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David Royko Psy.D


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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