Yonder Mountain String Band & Benny Galloway
(Frog Pad/Sci Fidelity)
First Appeared at The Music Box, October 2003, Volume 10, #10
Written by John Metzger
The Colorado music scene has been a fertile one, particularly for progressive bluegrass bands. Of these, Hot Rize is undoubtedly the most notable and influential, having spawned a plethora of ensembles in recent years — including Leftover Salmon, String Cheese Incident, and Yonder Mountain String Band. Each of these has become a fixture on both the jam band and bluegrass circuits, bringing a sense of songwriting to the former and a bit of musical adventure to the latter.
Since Yonder Mountain String Band’s debut in 1999, the biggest complaints that have plagued the group are in regard to its songwriting and vocals, both of which are rectified, at least partially, on its recently released Old Hands. Only time and practice will turn the ensemble’s four members into better songwriters and singers, and, perhaps, in recognizing this, Yonder Mountain String Band sought the help of fellow-Colorado artist Benny "Burle" Galloway, who penned all 13 songs for the album. It’s a loosely-based conceptual piece that tells the tales of manual laborers, be they miners (Big Lights, Not Far Away) or ranch hands (Winds O’ Wyoming, Sleepy Cowboy), and while Galloway’s writing doesn’t yield any pearls of wisdom, it does manage to paint portraits of life straight from the heart of America. Galloway also contributes vocals to five of Old Hands’ tracks with Yonder Mountain String Band’s four members handling the rest. None, including Galloway, are natural lead vocalists, but each, at least, does an adequate job. Indeed, it’s the harmonies that help save the vocals from falling totally flat, particularly on The Pride O’ Alabama and The Wind thru the Willows.
As for the musicianship, it’s typically first-rate throughout Old Hands. As its fans can attest, Yonder Mountain String Band knows its way around a bluegrass tune, and whether it’s Ben Kaufman’s rock-steady bass, Adam Aijala’s aqueous lead guitar, Jeff Austin’s soaring mandolin, or Dave Johnston’s fluid banjo — each performer is quite proficient. Of course, the group also adds several ringers to the mix with icons Jerry Douglas, Darol Anger, Tim O’Brien, and Sally Van Meter each contributing significantly to the success of this release. Though the ensemble’s songwriting and vocal abilities continue to lag behind its instrumental prowess, the gap is closing, and Old Hands is a solid step forward for young Yonder Mountain String Band.
Old Hands is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2003 The Music Box