For over 30 years, Leftover Salmon has been at the helm of the burgeoning “jam grass” scene, leaving in their wake a legacy of legendary live shows and a genre-defying sound, with absolutely no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
With their ninth studio album, Brand New Good Old Days, their first to be released on Nashville indie label Compass Records since Live in 2002, Leftover Salmon harkens back to their rootsy Americana origins with a remarkably accessible group of songs that seems to effortlessly harness their myriad musical influences.
Primarily recorded in late 2019 while on tour in Asheville, North Carolina, the group was inspired by the relaxed and down-home vibe of Echo Mountain studios, which had been converted from an old church and is rife with unique characteristics such as an array of intricate stained-glass windows that had a definite impact on these sessions.
In typical Leftover Salmon fashion, the record’s ten tracks run the gamut from bluegrass to country to rock, and even some tinges of Frank Sinatra, with nearly everything else in between.
Kicking things off is a surprising & well-executed bluegrass-infused cover of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun”, which was brought to the group by mandolin/guitar player and co-founder Drew Emmitt after re-discovering his affinity for the melody and haunting lyrics while driving around his Crested Butte, CO home a few years ago. This 90’s alt- rock gem is joined by a rousing version of John Hartford’s “Category Stomp” and a faithful recreation of Conway Twitty’s “Boogie Grass Band”, recommended by bluegrass maven Ronnie McCoury, as the lone cover songs to grace the album.
The remaining original compositions are highlighted by the title track, Vince Herman’s “Brand New Good Old Days.” This laidback, but incredibly optimistic piece sounds instantly familiar and serves as a fitting soundtrack as we begin to collectively emerge from the haze of the past several years. Emmitt’s “Waterfront”, which has a distinct 50’s musical vibe to it, features the album’s lone guest musician as his daughter Willa Emmitt provides some breathtaking vocals to her father’s oceanic ode.
Keyboardist Erik Deutsch, who has since departed the group, shines throughout the entire record, especially on tracks like “Flyin’ at Night” & “Black Hole Sun”, where his tasteful organ work provides the latter with a sort-of “scary carnival” sound that adds an element of drama to the recording.
While most of the songwriting has been typically handled by Messrs. Emmitt & Herman throughout the band’s history, Brand New Good Old Days represents a more recent collaborative effort by the group to encompass material from every member, including Greg Garrison (bass), Andy Thorn (banjo) and Alwyn Robinson (drums). That effort pays off admirably as each of their contributions are quite strong and absolutely worth of inclusion on the album, including Robinson’s tender “Sunday”, Thorn’s overtly political “Red Fox Run” and Garrison’s reggae-tinged tribute to the late Jeff Austin, “Left Unsung.”
Leftover Salmon might not be hollering “festival” much these days for obvious reason, yet they still retain that studio charm that most bands in their scene quite never nailed.