After Leftover Salmon lost founding banjo player Mark Vann
to cancer in 2002, the band never quite recovered its mojo. The result was an
indefinite hiatus at the end of 2004 and very sporadic shows played ever since.
This year, though, the Colorado
string crew – known best for rowdy ganja-fueled hoedowns with plenty of gritty
picking and zany roots rock jams – has launched a full-blown reunion.
Salmon founders and principle songwriters Drew Emmitt
(mandolin, fiddle) and Vince Herman (guitar) have found a foil to match their
energy in young banjo upstart Andy Thorn (Larry Keel, Emmitt-Nershi Band), and
the revitalized spirit is palpable on Aquatic
Hitchhiker, the band’s first studio album in eight years.
The group’s long-ago self-donned label of “Polyethnic Cajun
Slamgrass” is still its most apt
description. Holding true, the album
meanders through different genre pools from quick-fingered string journeys (the
Thorn-crafted title track) to island-flavored grooves
(“Liza”) to zydeco foot-stompers (“Bayou
Town” and “Sing Up to the
In the studio, Salmon is best when they embrace old school
Americana (see 1999’s The Nashville Sessions for greatest results), and here that comes from Herman’s autobiographical
Appalachian folk tune “Kentucky Skies” and Emmitt’s free-range highway jam
“Stop All Your Worrying.” The majority of these songs, though, will fare better
in the live setting. It’s where Salmon does its best work, and thankfully the
band is back to do a lot more of it.
Skies” JEDD FERRIS