First Appeared at The Music Box, August 2002, Volume 9, #8
Written by John Metzger
Letís face it ó Leftover Salmon has had a spotty recording career. In its eleven-year existence, the group has managed to release only three studio efforts, the best of which is a guest-laden affair (The Nashville Sessions) that finds the band taking a backseat to its musical compatriots. Even if one gives Leftover Salmon the benefit of the doubt and concedes that it is undeniably a group that is best seen in concert, neither of its previous live efforts really does much to showcase the ensemble at its best. Fortunately, for those who have yet to give up hope, Leftover Salmon has released its third live album Live ó pronounced "liv" ó which finally captures at least some of its concert magic.
For sure, Leftover Salmon has come a long way in recent years. But, the additions of keyboardist Bill McKay and drummer Jose Martinez, along with the replacement of bassist Tye North with Greg Garrison, has helped the band take a huge step forward in terms of both songwriting and musicianship. Although hijinks and silliness still seep into ensemble's sets and songs, itís nowhere near the ridiculous and often distracting levels it once was, surfacing here only in the annoying and overly lengthy funk-jam Unplug That Telephone and a rambunctiously too-cute-for-its-own-good rendition of David Brombergís Danger Man.
As for the rest of Live, the members of Leftover Salmon either make the goofiness work for them or avoid it entirely. Either way it allows the music to move front and center where it belongs. The traditional Letís Give a Party is perfectly suited to the bandís often adolescent antics, but here, the group turns it into a whirlwind of instrumental chops, highlighted by McKayís New Orleans-tinged piano.
Indeed, itís McKayís repeatedly brilliant performances that help to make Live so special. On a solid cover of John Hartfordís Steam Powered Aeroplane, he hovers just beneath the surface, playing perfectly off the banjo of Mark Vann. Likewise, he contributes the albumís two best compositions (Billís Boogie and Railroad Highway), each of which bakes the bandís Rocky Mountain bluegrass into a Southern-fried mixture of Little Feat and the Allman Brothers Band ó a blend that has long bubbled beneath the surface of Leftover Salmonís music, but has never materialized fully.
And thatís just it. Leftover Salmon always has been a group with a lot of talent, but far too often, itís been squandered and unrealized. Like any teen in search of the perfect buzz, however, there comes a time to grow up and take life a little more seriously. Not an easy process, perhaps, but Leftover Salmon has been making great strides of late. With Live, the ensemble proves that it most definitely has matured, while also demonstrating that it can still have a whole lot of fun. Ĺ
Of Further Interest...
Live is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2002 The Music Box