piece, lifts off quietly and slowly before shifting to a fast two-beat stomp, opening up for speedy solos, soaring fiddle work and some quickflickering unison lines.

Apropos for a travel-themed album, Leftover Salmon litter Aquatic Hitchhiker with pieces that evoke favorite places. Funk-driven blues opener “Gulf of Mexico” celebrates life after the storm and the spill in the Mississippi Southland—“where the nights are hot/ And the river flows”—and benefits from some well-placed honkytonk piano. Moving west, “Bayou Town” celebrates a “Louisiana Saturday night” after dark with the just-right mix of accordion, strings and Cajun waltzing rhythms. And “Kentucky Skies,” the most traditional bluegrass tune on the album, references moonshine, green hills, porches and Bill Monroe. (But of course.)

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