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Yonder Mountain String Band

Black Sheep – 2015 (Frog Pad)

Reviewed by Kevin Oliver

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Anyone wondering if the 2014 departure of founding member and mandolinist Jeff Austin would alter the successful formula that Yonder Mountain String Band has used since their first album back in 1999 can rest easy after hearing what the new lineup has done with this new studio effort. Touring with the band since Austin's exit, newly minted Yonder members fiddler Allie Krall and mandolinst Jake Joliff make an immediate impact here on several levels.

Krall's fiddle may be the best thing that's happened to Yonder since the start of the band, giving their sometimes jammy newgrass a more traditional flavor and serving as an additional counterpoint to Dave Johnston's banjo on songs such as "Drawing a Melody." She even gets a vocal turn on "Love Before You Can't," a swinging tune that sounds like Susan Tedeschi singing with Sam Bush.

In their live shows, Yonder has always had a fun time pulling out unlikely covers from Talking Heads and more; here they romp through a mandolin and fiddle-driven take on punk icons Buzzcocks' "Ever Fallen In Love With Someone You Shouldn't Have Fallen In Love With" as if it were a supercharged bluegrass standard.

The old 'are they or aren't they bluegrass' argument about bands such as Yonder Mountain String Band and Greensky Bluegrass ceased to hold water a long time ago; at this point they are almost a genre unto themselves, a true American musical melting pot of sounds, styles and traditions rolled up into a melodic blast - no longer the 'black sheep' of this album's title, if they ever really were.