An ideal introduction to the energetic blend of styles that makes up one of today’s best bluegrass bands.
On their new project, Leftover Salmon reflect on their bluegrass and festival roots with a set of songs that were among their earliest inspirations. Drawing from the songs and tunes that The Salmon Heads and The Left-Hand String Band played when they first converged in a Telluride Bluegrass Festival campground, ultimately merging to form Leftover Salmon.
Having long been leaders of the acoustic/newgrass/jamband scene, this is also a good measure of how far they have come since the early 90s. opening with a version of Dock Boggs’ ‘Country Blues’, which Drew Emmitt, who takes the lead vocal here, says that he learned the song from a version sung by Tim O’Brien. The Bajo and Fiddle that lead this tune can almost at times have flashes of a Celtic influence, you can hear bits of Runrig in the instrumental sections. More traditionally Bluegrass is ‘Blue Railroad Train’, with long time collaborator Billy Strings harmonising with Emmitt over Dobro and Banjo.
They have clearly put a lot of thought into the songs that they are suing to highlight their legacy. John Starling sang ‘California Cottonfields’ with The Seldom Scene, a band that was an important early influence on Leftover Salmon. And now his son Jay sings it on this album, over solos from Drew Emmitt on Mandolin and Andy Thorn’s Banjo.
As stalwarts of the Jamband world, they have been championed by Relix magazine, which is almost the house journal of the Grateful Dead, so it’s no surprise to find a Hunter/Garcia song here. ‘Black Peter’ is taken a much faster tempo than the ‘Workingman’s Dead’ version but manages to retain the darkness in the words. ‘The New Lee Highway Blues’ is a song associated with another Garcia collaborator David Bromberg. Drew Emmitt confirms his status as most valuable player on the album with a short but entirely appropriate Fiddle solo.
Link Wray’s ‘Fire and Brimstone’ has as much of the Neville Brother’s version as the writers, with the electric piano dominating and giving a drive to the tune that highlights the blend of styles that Leftover Salmon have made their own. This song also features a great electric guitar from Vince Herman and some almost Bernard Purdie style funky drumming from Alwyn Robinson.
These 10 songs are the perfect place to start with Leftover Salmon, who aren’t a big a name in the UK as they might be. Their only date here in 2023 is at the 400 capacity Oslo Hackney. They put on a great live show, and some of that exuberant energy and sense of fun comes across in this album.