It's amusing to read through the too many reviews issuing from ten gigabazillion crits roaming the wilds of Publicationland. Putting one in mind of a Vegas sense of hopelessness, ya keep praying to scan someone who can nail it but instead have to content yourself with rolling out of town in a slat-framed barrel, embarrassed grin pasted artlessly across blushingly besmirched mug. In describing the surprising Yonder String Mountain Band group, who rather do to bluegrass what the Brits did to blues more than three decades ago, these wall-eyed word-puffers like to dish up a nonplussed string of hackneyed nouns and adjectives dancing listlessly across galley sheets...until you come to the one way-underacknowledged soul who crawled in from the glacial regard of editorial monkeys to scribe a lone enlightened appraisal.
When I say "underacknowledged", I know whereof I speak, and, in this case, the gent who possessed the brain matter to understand this group as a cross between progrock and bluegrass appeared in the Jacksonville EU, whatever the hell that is (a newspaper, I think), and did so with nary an initial in attribution; sadly, another inky drone ripped off by some bastard small-change corporation bulking up a mountainous ego to cover it's soulless ass-end. YMSB, while indeed progressive, though not on the order of a Gentle Giant or Porcupine Tree, is definitely not, as is so carelessly appended by many, a jam band…at least not on this outing. They actually, to stretch canvas across frame a trifle more properly, base in a strongly folked-up mode lending itself with unusual fidelity to the prog-bluegrass streak. When you want jamming, hit on Widespread Panic's eponymous sophomore release, a masterpiece in the genre, or travel back to Man's Be Good to Yourself at Least Once a Day. YMSB are more like what happened when Buffalo Springfield, Poco, the Byrds, America, Barefoot Jerry, David Bromberg, and others sprang up, fusing rock to country and kindred splinters in a fashion alternatingly riveting, wheatfield poetic, down-home satisfying, and artistically arresting.
Bluegrass has always appealed to lovers of instrumental prowess, and it's gratifying to hear the tradition's not being lost on young musicians unafraid to challenge themselves in fusing and advancing hallowed genres. There are only four gents here, plus a couple of session drummers (and Darol Anger on one cut), but each of them plays the mandolin, guitar, bass, or banjo as cleanly, precisely, and dazzlingly as any of their more ballyhooed competitors. What's most affecting, though, is the level of communal togetherness generating warm and dusty affection in every aspect of the presentation. What you got when listening to Flatts & Scruggs, the sense of being included, pervades this CD like a summer's afternoon at the county fair…just before thunderclouds came scudding in from the east, salting the dill-pickled good times with a dash of lament, instilling piquancy and perspective.
However, the sort of beat occurring in How 'Bout You? will never be heard in standard 'grass, yet it harks back to earlier days while satisfying modernist ears. Similarly, the group's layered vocals certainly owe far more to the demands of our late 20th century than to the hoots 'n hollers of the antecedent hundred-span whence this style emerged. For those who might remember them, Angel very nicely recalls the 70s prog-folk group McKendree Spring. All this back-and-forth crosscutting serves the music poetically, counterposing grit and a quieter bravado against this present atmosphere of lip-glossed country yokels with status-slanted paeans to war, patriotism, and faux redneckery. Yonder Mountain String Band, I mean to say, refreshes our memories of authenticity, lovingly and sophisticatedly reshaped to keep abreast of the changes and modifications art was meant for.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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