Drew Emmitt: Long Road

By: Sarah Hagerman

Restless joy permeates Drew Emmitt‘s third solo outing, Long Road (Compass Records), whether it’s in a nicely succinct turn of phrase or the slip and slide many take into electric explorations. Drawing upon the eclectic influences of his work with Leftover Salmon (“River’s Risin'” even gets an extended workout here), while keeping the acoustic roots threads strong, this album is a sweet smorgasbord that wriggles out of neat categorization.

Long Road travels a trajectory that shows off not only Emmitt’s versatility as a multi-instrumentalist (acoustic and electric slide mandolin, mandola, acoustic and electric guitar), but the quality company he keeps. Tim O’Brien and John Cowan both contribute substantial vocal work (Cowan also co-wrote the title track), while Benny “Burle” Galloway collaborates with his consistently stellar penmanship throughout. Emmitt’s studio band on the record, which includes drummer Jeff Sipe (Aquarium Rescue Unit, Leftover Salmon), banjoist Chris Pandolfi (The Infamous Stringdusters), guitarist Tyler Grant , bassist Eric Thorin and fiddler Stuart Duncan for starters, shine brilliant. Of course, there is also notable guest work, from Ronnie McCoury, Billy Nershi, Darrell Scott and Alison Brown, amongst others, to round out the whole affair.

Ultimately, this album is a love song to the road, and it’s a mostly contented relationship. Emmitt and Co. capture these moods and moments with songwriting that cuts to the heart of that thematic arc. “Beat of the World,” which features an addictive, head bobbing reggae twinge, is a necessary reminder to just go with the flow and don’t be such a reactionary: “I’m learning to let it go/ The more I see the less I know.” There’s a certain beauty to keeping it bloody simple and nothing to gain by convoluting a singular nugget of truth. Following that approach, “I’m Alive” (co-written by Galloway and Jim Lauderdale) repeatedly proclaims, “Lord have mercy/ I’m alive,” with Scott’s emphatic vocals providing a compliment to Emmitt’s silty delivery. Meanwhile “Gold Hill Line,” a straight-ahead bluegrass number, reflects upon the ghost towns of Colorado’s mining industry while en route to the sweetheart waiting at home. Some choice covers compliment the originals, including Supertramp’s “Take the Long Way Home,” which is begging to be put on Christmas mix CDs, and Van Morrison’s “Gypsy in My Soul.” Asphalt can be a moody mistress and a downright bitch sometimes, but there’s certain splendor and elusive freedom in the grades, curves and white lines. Emmitt skillfully distills that muse here.

Enjoy a lil’ slice of the Drew Emmitt Band live in Utah this past March.

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