On February 25th, jamgrass pillars Yonder Mountain String Band will release their 9th studio album, titled Get Yourself Outside. This latest creation is eleven tracks of talent that reveal that after nearly a quarter century, this group still has what it takes to deliver on songwriting, composition, and studio proficiency.
The overall sound is clean, well balanced, and inviting from the start. The pieces are diverse, original, and will easily pull new fans into the fold while reminding those who have been there from the beginning why they keep coming back to this group who makes good on both tradition and innovation.
Get Yourself Outside reflects that the group once again continues to age well even in the face of change and a pandemic, making use of adversity as a stepping stone to creativity and as a fuel that burns off the dregs of commonplace, leaving in its place an inspirational concoction that is revitalizing to both the ear and soul.
“Beside Myself” gets the album started with an upbeat tempo. This number penned by the newest member multi-instrumentalist Nick Piccininni pulls straight from the lockdown portion of the pandemic. It describes what many musicians and creatives experienced with the loss of being able to perform and congregate, including the author, who wrote it while working a part-time job doing construction.
“I Just Can’t” keeps things moving and illustrates some great social commentary from founding members Adam Aijala and Dave Johnston. Lyrically, the listener will find themselves smiling, laughing, and taking pause at the seriousness of the content all the while enjoying the make up of the tune.
“Small House”, written by Johnston but sung by Piccininni, has the deep feel of backwoods Appalachia and conjures images of hardship and a longing for escape. It embodies a brooding feeling at its root that is more 19th century than new millennium modern.
Juxtaposed to the satire of “I Just Can’t”, Adam Aijala’s “If Only” describes the limiting dynamic of language when trying to describe something as deep and wide as emotion. This great little ditty offers sweet talent from the whole of the group and leaves one smiling and comforted at its close.
“Up This Hill”, scribed and sung by Dave Johnston, has a traditional bluegrass feel to it. With great flat picking by Aijala and the baritone vocals of Johnston, this piece will certainly fit right in with the band’s live show when audiences call out to “Let Dave Sing!”
“No Leg Left” speaks to the eternal dilemmas of choice, indecision, and self doubt. The narrator is caught between the call of freedom and the security and reward of commitment. The lyrics are timeless, the melody moving, and Picininni's violin phrasing adds a sorrowful feel as the emotional melody provides solace and stability to this track. The solo centerpiece at the heart of the tune is yet another of many Aijala gems found throughout the album.
Although “Out of the Pan” and “Into the Fire” are separate tracks, the band has been performing the two back to back in front of audiences for more than a year and are a perfect compliment to one another in both title and musicality. The first is pure instrumental fun and the studio take has bassist Ben Kaufman turned up in the mix, distinct, bold, and fluid, as the rest of the group throws down the hoe down over his low end. The second takes the tempo up a notch and showcases great vocals and instrumentation by Aijala and Piccininni.
“Broken Records” has both great jazz and Motown undercurrents throughout and shows that the group continues to push themselves away from the boundaries of expectation. Penned by Kaufmann and born out of his own personal struggles during the pandemic, this piece is a self-proclaimed prayer for the author that difficulty is temporary and that the dawn is only a horizon away. “Broken Records” demonstrates the fact that this group of musicians is not limited to bluegrass or tradition, but became what they are because of their love of music as a whole, not a genre.
“Change of Heart” spotlights the vocal talent of Allie Kral’s voice, haunting and delicate, and carries a melody and lyrical timing that makes this tune memorable. Aijala once again shines in the flat picking department at the midsection, but certainly does not steal the spotlight from Kral’s fiddle playing and solo.
“Suburban Girl” offers Dave Johnston the opportunity to showcase his softer vocal capabilities. This number elicits images of summertime love in youth, passion-filled and indecisive, while the composition tugs at the visceral strings of the listener. The chorus also includes the use of the new album’s title, which seems fitting as the closer to the production.
After listening to these eleven tracks, I found myself hitting play again and again wanting to discover more in both lyric and meter, and each time I walked with what I was looking for. The album title encourages the listener to get outside themselves and personally, I did. I found myself moving out of self-focus and taking a trip through nostalgia, observation, and rapture from the multiple perspectives offered, rather than the perspective of my own tinted lenses.
Although February 25th’s album release party at Meow Wolf in Denver is already sold out, fans can look forward to seeing these new tunes in the near future as the band resumes its spring tour this weekend at WinterWonderGrass in Steamboat Springs, CO. From there, the group makes their way eastward for a jam-packed March through the south and Midwest.