Yonder Mountain String Band - The Show
After last year’s U.S. Bluegrass chart-topping continuation of their official live release Mountain Tracks, Volume 5, the Colorado quartet return with The Show and producer Tom Rothrock as they continue to expand their sound.
From the opening notes of “Out of the Blue,” the band (banjo player Dave Johnston, mandolin player Jeff Austin, bass player Ben Kaufmann, and guitarist Adam Aijala) is satisfyingly familiar with their authentic, acoustic sounds, which is why the next track, “Complicated,” throws me for a bit of a loop. It’s more of a rocker with a studio-polished sound, and it’s hard to give it a chance and not reject it straightaway because I have so enjoyed what the band has delivered before. Drummer Pete Thomas, known for playing with Elvis Costello, accompanies on the first of six tracks he plays on this album. “Fingerprint” is in a similar mode with its sound but the banjo is front and center in the arrangement, creating a hybrid of the two previous songs, and I enjoy it more.
“Dreams” finds the band back to acoustics with a tender country ballad that occasionally brings to mind Jerry Garcia’s side projects. The eight-minute “Honestly” brings to mind Garcia’s full-time gig, The Grateful Dead, as YMSB harkens back to their progressive bluegrass roots with an extended, purposeful bridge that will surely be engaging and allow for improvisation when played live. It’s one of my favorite tracks on the album.
“Steep Grade, Sharp Curves” returns to the rock sound from before, but this time there’s no denying the music is melodious and the lyrics playful. Like the woman who bewitches the narrator, I couldn’t resist the song’s charm if I wanted to.
Heading in yet another direction, “Isolate” is a haunting, evocative, marvelous piece led by the bass. I wouldn’t have guessed it was YMSB. It serves as a needed reminder of what can be lost when we hold onto our artists so tight and refuse to let them grow and try new things. For a brief instant, I found myself wanting more in that vein once the picking started on the acoustic instrumental “In the Seam.”
The Show closes out with five quality bluegrass tunes that fulfill expectations of what you expect from the band, like stepping into your favorite old shoe or eating a favorite recipe. The album works well and makes a good blueprint for artists who want to travel different paths while making sure they don’t lose those who are following.
The release also finds extra material related to it. iTunes offers a nine-minute version of “Midwest Gospel Radio” recorded in 2005 during the Yonder Mountain String Band sessions. It is available as a free bonus track with the purchase of The Show, or is available to buy on its own. After recording the album, band members returned to the studio and recorded acoustic, solo versions, almost like a reverse demo, of the entire album except for “Dreams,” which is available online.