Americana Roots highlights the freshest and most original Americana and bluegrass from across the pond in the US. It covers everything from brand-new, just out of the box bands, to cult favourites, to established acts who have yet to reach the UK’s shores. From Asheville, North Carolina hail acoustic-warriors Town Mountain who live to blend their traditional bluegrass values with the modern world around them.
Name: Town Mountain.
For Fans Of: Steep Canyon Rangers, Tyler Childers, Steeldrivers,
Hometown: Asheville, North Carolina, USA.
Band Members: Phil Barker (mandolin), Bobby Britt (fiddle), Robert Greer (guitar, vocals), Jesse Langlais (banjo), Zach Smith (bass).
Discography: ‘Heroes & Heretics’ (2008), ‘Steady Operator’ (2011), ‘Leave the Bottle’ (2012), ‘Live at the Isis’ (2014), ‘Southern Crescent’ (2016), ‘New Freedom Blues’ (2018)
Background: “Our sound is steeped in old country and bluegrass, but we all have extremely diverse tastes in music. Often those lines converge, and when they do, you get our brand of bluegrass,” explains Town Mountain. Town Mountain’s brand of bluegrass is a progressive, cutting-edge approach to the traditional genre. While the band is clearly influenced and schooled in the elements that have long been present in bluegrass, they have also found influence in bands such as the Grateful Dead and The Band that have provided inspiration beyond the acoustic music world.
Town Mountain first formed in Asheville, North Carolina in 2005 by banjo-picker Jesse Langlais and guitarist Robert Greer. Over the years the band’s lineup was fluid with many musicians coming in to help fill roles from time to time. “I guess in total it would be somewhere around thirty people,” says Town Mountain, “Either bass, fiddle or banjo players have helped out in the short term. And in some cases, the long term. There are many recognizable names, and we love them all dearly.” The band’s lineup solidified with the addition of mandolinist Phil Barker in 2007, fiddler Bobby Britt in 2009, and bassist Zach Smith in 2016 to complete what they call their “core.” From this core emerged a trio of primary songwriters in Barker, Greer, and Langlais, which has helped shape Town Mountain’s music as the band relies on all their distinct voices to create their sound. “We’ve always considered Town Mountain a Democracy”, explains the band. “Everyone gets to voice their opinion and, at the least, be heard. It’s essential for us all to feel this is a collaborative effort. So many bands in bluegrass have their leaders where the band just follows, and that’s ok. We wanted to have a more collective approach to making music.”
In their time together they have released five studio albums, 2008’s ‘Heroes & Heretics’, 2011’s ‘Steady Operator’, 2012’s ‘Leave the Bottle’, 2016’s ‘Southern Crescent’, and 2018’s ‘New Freedom Blues’ featuring Tyler Childers, as well as the live album, ‘Live at the Isis’, in 2014. The band will be recording another studio album in 2021. About the new album, Town Mountain says, “Some of the material may be a slight departure from our typical bluegrass sound but will still embody the feel, tones and sentiment. The songs have a depth to them that we feel reflects the state of the world and the difficulties that 2020 and 2021 have brought.”
Town Mountain is heavily influenced by their home state of North Carolina and its vibrant roots music scene and the community which surrounds it. Within that community are a number of musicians that the band looks to for inspiration including Hot Rize guitarist Bryan Sutton whose “work ethic and knowledge of bluegrass and traditional music,” have provided immense guidance for the band. Also within that community are a number of musicians, including Leftover Salmon’s Andy Thorn, guitarist Jon Stickley, and Mandolin Orange’s Andrew Marlin, who Town Mountain “first cut their teeth picking with.” “One of the great things about this community is the emphasis it places on musical excellence,” says Town Mountain. “It’s a big point of pride as to how well you can pick and sing, and everyone’s pushing each other to be the best possible, but overall in a constructive way, especially these days. We feel thankful for the countless musicians that we’ve been able to learn from by playing with them. Mentorship in the roots world has a lot to do with just picking tunes together. That’s how you grow.”
All of this has come together to create a band that is firmly rooted in the past with their traditional bluegrass influences, but yet at the same time writing songs that convey the current mood and times. Quite simply Town Mountain uses musical ideas and concepts that draw from the past but remain current, relevant, and even new at times, helping propel acoustic music to new levels. “It just seems that today, people are always looking for honest art,” says Town Mountain. “Something that is made by people like them. Something that comes from communities they come from. Roots inspired music is folk music. Played by the same folks you see at the grocery store or coffee shop. The point is that it’s relatable, the songs are stories that we can identify with. When you hear those acoustic instruments engaged in musical conversation, untethered by digital processing and computerized arrangements, one can feel part of the music.”
What They Do Live:
Photo by Rob Laughter