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Town Mountain

New Freedom Blues – 2018 (Town Mountain Records)

Reviewed by Fred Frawley

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CDs by Town Mountain

Town Mountain is a bluegrass band at its core. But here, whilst true to the bluegrass form (drinking - "One Drop In The Bottle; wide open spaces - "North of Cheyenne"; more open spaces- "Lazy River," "Pamlico"), there's an edge to it all. "Life and Debt" is, not surprisingly, a pushback on the New American Normal, as is the title cut.

Town Mountain's sixth studio album shows the group's writing strength and confidence in playing. It was recorded in Asheville, N.C. and features a co-write (and co-vocal) with Tyler Childers on "Down Low."

It is hard to single out one of the band members since each has moments to shine, and all contributed to the songwriting. Fiddler Bobby Britt has a strong bow and lovely phrasing; he takes solos head on and drops in clever fills when called upon. Jesse Langlais banjo is solid and his vocals, along with those of guitarist Robert Greer. "One Drop" shows the band's cleverness. It starts with a rolling spirit (not unlike, dare one say, "Wagon Wheel"), but drives through the common and gets to a sweet/sour balance that leaves the listener with great satisfaction. Britt's insistent fiddle toward the end seals the deal.

Britt's "Tar Heel" is a ripping instrumental in which he and Greer trade licks with Langlais' banjo in the usual AA:BB form, only to come tumbling back together at the end. Phil Barker's mandolin gets hot on "Way I'm Made."

After the playful midsection of the collection, hard times rear their insistent presence with "Underdog" and "Witch Trials." "Underdog," bless its heart, even has a "ditcha ditcha ditcha" chorus calling to mind Roger Miller. "Trials" has a simple, but profound lyric: "everybody believes it, so it must be real." The Childers cut, "Down Low" is a departure, featuring electric guitar and a languorous, yet driving beat. It might be about smoking weed, or it might be about fighting back. Either way, it's good fun.

"New Freedom Blues" is a very intentional record. Appreciate the music that springs from its artists when speaking the truth.