This weekend on Music City Roots, it’s more rockin’ Americana for you as Amanda Shires, Leftover Salmon, Jonathan Scales Fourchestra, Sturgill Simpson, and Daniel Romano take the stage. Jim Lauderdale hosts.
About the artists:
Just in case the title alone wasn’t a dead give away, Amanda Shires’ Down Fell the Doves is not a record for the faint of heart, faith or spirit. Not that anyone who heard her last album would have expected such. Carrying Lighting, the critically acclaimed 2011 breakthrough that put Shires on the map as one of Americana music’s most arresting new voices (and Texas Music magazine’s 2011 Artist of the Year), was a kudzu-tangled web of frayed heartstrings and combustible desire that revealed the one-time “little fiddle player from Lubbock” to be a grown woman unafraid to “get wrecked in love” and dish out the same with keen poetic insight and unnervingly mature, femme-fatale conviction. But as striking as Lightning was, Down Fell the Doves (Shires’ debut for Lightning Rod Records) is where the gloves really come off.
Looking back over the past 25 years of rootsy, string-based music, the impact of Leftover Salmon is impossible to deny. Formed in Boulder at the end of 1989, the Colorado slamgrass pioneers were one of the first bluegrass bands to add drums and tour rock & roll bars, helping Salmon become a pillar of the jam band scene and unwitting architects of the jam grass genre.
Though the lineup would change through the years, the foundation of Leftover Salmon was built on the relationship between co-founders Drew Emmitt (vocals, guitar, fiddle, mandolin), Vince Herman (vocals, guitar,washboard) and Mark Vann (electric banjo). Following a decade of constant growth and constant touring, on March 4, 2002, Mark Vann lost his battle with cancer. Vann insisted that the band carry on and Salmon did so for several years leading up to an indefinite hiatus in 2005.
If Leftover Salmon had never played another note after leaving the stage in 2005, the legacy would have been secure; the members’ names etched in the books of history. But today, more than two decades after Salmon first took shape, the band has a new album, Aquatic Hitchhiker, due May 22 on LoS Records, a new banjo phenom named Andy Thorn, and a new lease on an old agreement. Leftover Salmon is officially back.
The 29-year-old Thorn grew up a Salmon fan in North Carolina and says the band helped him realize “this is what I want to do with my life.” Ironically, it’s his presence in the group that has given Leftover Salmon new life. “Andy’s a real young guy with a lot of great energy who plays in a way that definitely relates to Mark’s [Vann] playing and he’s a lot of fun to be around, it’s led to a real revival that just clicks on some hard to describe level” says Herman. “We’ve played with some great banjo players over the past few years, and not to say anything about them being less than great musicians, but there’s just something intangible about playing with Andy that kind of makes Drew and I look at each other and grin. This is what we’ve been missing as far as that feeling between Drew, Mark and I that used to be there.”
Produced by Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin, Aquatic Hitchhiker is Leftover Salmon’s first record in eight years and first ever of all original material. “Steve [Berlin] understood where this album needed to go and how we all needed to work together as a band to make it happen” explains Emmitt. Set for release on May 22, the recording process solidified the new Salmon, cauterizing old wounds and allowing fresh ideas to grow over past scars.
The steel pan, an amazing musical discovery born in the Caribbean nation of Trinidad & Tobago, is often times associated with sandy beaches, tropical climates, and cruise ships: that’s not exactly what you get at a show by the jazz/rock outfit, Jonathan Scales Fourchestra. Driftwood Magazine says “Scales is to steel pans ….what Bela Fleck is to the banjo—an über innovator.” The group is said to have “a Thelonius Monk-like attitude with a Mozart creativity that works.” (Pan on the Net)
Here you have Jonathan Scales: a classically trained composer turned steel pan maestro who takes in influences from Igor Stravinsky to Kanye West and uses every element in between as a basis for his mind-bending compositions. Cody Wright’s technical yet melodic style on the bass pulls from masters Bobby Vega & Jaco Pastorius. His pick-style provides the harmonic foundation for Scales’ sound, while his solos leave audiences awestruck. Drummer Phill Bronson drives the Fourchestra’s time-shifting, modern grooves with a style stemming from his extensive background as a percussionist. He fuses his upbringing with his training, gracefully maneuvering through Jonathan’s complex rhythmic structures. The Fourchestra is a true mix of jazz edge and classical sensibility.
Steel pannist and virtuoso composer Jonathan Scales formed his ‘Fourchestra’ in 2007 as a means to deliver his musically complex, but somehow accessible ideas to anyone willing to listen. The latest installment in his musical saga, Character Farm & Other Short Stories, is a 45-minute dive deeper into the compositionally-twisted work of steel pannist . The nine original instrumental “stories” on the album take listeners from the primal Jam We Did to the lush Hallucinations of the Dream Chasers. The title track Character Farm takes the audience into an instrumental-fairy-tale of sorts, after the frantically emotional The Longest December. Guest appearances on the record include Jeff Coffin (of Dave Matthews Band), Yonrico Scott and Kofi Burbridge (of Derek Trucks Band fame) and the dazzling work of fiddle virtuoso Casey Driessen.
High Top Mountain serves as a one-stop guide to everything that made real country music such a force to be reckoned with. Pure and uncompromising, devoid of gloss and fakery, High Top Mountain’s dozen instant classics evoke the sound of timeless country in its many guises and brings back the lyrical forthrightness and depth that permeated the music Sturgill Simpson absorbed during his Kentucky childhood.
Mosey music is a study in contrasts. There’s glitz and grit, reveling and wallowing, wretchedness and showmanship. Mosey music’s pioneers wore their battered hearts on sequined sleeves. From Bakersfield to Galveston, the legends traded their tragicomic highs and lows for gold records and white Cadillacs. But that was then; the days of Buckaroos, Nudie Suits and various Hanks are over, save for the museum displays. To quote a George Jones title track, “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?”
Enter Daniel Romano, a songwriter who delivers mosey croonin’ and hard luck storytelling. While references to marquee names like Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard are apparent in Romano’s music, the obvious influences certainly don’t demystify his talent. Romano works with equal parts authenticity and creativity, and his musical world is rich with archetypes and archrivals, wry observations and earnest confessions.
Romano’s solo debut, Workin’ For The Music Man (2010), announced a new artistic bearing. The follow-up, Sleep Beneath The Willow, was pure honky tonk poetry, and again received impressive response from all corners. The “dreamy homage to a bygone country-music era” (Globe & Mail) made the Polaris Long List, and solidified Romano’s reputation as a solo artist.
Come Cry With Me furthers his Mosey aesthetic, musical and visual. Again self-produced and played, for the most part, by himself, Romano’s new album continues with themes of bad choices, hard times, boozing and losing. Amidst the tales of woebegone orphans, family knots and broken hearts, there are spoken word yarns that recall Hank Williams-as-Luke The Drifter. Romano’s deep rumbling baritone vocal dips serve, conversely, to lighten the mood, leaving no doubt that this artist knows how to deliver a punch line.
Come Cry With Me was released on Normaltown Records on January 22, 2013.