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Jeff Austin

The Simple Truth – 2015 (Yep Roc)

Reviewed by Greg Yost

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CDs by Jeff Austin

Jeff Austin is best known as a founding member of the genre-bending Yonder Mountain String Band, a group that has been blurring the lines between bluegrass and jam band rock since 1998. With his solo debut after leaving YMSB last year, the singer, songwriter and mandolin player shows that he is still very much interested in exploring different directions in which he can take his bluegrass roots.

Austin comes roaring out of the gates with "What The Night Brings," a perfectly-formed little mid-tempo rocker featuring a great twin electric guitar solo that harkens back to the classic Allman Brothers sound. The staccato acoustic funk of the title track, which is sweetened by contributions from The Royal Horns, follows with its playful arrangement and cocky-cool attitude making it a real standout. The Royal Horns make a return appearance on "Shake Me Up," the album's other funk-inspired track and their brass break in the middle of this song is a highlight.

"The Simple Truth" is not a completely up-tempo affair. "Scrapbook Pages," "Over And Over" and the closing "Falling Stars" are the three ballads and the best showcases of guest vocalist Sarah Siskind's contributions. On the latter two tracks, John Keane's pedal steel helps set the mood.

It takes a strong group of musicians to bring a diverse musical vision like this to life, so it comes as no surprise that the Jeff Austin Band is packed to the gills with talent. Danny Barnes (banjo and guitar), Ross Martin (guitar), Eric Thorin (bass) and Cody Dickinson, a member of North Mississippi Allstars, form the core group of Austin's supporting musicians and are a big factor in this album's ultimate success.

Despite the varied styles on this 10-song collection, there are two tunes that more closely resemble the music Austin played with Yonder Mountain String Band. "Run Down" is a driving bluegrass tune with some great banjo, acoustic guitar and mandolin feature spots that showcase the collective chops of Austin and his co-conspirators.

The other bluegrass song, the tongue-in-cheek "Fiddling Around," has a fabulous arrangement that creates a bluegrass wall of sound. While these songs are really good and clearly in Austin's wheelhouse, they lack the creativity displayed across the other eight. This is by no means an indictment of those two - it is a testament to the success of his musical exploration efforts throughout "The Simple Truth."