David Royko Psy.D

david@davidroyko.com

Leftover Salmon

Chicago Tribune
TUESDAY, APRIL 4, 2000
MUSIC REVIEW

COOKING ON LOW HEAT
Serving of Leftover Salmon undercut by shaky rhythm
By David Royko


How one evaluates Leftover Salmon (no, this is not a restaurant review--that
is the name of the band) depends a great deal on the reason one is listening.
Judging by the throng of Deadheads bobbing and writhing in the aisles of the
Old Town School of Folk Music Sunday evening, as a soundtrack for a certain
type of dancing, Leftover Salmon is a marvelous experience.

And they do serve up a healthy dollop of energy and a certain unpretentious
stage charisma that makes them easy to like. They seem to be a bunch of music
fans looking to have some fun at nobody's expense, which also describes their
audience pretty well.

Salmon fits comfortably into the "jamband" scene, and like the late Grateful
Dead themselves, they pull from a variety of sources to create their sound.
Their definition of what they are--PolyEthnicCajunSlamgrass--suggests an
anything-goes-as-long-as-it-boogies attitude, and after a decade at the
anti-grindstone, they have managed to keep it light.

Even if the "grass," as in bluegrass, of their self-summarization comes last,
it, more than anything, is what drives their sound. And in an unusual move
for the band, their weekend stand at the Old Town School was virtually
straight acoustic--virtually, because they used an electric bass guitar, and
dabbled with electric mandolin.

But otherwise, this was Salmon without the usual mix of acoustic and electric
instruments, and even more notably, without drums. And that was the biggest
problem.

Drums are the music world's greatest band-aid because of all of the sins of
sloppiness they hide, and typically, bluegrass music has no drums, and thus
no safety net.

Without such help, Salmon's early set suffered from serious lapses in
rhythmic stability. From slow-downs in tempo, momentary rhythmic incoherence,
to disjointed and imprecise attacks, the music lacked that sense of
invincibility that characterizes first rate bluegrass--or jazz, or blues, or
classical--ensembles.

As for soloing, mandolinist/fiddler Drew Emmitt was the most satisfying. His
playing featured clever, syncopated ideas that too often framed flashy runs.
Guitarist Vince Herman and banjoist Mark Vann gamely tossed out short
improvisations that seemed, especially from Vann, to strive for more than
they achieved. Bassist Tye North must take the lion's share of the blame for
the rhythmic lapses, but to be fair, the deficiencies seemed to be a group
issue.

Even the walk-on by Sugar Blue was rendered almost painful by the slow and
sloppy blues tune the band attempted as a feature for their guest harmonica
man.

One almost blinding bright spot was a surprise appearance by ex-New Grass
Revival singer John Cowan. New Grass defined what bands such as Leftover
Salmon strive to be, and to hear the power of Cowan's soaring tenor on "White
Freight Liner Blues," and Emmitt's "Breakin' Through," was to be reminded
that one can party and boogie to music that is as just as impressive to
listen to with full concentration.

[photo for the Tribune of Leftover Salmon performing Sunday at the Old Town
School by Aynsley Floyd]

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