Leftover Salmon | 'Aquatic Hitchhiker' | New Music Review
Eight years is a long time to wait for a new helping of Cajun-infused bluegrass poly-funk, but it was definitely worth the wait. Aquatic Hitchhiker, Colorado jam legends Leftover Salmon’s new studio release, delivers with an album that defies genres. Vince Herman and Drew Emmitt started the group with banjo master Mark Vann more than twenty years ago, and after Vann’s passing from cancer in 2002 they tried press on, but went on a hiatus in 2004, much to the dismay of their fans. They reunited a few times, including six performances in 2007 and a smattering of shows since, periodically delighting supporters with their signature high-energy performances. Since then, young banjo picking virtuoso Andy Thorn, winner of the coveted Rockygrass banjo and band contest in 2003, has joined forces with Hermann and Emmitt and brought new energy to the band not seen since Vann’s passing.
Aquatic Hitchhiker opens with a Cajun inspired nod to the Gulf oil spill with the song “Gulf of Mexico.” With a funky backbeat , some impressive mandolin and keyboard work, and lyrics that complement the composure well, “Things a little different round here these days. Since the storm and the spill drove everybody away”- it’s pure Salmon. The title track “Aquatic Hitchhiker” starts soft and slow, then explodes into a mad picking fest with a driving beat reminiscent of old-school bluegrass. Thorn really flexes his musical muscles, trading banjo licks with Emmit on the fiddle. The song “Bayou Town” reflects Leftover Salmon’s dexterity, with a swinging old time country-waltz style twang, and “Kentucky Skies” is sure to be a crowd favorite – because what Leftover Salmon fan wouldn’t appreciate a tune about moonshine, Bill Monroe, bluegrass festivals and playing guitar around a campfire under the night sky?
Not that every song on the album is pure Leftover Salmon “poly-ethnic Cajun slam-grass.” “Light Behind the Rain” is a lyrically rich ballad written by Andy Thorn and Benny Galloway, who also wrote all of the tracks on Yonder Mountain String Band’s 2003 progressive bluegrass release Old Hands. The song “Here Comes the Night” also deviates from Salmon’s norm, sounding like a 70’s pop song with the band trading guitar chords for furious picking, but it grows on you after you hear it a few times.
Acquatic Hitchhiker, which was produced by Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin, is a well put-together studio effort from a band known for their amazing, high energy live shows. Although LoS is known as a jam band, they defy genres and their energy and passion shines through on this twelve track offering. They deliver an impressive set of funk, rock, country, folk, jazz, and of course, they didn’t forget the ardent fans of the good old-fashioned ”poly-ethnic Cajun slamgrass” that only Leftover Salmon can deliver.