Leftover Salmon Wants to Give You a Party
In essence, Leftover Salmon’s latest offering, Live, is a eulogy to its fallen brother, master banjo player Mark Vann. Vann, a founding member of the 12-year-old group, succumbed to melanoma in March of this year.
But don’t let the preceding sadness fool you. Live is a document rife with celebration. In typical Salmon fashion, nothing comes without a joke or at least a friendly smirk. This fact is made clear straightaway with the album title’s pronunciation: "liv," as in, the opposite of die. What makes the title unconventional is that the recorded music is all live, as in, recorded on stage in front of an audience. It is also meant to serve as a description of Vann. As the liner notes read, Vann was “A great example of how to LIVE.” And, what might as well be the band’s credo, these simple words speak volumes: “Live Loud, Live Rowdy, Stay Up Late, Make Friends, Make Peace, Make Music.” Precisely. And in that order.
The term “party” is all over this album and that feeling starts at first glance of the cover art: a crowd of people waiting in line to use port-o-potties while a bare-chested male reveler streaks across the tops of said latrines. The back cover shows three jars of what is probably peaches soaking in moonshine. The setting of the booklet is summer, when having a good time is really the only thing that matters. Much of the party vibe has to do with most of the tracks coming from Salmonfest last June, and a few other culled from the two Fillmores (San Francisco and Denver).
With Leftover Salmon, jollity is to be the goal. Before the plastic is even torn off, it is evident that this is that rare instance when an album CAN be judged by its cover. Both of them. But once PLAY is actually pressed does the throw-down reveal itself. In a big way. This is one rockin’ album. Top to bottom. Start to finish.
What better way to hammer that thought home than with the opener, “Let’s Give a Party” (which is exactly the point of Salmonfest). Long before Andrew W.K. unleashed his brand of party music on the world, Leftover Salmon has been performing this tune, commonly referred to as “Ants in My Pants.” Four minutes in, the jam picks up some serious speed, becoming less bluegrass and more of a rollicking hoe-down.
There’s a ton of great stuff happening on Live; primarily the addition the band’s hero John Cowan lending his vocal prowess to two different jams. The first, John Hartford’s “Steam Powered Aeroplane,” is one of the closest things to a bluegrass song as you’ll find here. Cowan also helps out on “Railroad Highway,” which sounds eerily like a Little Feat outtake. This Bill McKay composition is piano heavy, but Vince Herman’s slick guitar riffing punches this thing into a nasty rocker. McKay’s ivory work is also evident with a dead-on Professor Longhair imitation on, “Bill’s Boogie,” a Nawlins-style juke joint composition.
These days, most bands eschew labels of any kind, especially ones that might paint the artists into a corner. So it’s only fitting that Leftover Salmon gave itself the Polyethnic Cajun Slamgrass label at its inception. Those that are looking for a description of what that might mean should check out bassist Greg Garrison’s Celti-delic “Dark Green Thing.” One of two ten minute-plus opuses, the instrumental is both spacey and surprisingly cohesive, allowing Salmon to show off their improvisation skills and their seriously killer chops.
Even a composition like “Out in the Woods,” which could easily become a slower ballad, becomes a groover in its own right. The first minute disguises itself as a slower tune but morphs into an uptempo number replete with layered solos from Drew Emmitt and Herman. “Unplug That Telephone” has a thumping jug-band back-beat that sets the foot tapping. But, once again, McKay and Herman put heaviness in the foot and force it to stomp a little bit more with each rising meter. “Telephone” is wisely followed up by the very excellent hyper-grass tune, “Get Me Outta This City.”
The suggestion of “Let’s get dangerous” kicks off the album’s encore, “Danger Man.” Leaving us on a high note, the David Bromberg tune is altogether fun and fast and makes for a wild and woolly ending.
But just when you think the fun is all over, Compass Records has made Live an Enhanced CD with a video of “Let’s Give a Party.” And once again, you’re asked to summon a second wind because, as Mark Vann would have hoped, the party just keeps going.
Go LIVE and See Music!
Leftover Salmon ~ Live
1) Let’s Give A Party (P.D. arr. Leftover Salmon)
2) Steam Powered Aeroplane (John Hartford)
3) Bill’s Boogie (Bill McKay)
4) Dark Green Thing (Greg Garrison)
5) Out In The Woods (Drew Emmitt)
6) Unplug That Telephone (Bob Gabig)
7) Get Me Outta This City (Drew Emmitt)
8) Railroad Highway (Bill McKay)
9) Danger Man (David Bromberg)