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Town Mountain

Southern Crescent – 2016 (LoHi)

Reviewed by Fred Frawley

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CDs by Town Mountain

Town Mountain offers a bluegrass album you can sink your teeth into. Leave aside the time-worn battle between bluegrass and newgrass. Town Mountain presents a straightforward case for respect in bluegrass, the odd piano and percussive effect notwithstanding. The CD starts out with a modest-appearing, "St. Augustine" (clocking in at one minute) that is anything but slight. A clever fiddle hesitation bowing is followed by a hard-fought instrumental track that announces that the Town Mountain boys are back in town.

"Southern Crescent" is seductive, mixing outstanding playing with a range of vocal styles. Many of the vocals mine the high-lonesome vein of a band like the Osborne Brothers or The Gibson Brothers. But, there is an earthiness to the vocals, which convey heart, without invoking pathos. "Wild Bird of a Highway," for example, could be a simple road song, but the pace and vocals set it apart from the crowd.

The title cut displays tenor vocals and full-throated mandolin, fiddle and banjo licks. That stout playing is followed by the waltz-tempo of "House With No Windows," which, depending on your imagination, is even darker than its melody ("This dollar in my pocket is gonna burn away the blues" does not necessarily refer to a shot of whiskey)

The songwriting is powerful, particularly lyrically. Each Town Mountain member takes a turn at songwriting. Most (except for fiddle player Bobby Britt) sing a lead vocal or two. Harmony is tight as well, notably on "Long Time Comin'" and "Arkansas Gambler."

Town Mountain's players are solid, their writing touching. Britt's fiddle playing is light and feathery, setting the bar at the upper reaches of the Town Mountain sound, nicely exemplified by "Lenny's Reel." Phil Barker plays mandolin runs and arpeggios with great skill. Jesse Langlais' banjo work mixes melodic rolls with admirable percussive counterpoints. Robert Greer plays solid guitar and contributes keenly genuine vocals, mostly leaving the instrumental breaks to his mates. Dirk Powell produced with skill and sure-handedness.

"Southern Crescent" is one of the standout bluegrass records of 2016.