Mountain worth visiting
Summer is almost here. Yes, it is raining as I am writing this article, but that’s not the point. What’s a better way to go to the beach, or drive through North Philly, than with all four windows open blasting bluegrass? Yeah, that’s right. You can travel down Broad Street with banjos, mandolins and guitars coming out of the speakers with the volume knob turned all the way to the right.
Yonder Mountain String Band is releasing its fourth studio album on May 9. The album is coming out just before a giant summer tour, which will include shows with The Allman Brothers and Gov’t Mule, in addition to the numerous “newgrass” and jam band festivals.
The band is out of its comfort zone with this new, self-titled album, and concert reviewers say that the band is nervous about playing the new material because it is so different. Who knew that Yonder Mountain guitarist Adam Aijala knew what an electric guitar was at all?
I had my doubts about listening to a studio album by a band whose popularity was built completely on word-of-mouth praise of its live shows. However, the addition of drums and producer Tom Rothrock, who is better known for creating albums with Beck, James Blunt and Elliott Smith, gives the album a folk appeal, while still keeping the bluegrass base.
The album is great; however, I must say I am a little disappointed with the lack of fiddle on most tracks. I am a sucker for good fiddle playing. One song that does include some fiddling is “Angel.”
The song that sounds the least like Yonder Mountain is “Classic Situation,” which is anything but a classic Yonder situation. The song is the perfect personification of the new Yonder: drums, electric guitar and a more rock/folk feel while still keeping fast finger-picking banjoes, mandolins and fiddle.
This release is exceptional, and the band makes it seem simple to play bluegrass and make an album. I think the song “Fastball” happened when the producer accidentally left the studio recording while the members of Yonder just fooled around playing as fast as they possibly could.
One weakness of Yonder Mountain String Band is its songwriting. Yonder’s lyrics are simple at best, and do not stand out at all. However, the band isn’t necessarily known for its songwriting or poetic lyrics anyways, so it’s just a minor detail.
The last song on the album, “Wind’s on Fire,” is slow and sad. This song is actually where Aijala shines at playing guitar, giving the song a slide guitar feel.
Any jam band, even one that is more bluegrass, always has trouble in the studio. Ask any Phish or Les Claypool fan and he or she will tell you that studio albums of those bands are not that great. It is not the bands’ fault; it’s hard to take a band that is known for jamming and cram 30 minute songs into a studio and make an actual album.
However, Yonder Mountain String Band’s new self-titled album is worth picking up, and its tickets are getting harder and harder to come by due to the growing popularity. But those tickets are more than worth it, as is the album.
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