American Aquarium (from the album Slappers, Bangers, and Certified Twangers available on Losing Side Records)
Stories will be long coming for the ways we worked our ways through 2020. American Aquarium beat the stay-at-home loop by singing along to their favorite 1990’s Country music hits. The group collected the tracks, lining them up and releasing as Slappers, Bangers, and Certified Twangers, Vol. 1. Adding to the American Aquarium hometeam crew, Slappers, Bangers, and Certified Twangers, Vol. 1 welcomes the harmonies of Jamie Lin Wilson on the album with Byron Berline playing fiddle. Big names and major influences aside, American Aquarium remind us that it is not only the hit-after-hit marquee names that solely define musical tastes. The radio dial and the jukebox that takes all your change to keep playing that song that provide one-nighter audio memories by way of the (then) popular song.
Slappers, Bangers, and Certified Twangers, Vol. 1 flips a coin covering Jo Dee Messina’s “Heads Carolina, Tails California”, relives a cantankerous youth busting free with Faith Hill in her song “Wild One”, and hopes to impress a lover alongside Sawyer Brown for “Some Girls Do”. American Aquarium keeps the windows down and the volume up high entertaining at every red light with versions of Patty Loveless (“I Try to Think About Elvis”), Sammy Kershaw (“Queen of My Double-Wide Trailer”), Mary Chapin Carpenter (“Down at the Twist and Shout”), Trisha Yearwood (“She’s in Love with the Boy”), and Joe Diffie (“John Deere Green”).
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John Hiatt with the Jerry Douglas Band (from the album Leftover Feelings on New West Records)
The motor hums courtesy of vibrating strings, heralding the arrival of “Long Black Electric Cadillac”, the lead track on Leftover Feelings, the recent release from John Hiatt with the Jerry Douglas Band. Deep pocket rhythms handle the groove for the album of no drumming. While sonically, Leftover Feelingshints at the Roots Rock John Hiatt pioneered in the 1980’s and the Bluegrass that Jerry Douglas Band plays, the recording pays allegiance to neither side. It claims nothing beyond influence in the floating Folk drift of “I’m in Ashville”, the confident, assured strums setting the pace for the somber march in “Light of the Burning Sun”, and high-stepping amid the string tangle for “All the Lilacs in Ohio”.
The sound comes in gentle waves as the Jerry Douglas Band back John Hiatt singing of a train song memory in “The Music is Hot” while a slow-moving Blues groove surrounds “Mississippi Phone Booth” like the night bugs swarming around the lights and ramps up to highway speed for “Keen Rambler”. Jerry Douglas produced Leftover Feelings in the Historic RCA Studio in Nashville, Tennessee. The producer becomes player, subtly guiding the band along the tracks. A lazy rhythm prods “Buddy Boy” with some lyrical advice while John Hiatt with the Jerry Douglas Band say “Little Goodnight” against a funky Country trot and exit the album reminiscing in “Sweet Dream”.
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The Deep Dark Woods (from the album Changing Faces available on Six Shooter Records)
The sonic switch for The Deep Dark Woods on their recent release, Changing Faces, mirrors the personal shift in the life Ryan Boldt, creative force for the band. Foregoing the rural prairie backdrop for his youth, a new home by the sea is full of plants and pets, Ryan stating simply ‘the air in the house is different now’. On album number six for The Deep Dark Woods, the themes thread through the life of Ryan Boldt, the stories in motion, leaving one place for another.
Opening cut “Treacherous Waters” sets the stage with a soundtrack of old school Folk Rock, the studio experience layering instruments without losing the organic tones and textures. “Anathea” has the mood of an English Folk tune, the gently played orchestral strings haunting the melody as a Southern breeze brings in a hint of twang when The Deep Dark Woods slowly unravel the tale in “Yarrow”. Slow trudging steps march “When I Get Home Tonight” over Changing Faces as the album wonders “How Could I Ever Be Single Again” and the air of “In the Meadow” is filled with swirling kaleidoscopic notes. The Deep Dark Woods wrap dark forest twilight around “Everything Reminds Me”, the heavy thump of rhythm matching a heartbeat, the vocals longing as they crawl over a thick groove surrounded the violin swells of Maria Grigoryeva.
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Travis Linville (from the album I’m Still Here available on Black Mesa Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
Travis Linville seems to be one of those musicians that could kick it with just about any musical colleague. An Indie Rock band? Sure. A Country crooner? No problem. His latest release, I’m Still Here, is one of those albums that moves smoothly from hints of Pop-Rock bounce to weepy ballads, oddball electro weirdness to inebriated anthems. He is a writer that will bang out his past; the title track opening I’m Still Here with Travis Linville stating he can take a knock but that won’t push him out of the game, repeating ‘I’m still here, I’ve been here all along’. “Feeling We Used to Know” is a tune about a soured romance that aches for its honeymoon days, delivered with choppy, sharp guitar notes.
“The Rain” is an ambient, subtle electro rhythmed ballad, “Blue Sky Bound” a bouncy blast of Indie Pop and Hayes Carll is by his side for a slightly twangy cover of Willie Nelsons “Yesterdays Wine”. It’s a soft cover with heavy harmonies with both Carll and Linville trading out verses. Travis Linville has penned a wonderful drunken singalong in “I Saw You”, and he closes the record with a weeper where steel guitar provides melodic support becoming the ‘shoulder you can fall back on’ in “Diamonds and Dust”. Travis Linville keeps good company and his band is stacked, a perfect group that can run his musical gamut without breaking a sweat. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Mare Wakefield and Nomad (from the album No Remedy available on CEN) (by Bryant Liggett)
Call it pandemic productivity. After scrapping tours and moving past unemployment panic and bouts of boredom, many musicians hit the studio, much like Mare Wakefield & Nomad. When you’ve got what seems to be an infinite amount of time you can fret over the details, which is what the husband-and-wife duo did for No Remedy, the result a soft, instrumentally rich Folk record that is as quiet and as it is lush. Mare Wakefield and Nomad strike a fair balance between laid back and head-bopping happy. Album opener “Almost Mine” is a gentle ballad, “Safe Heart”, with its whispered vocals, plays out like a lullaby, and “Outfield” is a remember-when back to your oldest mate, throwing it back to the lost art of friendship via letters and ‘putting our lives inside those envelopes’ and ultimately missing them when they are gone.
Mare Wakefield and Nomad bounce along with the optimistic hopper “Give Myself to Love”, a tune where banjo and mandolin give it a NewGrass chug, “Your Dad” is a fun, danceable dedication to the fathers in the world, and the pair throw in a welcome curveball with “Her Name Was Mary”, the wooden flute and traditional rhythms adding to the Native American folklore vibe. They honor unsung heroes in “School Teacher”, special needs kids in “My Room”, and each other in “Home To Me”. It is all done verbally smart and musically simple, every fill and rhythm making room for each other. No Remedy was written and played with care, Mare Wakefield and Nomad are out there finding the good where they can and giving it back to us in a song. (by Bryant Liggett)
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The Rough and Tumble (from the album We’re Only Family If You Say So available as a self-release)
Sons of bitches bore more than just Guy Clark. When the Nashville landlord for The Rough and Tumble cut off their heat for twelve days during a 2015 ice storm, the couple gave notice and moved into a sixteen-foot camper, loading in belongings, gear, and two 100-pound pups, Mud Puddle and Magpie Mae. As on their previous two releases, The Rough and Tumble wisely kept studio wizard and musical maestro Dave Coleman in the producer’s chair for We’re Only Family if You Say So. The sound of the album is Roots, front porch Americana strumming, the beat persistent as train wheels clicking on the tracks under “You’re Not Going Alone” as tentative chords underscore the words of The Rough and Tumble for the advice in “Your Daughter’s Father”
Campfires on backroads and beaches can be heard in the songs of The Rough and Tumble. The band weaves electric guitar that smooths out the road for the lovers in “Painter’s Sorrow” as a hearty groove tells a tale of “Old Kentucky”, a small town comes undone after dismissing the words of “Joni”, and Rock’n’Roll Honky Tonk backs the pending confessions of “Too Much”. Musicians turned bandmates turned bedmates, Mallory Graham and Scott Tyler are The Rough and Tumble. Revenge pens the story in “You Took Your Turn” as We’re Only Family If You Say So spins family treachery through “My Inheritance” and The Rough and Tumble dial in Country AM Gold with the classic shuffle of “Nothing Broke My Heart” and point fingers in “I Must Be the Sun”.
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Oliver Wood (from the album Always Smilin’ available on Honey Jar/Thirty Tigers Records) (by Brian Rock)
Sometimes attitude is everything, as Oliver Wood demonstrates on his debut solo album, Always Smilin’. Oliver Wood, like many other musicians, was watching lost touring money fly out the window with each passing day of Covid lockdown. But rather than cry in his beer, the longtime Roots music stalwart took the time away from his band, The Wood Brothers, to vent some individual creative energy. Focusing on the Piedmont Blues and Southern Gospel aspects of his vast Americana repertoire, Wood seeks the silver lining in the grey clouds that seem to surround us.
“Kindness” opens the album. With his resonator guitar at the fore, backed with an array of acoustic stringed instruments, funky syncopated percussion, and just a touch of righteous Hammond organ, Wood sings, ‘I know a man and he’s always smilin’. He looks so easy he could be flyin’’. Intrigued by the man’s optimistic outlook, he asks, ‘How do I find this way that you’re living’. To which he hears the reply, ‘Kindness. Kindness is my religion’. A simple, but powerful distillation of the Golden Rule, this refrain is a much-needed tonic for our times. When everyone seems to be looking for someone to blame, or to cancel, or to look down on; this kernel of truth reminds us to recalibrate and remember that our beliefs are meaningless unless they are reflected in our actions. If everyone who is so hell bent on changing the world would take the time to change themselves with this truth in mind, what a wonderful world it would be.
Oliver Wood drops some more truth on, “Roots”. With dramatic piano chords setting the tone, he reminds us that we are all just the sum of our personal and collective past. Or as he so eloquently explains, ‘they all tripping on roots – roots of the past. You may stumble, but don’t you turn back… Anybody going anywhere is tripping on roots’. For better or worse, we are all tied to our past, our parent’s past, our nations’ past, our planet’s past. So, before you criticize, walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. Woods’ earthy vocal tones are perfectly suited to deliver these timeless messages. Like fellow Americana artists, Will Kimbrough, Charlie Parr, and Luke Winslow King, Oliver Wood’s voice has a Rootsy, ‘down home’ feel that conveys warmth and wisdom. Musically, he combines his traditional Piedmont Blues with touches of Gospel and Southern Funk that recall the styles of Leon Russell or Little Feat with echoes of Ray Charles and Randy Newman.
“Get the Blues” adds Dixieland horns to offer a musical prayer for these trying times. Singing, ‘Lord, can’t you hear us. Dear Lord, maybe do you fear us. Yes, you’re the great provider. But Lord, you could’ve made us kinder’; he seems to suggest that even the Almighty gets the Blues from time to time. “Came from Nothing” is a sparse, acoustic Blues celebration of humble beginnings. “Molasses” is a Blues ballad about enjoying a little heaven on earth, ‘before my last breath’. Wood combines Blues, Funk, and Gospel to explore the gray area ‘between love and lust; between truth and trust’ in “Fine Line”. He adds harmonica and Jazz rhythms to reinterpret the Gospel standard, “The Battle Is Over (But the War Goes On”. “Face of Reason” is a Funky, ray of musical sunshine that reminding us that ‘the fact that you’re still breathing, well it flies in the face of reason’. He returns to straight Piedmont Blues on the ballads “Soul of This Town,” and “Unbearable Heart.” Saving his most upbeat number for last, “Climbing High Mountains (Tryin’ to Get Home); Wood gives a spirited, cowbell-enhanced rendition of the traditional Gospel song.
With his uplifting and insightful lyrics, and his funky spin on Piedmont Blues, Oliver Wood is the silver lining we’ve been looking for. Irrepressibly optimistic and irresistibly catchy. These songs are “Always Smilin’” even when singing the Blues. So, next time you need a little boost, play one of these tunes and smile along. (by Brian Rock)
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Rising Appalachia (from the album The Lost Mystique of Being in the Know, Independent) (by Chris Wheatley)
This month brings a surprise release from sisters Leah and Chloe Smith, who record under the name Rising Appalachia. Born in Atlanta, the sisters are very much global in both outlook and sound. For fifteen years now, they've blazed a fiercely independent musical trail, channeling their many passions into creative projects. Those passions include advocating for social, racial, and environmental justice, alongside a fondness both for their Southern roots and for music from around the world. ‘We're folk musicians at our core’, says Leah, ‘the experience of playing music together in one room, looking at each other, is the bedrock of what we do’.
What to expect from The Lost Mystique of Being in the Know? Opener “Catalyst” makes for a fine start. Gently cryptic acoustic guitar rolls a nuanced rhythm, upright-bass dropping deep splashes of colour. Shuffling drums and rattling percussion stir up a soft base over which the sisters harmonize with bucolic charm. It's a delicately swaying, compelling Folk-Jazz poem, with some pleasingly unexpected edges. The sisters' vocals are smooth and sophisticated, with a Rootsy feel and beautiful tone. You can't help but be won over by the easy warmth of this track, and impressed by both its depth and its style.
Follower “Ngoni” shimmers with mesmerizing West-African style finger-picked strings; a hypnotic rhythm whose subtle changes catch the ear. Echoing, dubby drums bounce and roll, bowed double-bass a perfect contrast to those shining strings. This is global Folk music indeed, shot through with a spirit of togetherness. Throughout this album, the compositions impress as much as the musician's technical skills. Songs and melodies arise organically and the playing is classy without the slightest hint of pretension. “Silver” unfurls slowly, fresh and glittering as a summer stream. There's strength here, but no swagger. Acoustic guitar, bass, and intricate percussion dance around each other in a ballet of captivating sounds. Rising Appalachia’s vocals match the feel and vibe wonderfully; a seductive blanket of words.
“Lost Girl” features some lovely picked banjo, making fine use of that instrument's ability to drive both rhythmically and melodically. Everything here feels as natural as a meadow. What is truly remarkable, however, is how much spirit the sisters infuse into this set. Nothing feels light or throwaway, yet that alluring charm permeates like the warm rays of the sun. These are musicians whose love for music is deeply linked to the land. Rising Appalachia are indeed Folk players at their core.
Witness “Clay”, which feels as old as the hills and as fresh as tomorrow. Languid bowed strings lay down swirling undertones, then rise and circle like gulls. Acoustic guitar strums and plucks, painting a pastoral scene as lovely as any you could wish for. Unity is the theme here, a oneness both with nature, with each other and with you and I, the listeners. Album closer, the aptly titled “Depth”, takes us on a journey of possibility and peril, of hope and desire. With a sparse arrangement of finger-picked banjo, shakers, deep drums, and skittering strings, Rising Appalachia say more in a single track than many a band achieve over an entire album. (by Chris Wheatley)
The Lost Mystique of Being in the Know is a record to savour.
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The Reverend Shawn Amos (from the album The Cause of It All available on ) (by Bryant Liggett)
Shawn Amos has left the rhythm section at home. That, however, does not mean that his latest release, The Cause of It All, is void of a groove. Quite the contrary, this offering, where Amos’s long-time collaborator, Chris ‘Doctor’ Roberts, provides guitar to Amos’s harmonica and vocals, is loaded with beats, albeit stripped down and minimal as the instrumentation of guitar and harmonica hangs by a thread, one layer of sound floating just below the other. The Cause of It All is simple and honest with a touch of the psychedelic. A loose-offering of both acoustic and electric Blues all with a Garage Rock vibe.
The album opener, “Spoonful”, finds Roberts serving up perfectly measured guitar blasts, short but ample, and plentiful amounts of guitar that dot Amos’s musical roadmap. “Goin’ to the Church” is Punk Gospel, “Still A Fool,” “Color and Kind”, as well as “Serves Me Right to Suffer” all loose, subtly tranced-out psychedelia. Halfway through the record the duo unplugs, banging out the familiar “Baby Please Don’t Go” flavored with a hint of added twang while “Hoochie Coochie Man” is pushed out heavy and slow. The Cause of It All plays out like a live record. With a huge, jam on the street-corner feel, top to bottom inferring The Reverend Shawn Amos and ‘Doctor’ Roberts will show up anywhere and in any part of the world, set up in less than 5 minutes, and bang out a record that’s a big blast of raw Blues.
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Leftover Salmon – Drew Emmitt Interview by Joe Burcaw
Colorado’s deep-rooted connection to Nashville, Tennessee is much more important to the Bluegrass world than one (Joe Burcaw, ed.) would initially think. I was under the impression it was a sub-genre of Country music the Scots-Irish immigrants brought over to only the Appalachia region. Well, I was misinformed and thanks to Leftover Salmon’s Drew Emmitt for setting me straight, and for putting me on the right path when it comes to retaining the rich history of Boulder’s Jamgrass scene. A genre mash-up which has blossomed west to the Rockies over the decades. Drew Emmitt, co-founder of road-dog legends Leftover Salmon, has been pounding the working-band pavement for over thirty years now. In 2021, he seems primed up and rearing to go once given the green light to tour again. Having to pull the plug on 200 plus gigs and being forced to hunker down at home can be taxing mentally, emotionally, and physically. Chatting with Drew made me realize that one can still stay positive and feel hopeful under extreme duress. He and the band have risen to the occasion and started streaming live shows back in January of this year. A perfect time to jump on opportunities when everyone is home yearning for entertainment. Earlier this month the band released its new studio album, Brand New Good Old Days, on Compass Records. A true masterpiece featuring blazing banjos, mammoth mandolins, and foot stompin’ backbeats to make yer ass shake in delight to the rhythms. Soundgarden’s ‘Black Hole Sun’ was chosen as a cover, and I have to say, I much prefer Salmon’s upbeat barnyard bash to the original. It’s not too often you get to appreciate an ensemble who have been around the block a few times still packing venues across the country, Leftover Salmon, still holding the torch and keeping the flame alive all these years later.
JOE: I know you have a brand-new album entitled Brand New Good Old Days, will you be pressing vinyl and CD or just digital at this juncture in time?
DREW: We are pressing vinyl and CD with our label, Compass (Records). They’re still firm believers in putting out some kind of physical product, which I personally think is cool. It's nice to have something you can actually hold in your hands and look at and put on your stereo. There will be digital too, so yeah, we have the vinyl and CDs in hand and we're pumped!
JOE: That is so great to hear! I love being able to physically hold something and the idea of having an inlay card with credits reading who played what. I miss that, I really do. The band has been around over 30 years, what is the recipe to your success in keeping the machine running for that extended amount of time? Let's face it, in this day and age, groups can barely get past the five-year mark before imploding.
DREW: Well, that's a good question, maybe because it has just worked for this long? We're very lucky to be able to have a career this long and have fans who have stuck around with us, and new fans too. Honestly, if we didn't have the fans who believed in us coming out to our shows, we wouldn’t have been able to continue doing it. I would have to say the fans are number one in that, and also the fact that we have a really good time playing together. It's fun and we get to do really fun things and go to fun places and play with all of our musician friends. It has been quite the amazing musical life with this band, that’s all I can say. I think it's just the excitement of getting on stage together and having a good time, I feel very fortunate that we get to do that.
JOE: This latest lineup has been together for almost a decade, is that correct? Having great chemistry definitely says something in regard to longevity.
DREW: Absolutely, especially after we lost our very close buddy and compatriot Mark Vann. We had such a strong band back then and the three of us, Vince (Herman), Mark, and I just had this thing, We had different rhythm sections and different keyboard players, but the three of us really were the foundation with the chemistry. I think we finally have that again and it took a little while. You don't easily replace a guy like Mark, that was very difficult. When Andy joined the band, it really changed everything, and Andy came out to play with me with the Nershi band and afterwards he came down and sat in with Salmon a few times. I was like, oh my god let's get him in the band now! When that happened it really felt like we got a band together and not just putting something together piecing it along as we go. He's a brother, we just love him to pieces, and he just had a new baby, but we really feel like there is chemistry once again. We've lost our keyboard player Erik Deutsche to the Dixie Chicks, which we're psyched about
for him. Even with that change we feel like the band's more solid than ever. We have such a solid five-piece that it just feels really good. We can have people come and sit in here and there, but we're set now.
JOE: Let's talk about Erik's departure. Number one, was he on the latest record?
DREW: Yes, he is.
JOE: Okay, number two going forward are you leaving the keyboard chair open and will you hire someone to take out on the road for shows?
DREW: Well, this is a question I've been getting a lot lately. We’ve gone back and forth a few times where we had keys and we didn't have keys. We had a fiddle player for a tour and tried some different things. Every time we've had a great keyboard player that's stuck with us for a while, they end up leaving, like Bill Payne (Little Feat) who went to The Doobie Brothers. We were sad to see him go but it was great having him while we did, and the same thing with Bill McKay, he brought a lot to the table and was great. But every time we go back to being a five-piece it feels great, this is kind of what Leftover Salmon is meant to be, a five-piece electric Bluegrass band that plays Rock’n’Roll, or whatever we are.
JOE: This is exactly why I dig your music, you cannot pin point one specific genre stylistically, and that’s what makes you guys stick out from the rest. Getting back on the keys, do you think harmonically speaking the stringed instruments carry more of the melodies and that's why you can get away with continuing without a keyboard player?
DREW: Yeah, man, I feel like we've always leaned more heavily on the strings to drive the band and the keyboards generally play a supportive role to that. There have been some keyboard players through our history who have taken it over the top, some of those times with Bill Payne where we would jam out and he would take it somewhere and it was like, wow am I really standing on stage with this guy? We would leave the stage and Erik and Greg would do this freeform Jazz for like 20 minutes to a half hour and we would sit on the side of the stage and just marvel at it, which was so cool. So, there's definitely places the keys can take it where it's harder with just the strings, therein lies the adjustment. You know, it's all good as they say.
JOE: Would you guys consider yourselves part of the Jam Band circuit/world? When playing live, do you go out with a setlist and call off audibles as you feel the room?
DREW: We always feel a room and get a sense of where the crowd is at. Sometimes you can write a setlist coming out of the gate really raging with lots of energy, but I think it's important to be able to adjust as you go. If you stick to a rigid setlist regardless of the situation sometimes, it's not gonna fit. So, we just gauge things as we go. For bigger shows we really do try to follow a setlist because we have a better idea, like at a festival or Red Rocks. On those shows we tend to stick to the list a little more.
JOE: I was watching live at the Mission Ballroom in Denver from New Year’s Eve 2019, and you guys threw in this funky Mountain Fogged Down jam which was incredible. The back-and-forth trading of licks between the mandolin, banjo, and keyboards was a sight to see! Is that a staple tune that you throw in all of the time, or something that you perform once in a while?
DREW: Yeah, I mean we play it sometimes, but it's not a regular occurrence in the rotation but always one we like to play in honor of Mark Vann, especially on New Years Eve. But yeah, that's a fun one and over the years it has definitely taken on some different facets, regiments, instrumentation, and all kinds of stuff.
JOE: Would you say that you're more of a live band than a studio band? The reason I ask is because there hasn't been a lot of output these past 32 years, it seems like you guys are more of a touring entity rather than a recording entity, is that correct to say?
DREW: In the early days I would get frustrated that we weren't making more records but there was no time, right? We were on the road 250 plus days a year or whatever it was, so when do we make a record? As great as it was to establish ourselves as a touring band, I always thought it would be fun to make more records. So, it feels like in the last ten years we probably made way more records than we did when we first started out in our first ten years. I don't regret it, but you're right it would have been nice to have made more records. I guess there's a lot of that music out there on the internet as far as live shows, right? It's kind of like the Dead I guess, when you listen to the Grateful Dead radio channel, you're not listening to many of the studio cuts, it's almost entirely live. But we're kind of in that tradition too, yeah.
JOE: Do you find that a lot of people bootleg the shows when you're out there live? Do you find things filtering through on the internet?
DREW: Oh yeah, we've always encouraged it and who knows how many tapes
there are flying around out there. But yes, I am sure there's just about every show documented somewhere.
JOE: What's really good about that is if had a fantastic show back in 2002 in Pittsburgh PA You may have somebody out there who recorded it. So yes, that's kind of an attribute to bootlegging shows. Getting back on records, you were signed to Hollywood Records for two albums. Tell me about that experience of being signed to a major label and the pros and cons?
DREW: It was an amazing experience overall you know, there's definitely drawbacks to being on a major label but at the time we were really hitting it and there were many major labels that were interested in signing us. We would travel around getting wined and dined by these different record label execs and trying to decide who to go with. It kind of came down to Atlantic Records, which was super exciting, Hollywood Records, and Capricorn Records. It was pretty exciting for a young band out touring on a school bus to suddenly have all this interest from the record labels.
JOE: Did you have A&R people who were approaching you back home, or was it more coastal like New York or LA? Where did the interest come from, was it from building a fan base in Colorado?
DREW: Oh no, it was definitely on the road. We would never have been able to do the Nashville sessions without a record label. That was a huge budget and huge production, so we're thankful to them. I think overall it was a great experience. Now I think it's kind of a thing of the past, mostly for our genre when record labels come after you.
JOE: Everybody has gotten swallowed up, there aren’t many major labels left to negotiate with. If you don't mind me asking, did you guys get dropped or was it a mutual thing where you wanted to cut the ties and move on after the two records were fulfilled?
DREW: They were exercising their option after two records and felt like that's all they wanted to do. But I think because we did the Nashville Sessions it really kept them interested long enough to get us some key opportunities, so we were fortunate there. If we somehow had a hit radio song and sold millions of records that may have been different, but yeah, we've never had a whole lot of radio support which I guess is common for our genre. These labels want to sell millions of records, and that’s not what we’re about.
JOE: It's a numbers game, I completely get it. Let me ask you something about the Boulder scene. Is Colorado home base for the Folk Bluegrass festival scene?
DREW: I would say yes, Nashville is sort of like the bookend to it. We’re more songwriting, and studio oriented but also a lot of those people that are in that scene live in Nashville as well. So kind of in a way like there's the Boulder-Nashville connection right now that kind of goes hand in hand. It has been that way for a while really, this is kind of where it's all based.
JOE: Are you are you still a member of The Left-Hand String Band?
DREW: If we ever decided to call it that again we could play it under that name for quite a while, but it kind of morphed into The Drew Emmitt band. The Left-Hand String Band name just sort of phased out, but we've talked about doing some reunions with whoever may still be around. So, there's always that possibility of playing at a place called The Gold Hill Inn west of Boulder where we used to perform live, we thought about having a reunion there.
JOE: I was checking you guys out and there was a cast of great musicians that accompany you. It must be nice to be able to hand pick who you want to play with, and surrounding yourself with such high level of musicianship. That's a gift!
DREW: Always a treat, and I feel very blessed and fortunate to have been able to play with so many great musicians over the years who have inspired me and pushed me to be better. It's like having professional athletes playing a basketball game together, they're gonna have a lot more fun than people who have only played once or twice. When everybody knows each other, you really can feel the music and really play well.
JOE: Speaking of great musicianship, you're a stellar mandolin player, and I am in awe when watching videos of you play. How did you get your start, and what was the impetus that made you pick up the mandolin, and who were your influences?
DREW: There were many influences, the first was hearing it in Rock music and not necessarily in Bluegrass because I was playing the banjo in a Bluegrass band, I wasn't playing the mandolin yet. Strangely enough, going back to being a teenager and listening to Led Zeppelin’s lead on “The Battle of Evermore”. That's what hooked me to the mandolin, the beauty of it being so jangly and pretty. It's got that beautiful open chord sound and I was really just taken with it as a Rock musician more than a Bluegrass musician. My friends kind of turned me onto David Grisman and Sam Bush and a local band called High Rise. This local guy named Tim O'Brien, who lived in Boulder, gave me mandolin lessons. He was my first teacher and really laid it out for me how to play the mandolin and you know how to look at it as a whole and all the positions and everything I needed to know. So, Tim was really instrumental in getting me going.
JOE: Did you study music in college or grade school?
DREW: A little bit. Well, I was always in bands in school like concert bands, and I was in the stage band during middle school and high school. So yeah, in elementary school I was in the concert band there too. I have always been around music and have always done music in school. I was jamming with people growing up in Tennessee outside of Nashville. It's pretty common to end up at a party with people sitting around in a circle jamming, and then the same thing when we moved out to Colorado. I was like, oh it’s the same thing here except it's a Bluegrass festival feel with people standing around campfires. What I've learned more than anything is just playing Bluegrass around a campfire, it’s where you cut your teeth, you know?
JOE: I was just about to say, it seems like the jam sessions elevated you into achieving success by shaping you into the professional musician you’ve become. I'll tell you, that equates to the East Coast cities like New York or Boston where I was pounding the pavement attending all these jam sessions that were more Blues, Funk, & R&B themed. That's where you get schooled learning quickly about your rhythm, timing, and what to play and what not to play. You really need that as a musician, hone in on your craft and getting your butt kicked.
DREW: You can't learn that in music school, no. That's something where you have to get out there and you have to play with people working on your chops and learning the songs. Especially in the Bluegrass world, there's a language of knowing the tunes and learning all of these things by playing together, right? It’s the same thing in Blues and Rock, there’s a common language there as well. But you know, what I realized about Bluegrass is that there are Rock festivals where people stay up all night standing around campfires and picking. This was something I'd never seen before and thought this is the coolest thing ever. Yeah, people just hang out and play music together.
JOE: That's incredible! I came out of the Irish scene and after every gig people would go back to the hotel and jam in the round calling out traditional tunes & reels fiddling and banging on boughrans, it was fantastic being around that type of community.
DREW: I've been in some of those Irish jams and they are awesome! I've got a pretty good Irish scene here too. The old time/world music is a totally different animal from Bluegrass, it's all about getting into the trance. It's a meditation and community being with your fellow human beings sharing and connecting, which is really cool.
JOE: I agree100%, but let's now focus on the new record The Brand New Good Old Days. I saw a live version. I think it was just you and Vince playing in early 2020 at the Paste studio in Atlanta, right? Have you guys been sitting on this material for a while and decided that you want to release it now, or was it recorded pre pandemic? What is the background backstory?
DREW: It was really new when Vince and I were playing it together. We actually recorded the record back in October of 2019. It's a really great song to break down and boogie off. That’s a fun one to play.
JOE: I really appreciate your harmonies, the two of you have a nice timbre when both voices are blended together. I noticed that when watching a lot of the live stuff, can you contribute that to just being together for so long and knowing each other's vocal tone during the harmonies? Do you talk about stacking harmonies and including the third and fifth? Do you include a third part harmony anywhere in your music, or do you feel like it's better just having the two voices?
DREW: I love the three & fives, we definitely have several three parts, sometimes with me and sometimes with Greg and sometimes with the band, they can all harmonize which is nice because I love big harmonies. But a lot of times just the duet is nice in a lot of the tunes. Yeah, I'm a huge giant fan of harmonizing it's one of the coolest things ever.
JOE: That's why the kids need to listen to Queen for interesting harmonies. When Mark was alive, was he the third harmony voice? Did you have to find another voice after his passing to fill that void?
DREW: We really weren't doing the three parts until this latest incarnation. It was really just Greg and I doing it from back in the day until recent years.
JOE: Your voices complement each other beautifully and stand out powerfully. I noticed that your bass player Greg Garrison was credited as producer of the record, how did that decision come about?
DREW: I think it just naturally developed, you know, Greg's got an amazing ear, we're hearing mixes back and he's picking up on things that nobody else is picking out, he is very meticulous. He's a professor teaching music at CU Denver and I think it kind of comes through as his role in the band. He’s kind of the professor helping out with a lot of organizational stuff, and a lot of coordinating between the manager and the band etc. He's got a really good mind for that stuff and we're really lucky to have somebody like him in the band, and he's just kind of taken over that role. As far as producing, it just made sense for one of us in the band to be the one that is in charge of producing and not like all of us throwing too many ideas out there, which is generally what happens. Greg's a great person to put in that role and he did a great job.
JOE: Everything sits well in the mix, especially when listening with ear buds. As we said earlier, you need to build a team and you need to have people you trust that you're surrounding yourself with. It’s a great sounding record for sure. You chose Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” as a single, and brought new life into the track. Now for me as a musician, I find the chord sequencing a bit different with a lot of flat major sevens and an E minor floating around in there too.
DREW: Yeah, how the melody moves around is really crazy cool. When I first started hearing that song, I thought it had the coolest progression and melody and I never quite listened to the lyrics that much until I learned it. The words are crazy, but apparently, he just put them together as kind of a wordplay which is so cool the way the melody works with the lyrics. I had this Bluegrass idea that excited the band.
JOE: It honestly breathes new life into the track and brings an uplifting feel as opposed to the somberness of the original version.
DREW: Thank you, and I'm hoping people are surprised.
JOE: Was that your decision and did you suggest it?
DREW: Yeah, yeah, it just kind of jumped into my head as an idea one day. I sort of started singing a beat to a Bluegrass rhythm and thought that actually would work as a bluegrass song.
JOE: You never got to play this out live, correct?
DREW: We did it live when we were filming for our stream in Denver. But yeah, we have not played a lot of this record live. We have not played live so we're really excited to do that coming up in the next few days.
JOE: I noticed you have a spring tour set up, yes?
DREW: We have a long weekend Thursday, Friday & Saturday. Thursday we're at the Planet Bluegrass festival site in Lyons Colorado and that's going to be super cool. That's kind of our home base, that's where we grew up in Bluegrass. Then we're headlining the next few nights at Red Rocks with limited COVID seating at around 2500. It is almost a 10,000-seat venue but I think there will be enough people to really make it feel like it's a show. But it'll be different and more intimate, so I'm actually looking forward to that.
JOE: Do you find that when you hit the road you need to be with other groups doing a package tour, or do you feel that you have enough fans where you’re able to fill a couple hundred to a thousand seaters? For instance, a lot of bands will go out on the summer circuit and do all the festivals and then during the off-season they'll do weekend stuff here and there. What would your touring schedule look like if there was no COVID?
DREW: Well, things have changed over the years. We definitely hit touring really really hard, especially during our first 20 years, and we consistently had really good crowds across the country. There’s always going to be your nights that aren't that great, and you get through it. But we've been lucky that we've had a really consistent crowd and fan base over the years. There are enough people across country that know us and want to come see us. Yeah, it's good doing theaters and some bigger clubs and some outdoor venues. Let me just put it this way, it's maintained a good level you know, it's not like we ever got huge. We've gotten to a point where it has been good for many years, and really fun, no complaints honestly. In the last few years, we've definitely been looking at winding down more and being more strategic and not doing as many big tours. I think everybody's kind of ready for that now. We have plenty of heart and it feels good to be a little more strategic and a little more selective. It opens up all kinds of other possibilities and people want to do their own solo stuff and try other things and there should be time for that. I think we're in a really good place right now.
JOE: You've been around for so long and have built up your franchise and branding for the band. There are a lot of people that are weekend warriors who need to sustain their income by working a day gig, which there is no shame in admitting. There is a stigma that's attached to working a day job and that you're not a true musician in the sense if you need to supplement your income with a 9-5er.
DREW: Not at all, I started out working for years while we were getting The Left Hand String Band going and I couldn't make a living playing Bluegrass back then. Bluegrass wasn't really something that you play in bars and theaters unless you were a huge act. But now of course you can do it, back then you had to have a job living the standard ‘don’t quit your day job’ mentality. Anyway, you can make it work and I feel very appreciative that I've been able to make this one a living.
JOE: Have you guys been doing a lot of live streaming during the lockdown last year into this year or just select shows?
DREW: Yeah, we've been releasing streams that we made back in January at the VA center in Beaver Creek and also at The Oriental theatre. We filmed all those shows and we've been releasing those leading up to this weekend.
JOE: Do you think this is the wave of the future right now as far as people doing that? From an audio standpoint are you happy with the end result?
DREW: Yeah, I think it came out great but it is what it is. It's a video and not a live show, I think it has been very helpful during the pandemic having so much online, and it has been pretty much all people have had. So yeah, I think it's a great thing to have, and think it will moving forward. It’ll definitely have more of an impact on the business in general and I think it's going to be used more. I don't think it's necessarily the way of the future because what people really want is that live experience, and when that comes back there's gonna be some smiling faces.
JOE: There's gonna be a lot of babies born and a serious boom.
DREW: Yes, exactly! Somebody equated it to the roaring 20s.
JOE: Well, that's a great comparison for sure. People are itching, they want to get outside and see shows. As human beings were meant to be social and congregate around each other, but we’ve been cut off from that crucial necessity.
DREW: Yeah, we're not meant to be isolated like this. Even though it has its place it has been challenging to be isolated. I am looking forward to getting back together, that’s for sure!
JOE: Amen to that! Well, thank you so much for your time and graciousness allowing our conversation to go a little longer. Before we go let the people know where they can reach you on the social media handles.
DREW: Just go to the website: www.leftoversalmon.com. It has all the contacts and management and social media and all of that stuff.
JOE: Well, very good my friend and thank you again. Be safe out there!
DREW: My pleasure, see you out there and have a good afternoon.
JOE: You too.
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