First Appeared at The Music Box, April 2004, Volume 11, #4
Written by John Metzger
When an eponymous title doesnít grace an artistís debut, it generally is reserved for the sort of special outing that marks a giant leap forward in a bandís progress ó its coming out party, so to speak. Such is the case with Leftover Salmonís latest effort, which not only showcases the groupís typically stellar musicianship, but also its renewed emphasis on songwriting.
For certain, the seeds for Leftover Salmonís recent transformation were sown early in its career, but they really didnít take root until its 1999 outing The Nashville Sessions. The albumís crafting became a tremendous learning experience that gave the ensemble credibility within wider circles and bolstered the confidence of founding members Drew Emmitt and Vince Herman. In the intervening years, however, the band stumbled and seemingly was sidetracked by the events that, for better or for worse, surrounded it. In addition to the untimely death of banjoist Mark Vann in Spring 2002, the group was reconstructed completely with Jose Martinez replacing Jeff Sipe, Greg Garrison stepping in for Tye North, and the outright addition of keyboard player Bill McKay. Additionally, it has been plagued since its inception by its own silly hijinks, all of which served only to undermine its validity outside the jamband scene, making it a simple matter to forget that Leftover Salmon is comprised of a rather talented assortment of musicians, who easily could go head-to-head against Nashvilleís finest.
Now thirteen years into its collective pursuit, Leftover Salmon has matured significantly and at long last has crafted a gem of its own, one that doesnít succeed merely by employing a plethora of special guests. Simply put, its new album eclipses everything else within its catalog. The songs are polished to perfection, and each offers a different slice of the bandís genre-jumping pie, featuring numerous pathways along which oneís mind can wander.
Where most bands seeking to diversify and widen their audience tend to abandon that which made them unique, Leftover Salmon sought to embrace, enhance, and sculpt its strengths to form something better. Indeed, while the ensembleís trademark sound is left intact, it also has been rendered far more accessible than anything the group has ever done. In essence, with the help of producer Bill Payne, the band triumphantly utilized its progressive bluegrass tendencies as a foundation upon which to fuse the Grateful Deadís American Beauty with Little Featís Sailiní Shoes, and the result, while not quite on par with those masterpieces, is still utterly spectacular. From the verifiable folk-rock hit Woody Guthrie to the roaring bluegrass instrumental Lincoln at Nevada, from the sprawling jam-fueled reworking of Jim Messinaís Whispering Waters to the burbling, Southern-fried boogie of Just Keep Walkiní, Leftover Salmon delivers a little something for everyone while unleashing what is unquestionably its finest outing to date.
Of Further Interest...
Leftover Salmon is available
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2005 The Music Box