Josh Shilling- for the Grateful Web

Mountain Heart, one of the most talented, versatile and explosive sextets in the acoustic firmament, will offer a special treat to fans new and old this October 23rd with the release of Road That Never Ends (The Live Album) on Rural Rhythm Records.  Building on the group's already recognized strengths, Road That Never Ends ups the ante by bringing new elements of rock, blues and even jazz to its signature blend of bluegrass, gospel and jamgrass, underlining the sextet's unique role in the world of acoustic music.

Recorded on May 26th of this year in the intimacy of Ann Arbor, Michigan's 400-seat venue, The Ark, The Road... represents Mountain Heart's first live recording, and as their faithful listeners (from cozy clubs to such fabled festivals as Telluride, MerleFest and RockyGrass) well know, it is in front of a live audience that this award-winning combo is truly in its exuberant, celebratory element. Presenting nearly an hour's worth of tried-and-true fan favorites along with some choice new additions destined to lock-in even upon first hearing, the recording also showcases the band's newest addition, guitarist and primary lead singer Josh Shilling.

Just 23 years old but with a wealth of pan-genre experience (and already a gifted songwriter), Shilling's elastic, expressive tenor handles the traditional high lonesome sound with uncanny flair even as his way with ballads (as on his own seductive, heartbreaking "Who's the Fool Now?") and soulful, gut-bucket blues (the low-down original "It Works Both Ways" and a scintillating interpretation of the Allman Brothers' eternal "Whipping Post") further expand Mountain Heart's already-enviable stylistic range and command.

Of course, to hold his own in this vaunted company, he HAS to be good. Formed in 1998 with a core group of veterans from Alison Krauss's multi-platinum and highly-awarded, Union Station, and Doyle Lawson's hallowed Quicksilver juggernaut, Mountain Heart cadged its first annual International Bluegrass Music Association award ('Emerging Artist of the Year') in 1999, and they've been racking up group and individual awards and nominations ever since.

adamMandolinist Adam Steffy has garnered six consecutive IBMA nominations as best in his field (winning FIVE!), fiddler, founding member and Road... producer Jim Van Cleve earned a 2006 GRAMMY nomination for 'Best Country Instrumental' with his solo disc No Apologies, (on Rural Rhythm Records) and the rest of the gang (co-founder/banjo wizard Barry Abernathy, bassist Jason Moore and guitarist Clay Jones) routinely dazzle crowds with their individual prowess, intuitive, extra-sensory group interplay and - always - an uncommon knack for crowd-pleasing showmanship.

The disc features scintillating live versions of fan favorites such as Steve Gulley's "I'm Just Here to Ride the Train," a showboating workout on the beloved "Heart Like a Road Sign," Barry Abernathy's stellar reading of Pat McLaughlin's soaring "God and Everybody," and rollicking, kinetic instrumentals "Devil's Courthouse" (from Van Cleve's solo disc) and the lights-out closer "#6 Barn Dance" (which somehow falls just short of setting the Michigan woodlands ablaze).

An extra-special treat is the welcome return of "The Gospel Train." Mountain Heart's awe-inspiring rendition of the well-traveled traditional roof-raiser helped them earn an IBMA award for 'Gospel Recorded Performance of the Year' in 2002 with the album The Journey, but their then-label has since folded, leaving this inspirational evergreen out-of-print until now.

Change - as we all know - can be taxing, particularly when it involves the personnel of a much-loved touring band. But with Road That Never Ends, Mountain Heart memorably meets the challenge, keeping the home fires burning even as it strikes out for - and conquers - new musical territory.  Their hearts may lie in the mountains, but wherever the road that never ends takes them, these acoustic music masters will always make it feel like a natural home.

Leftover Salmon Ends Hiatus, Confirms Festival Appearances

Drew Emmitt @ The Fox in Boulder- for the Grateful Web

Colorado-based Leftover Salmon announces it will return to the stage later this year. Confirmed by a statement today from band manager John Joy the return will mark the end to the band's 27-month hiatus.

Following the band's last live performance on New Year's Eve 2004 in Boulder, audiences nationwide will once again hear the trademark polyethnic-cajun-slamgrass sound that propelled the group from its humble Rocky Mountain beginnings to international critical acclaim.

The returning lineup for Leftover Salmon features Vince Herman (acoustic guitar, vocals), Drew Emmitt (mandolin, guitar, vocals), Jeff Sipe (drums), Greg Garrison (bass, vocals), Bill McKay (keyboards, vocals), and Noam Pikelny (banjo).

The confirmed performances have the band making festival appearances on opposite coasts including the High Sierra Music Festival in Northern California and the All Good Music Festival in West Virginia's hills.

Confirmed 2007 Performances:

High Sierra Music Festival - Quincy, CA  2 performances: Saturday, July 7 and Sunday, July 8

All Good Music Festival - Masontown, WV Sunday, July 15

Leftover Salmon was formed by accident in 1989, when a local band, the Salmon Heads, asked members of the Left Hand String Band to fill some missing spots in its lineup.  The synergy worked and the resulting quintet went on to pioneer its own genre.


After the independent release of Bridges to Bert in 1993 and the 1995 live follow-up Ask The Fish, Leftover Salmon gained a spot on the H.O.R.D.E. festival tour and a contract with Hollywood Records. Their Hollywood debut and second studio album, Euphoria, continued to define their eclectic sound and introduced many songs that would become classics for the band.

vinceOther releases include The Nashville Sessions (1999) featuring scores of famous Nashville artists and session musicians as collaborators; Live (2002) the first recording with the new rhythm section, O Cracker, Where Art Thou? (2003) featuring Cracker members David Lowery and Johnny Hickman with LS as the backing band, and Leftover Salmon (2004) first studio record since the loss of founding member, banjoist Mark Vann.

Each of the band's releases cements its contemporary sound with the solid genre-bending fusion of newgrass, folk and blues. Through the course of the initial 15 years of Leftover Salmon has performed music with such contemporaries as Sam Bush, Bela Fleck, David Grisman, Jerry Douglas, Del McCoury, Peter Rowan, Pete Wernick, Col. Bruce Hampton, Oteil Burbridge, Bill Payne, Darol Anger, Mike Marshall, Pete Sears, Todd Park Mohr, Tony Furtado, Theresa Anderson, along with members of the The String Cheese Incident, Widespread Panic, Yonder Mountain String Band and dozens of additional artists.

The band continues to break new ground with its highly energetic live performances and initiate new fans with each show.

Official Leftover Salmon website: www.leftoversalmon.com

Oil's Well that Ends Well

Bio Car- for the Grateful Web

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have dealt a one-two punch to the petroleum infrastructure in the Gulf states of Texas and Mississippi. Over 1 million barrels of daily oil production and over 6 billion cubic feet of natural gas remain offline in the Gulf, and to date, 10% of annual oil production and 7% of annual natural gas production have been lost (link).  Natural gas and home heating oil prices are expected to rise about 50% this winter.  Some analysts are now saying that $5/gallon gasoline is not beyond probability.

I'll go into home heating in another article, but for today, I'd like to focus on transportation.

What are you driving?  How many miles per gallon do you get?  Me, I drive a 1983 Mercedes sedan, and I get a modest 25 miles per gallon.  Now, I suppose you're saying to yourself, "If this guy is such an energy expert, why isn't he driving a Prius or an electric car?"  I would, but I can't afford to buy one.  Can you?  Yeah, I drive a big car, but I have a family, and besides, I don't use gasoline.  My car has a diesel engine, and I fuel it with biodiesel: diesel fuel made from vegetable oil.  Most companies that produce biodiesel now produce it from new soybean oil.  However, biodiesel can also be made from used cooking oil, such as might be obtained from the French fryer of a restaurant.

Currently, in several states, drivers of diesel engine vehicles can fill up at stations that sell biodiesel fuel, typically in blends with petroleum diesel (affectionately known as "dino-diesel") of either 20% or 99% biodiesel.  It costs a little more than dino-diesel (about 15 cents per gallon), and that's after a generous $1.00 per gallon tax credit that Congress included in a jobs bill it passed in October 2004.  (Occasionally, Congress does something good.)

So, if it costs more, why buy biodiesel?  There are a number of reasons:

1)      Environmental:  When I buy biodiesel, I know that it was made with a minimum of toxic chemicals, unlike refining petroleum which results in such a high level of solid, liquid and airborne pollutants, Southern Louisiana and Mississippi, home to several refineries, has been given the nickname "Toxic Alley".

2)      Political:  When I buy biodiesel, I'm supporting a locally-owned company that produces an agricultural-based product.  I'm not supporting a multi-national corporation that's responsible for putting the George W. Bush into the White House and sending our armed forces to Iraq.

3)      Mechanical:  The original diesel engine, designed by Otto Diesel (yes, really!), was designed to run on peanut oil.  Diesel engines run better and last longer on biodiesel.  When I first started using biodiesel, I used a 50-50 or 60-40 blend by filling up half the tank with dino-diesel and then topping it off with biodiesel.  If a car has run dino-diesel for a long time, burning biodiesel in it will start to clean out a lot of deposits from the engine and could clog up the oil filter.  My mechanic recommended changing the oil filter frequently at the beginning.  Once I had cleaned out a lot of the gunk, I could run straight biodiesel.

4)      Olfactory:  Maybe I'm weird, but I like driving around in a car whose exhaust smells like French fries.

5)      Futuristic:  So, how is driving a 22-year-old car that runs on refined vegetable oil futuristic?  World oil production has likely peaked, and every year after this one, we can expect to see less oil produced than the year before.  Meanwhile, global demand for oil is going up.   That means higher and higher prices.  But I can live quite nicely without petroleum fuel (admittedly, though not without other petroleum products such as engine oil and compact discs).  Long after my neighbor stops driving his Lincoln Navigator, I'll be driving my quaint biodiesel car.

6)      It's cool:  Musicians such as Bob Dylan and Neil Young have used biodiesel buses on recent concert tours.  Willie Nelson, and staunch biodiesel proponent, has invested in biodiesel projects, including a biodiesel production facility in Oregon and a biodiesel truck stop in South Carolina.

There are some biodiesel users who even make their own.  If they're really brave, they can make their own on the stove with household cookware and some barrels.  (see http://journeytoforever.org/biodiesel_make.html)   Some have purchased turnkey small-scale (though pricey) biodiesel production units, such as the "FuelMeister" sold by http://www.homebiodiesel.com

Biodiesel production requires lye or sulphuric acid as well as small amounts of methanol as a catalyst, which is toxic and must be handled carefully.  One nice thing about the turnkey systems is that you just mix everything together, and it does the rest, which reduces the hazardous nature of the chemicals.  The major byproduct of producing biodiesel is glycerin, which can be made into soap, though often I wonder just how much soap one person needs.  Then again, that person next to you in the crowded elevator probably could use more.

Presently, in most places, there are still ample sources of used vegetable oil to be found.  However, as petroleum becomes more expensive, more people will be seeking out sources of vegetable oil, and it could become a limited resource as well.  I would advise you to start now and talk the owners of your favorite restaurants to secure their goodwill and their oil.

What about that Prius?

One more thing, which may be obvious, but I've been asked it several times.  No, you CANNOT run your gasoline-powered car on biodiesel.  Gasoline and diesel are two completely different types of fuel, and they are not interchangeable.  So, you may not use biodiesel in your new Toyota Prius.  It seems to me that the ideal would be diesel-electric hybrid, but as yet, I am not aware of one available.  GM is working on a diesel-electric hybrid concept car, and I would suspect that other manufacturers are, too.  We'll just have to wait and see.  That is, if there's enough oil left to manufacture them.

My long-term recommendation:  walk, ride a bicycle, or take mass transit, and save your biodiesel car for only when you really need it.  That will help ensure an adequate supply of fuel for everyone.  Biodiesel will be an important piece of the puzzle of our dubious energy future, and any investment made into promoting biodiesel will most certainly pay off.

Daniel Sapon-Borson holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and an M.S. in Energy Policy and Management.  When not driving his biodiesel Mercedes, he can be seen walking or bicycling around the streets of Eugene, OR.


Corn Image Thumbnail Credit: photographer Navin Sigamany  Navin Sigamany's Blogocentricity, Life online and in Chennai

Bio Car Image: Grateful Web hybrid using Storacar image

Related Links: VW Leads Automotive Pack with BioDiesel Research

10/12/2005: Denver Public Schools one of largest fleets in country to run on BioDiesel