Your Gateway to Music and More from a Christian Perspective
Slow down as you approach the gate, and have your change ready....
Yonder Mountain String Band
Label: Vanguard Records
Time: 12 tracks/41:55 minutes
Itís significant when an artist releases a self-titled project well into their career. It usually signals a change or serves as a defining moment.
After six successful recordings, Yonder Mountain String Band (YMSB) has a new producer and label for this self-titled studio release (in stores May 9, 2006.)
Itís apparent from the opening track, "Sidewalk Stars," that YMSB continue to skirt the boundaries of bluegrass. The extended introduction and close sound a little like a U2 song.
In concert YMSB has kept to just acoustic instruments, but here, on some of the tracks, they go electric and add drums. Even the stand-up bass gives way to its electric counterpart on a song or two. Traditional bluegrass alternates with blues and rock elements, creating a hybrid sound.
A strong mandolin-accented hook on "How ĎBout You?" make it one of the standouts. This happens to be the first song with electric instruments and drums. Itís pure delight. It has hit single written all over it, and it ought to be a concert favorite.
The song also has some interesting lines. One reflects on the bands success: "thereís nothing left for me to prove, just more folks to prove it too." Another says, "up all night and listening to, things you say and never do." It could serve as an apt commentary on the political scene: lots of talking heads but seemingly little change. These world-weary sentiments are offset by an appreciation for the simple things. "I love old songs and what they know, just turníem up and letíem go." Thatís what YMSB does so well. They let the music take them where it will.
Though the electric instruments on this song and others work well, they are not necessary. The more traditional songs are just as good, if not better. "Just The Same" is a good example. Those who like to dance will have a hard time keeping still when they hear the fast playing and improvising.
The electric instruments add texture, but the core remains the same. How can you not like a band that is built around banjo, mandolin, acoustic guitar and upright bass?
What really stands out on all the songs is the intricate finger work. Itís often fast and creative, like on the short instrumental, "Fastball." "Midwest Gospel Radio," the only other instrumental, is slower and subtler, but strikes some beautiful notes.
Producer Tom Rothrock and the band deserve credit for capturing some of the live energy heard at shows. You get a taste of their jamming, and thereís plenty of variety. The blues-rock heard in "Angel" gives way to an electronically enhanced violin solo. "East Nashville Easter" is loud and high-energy and includes a fuzzy sounding guitar. "I Ainít Been Myself in Years," and "Troubled Mind," are of the traditional variety; itís the kind of bluegrass that brings a smile or makes you want to laugh. The recording closes with "Windís On Fire," which has a Native American vibe.
These ambassadors of bluegrass wonderfully define themselves as creative innovators on this release. They break new ground in a way that delightfully fuses the traditional and contemporary. It would not surprise me if this is regarded as their strongest work.
April 27, 2006