Many of today’s bluegrass bands have somewhat unusual names. Previous Bluegrass Today columns by Chris Jones have even discussed this phenomenon, suggesting that bands sometime simply open the refrigerator to find inspiration for their band name. However, other bands use their name to reflect the sound they hope to present.
One such group is the Compost Mountain Boys. While at first glance their name seems somewhat humorous, the band actually represents the word compost, meaning “a mixture,” quite well. On their second album, High on a Mountain, this Humboldt County, California-based band combines traditional and progressive-sounding bluegrass to create an interesting record with a 1960s feel.
On High on a Mountain, the Compost Mountain Boys include tunes from several first generation groups as well as songs with a more modern influence. Along with a smooth, peaceful-sounding version of the Stanley Brothers tune Who Will Sing for Me, is an instrumental version of the Bill Monroe song Put My Little Shoes Away. This mid-tempo piece is an interesting choice for an instrumental, since the original has such vivid lyrics.
The band seems very influenced by progressive bands from the 1960s, particularly fellow California-based group The Dillards. The Compost Mountain Boys even include two popular Dillards songs on this album: Dooley and Old Man at the Mill. Both songs sound faithful to the originals, particularly Old Man at the Mill with its old-time feel. The Compost Mountain Boys have offered their own twist on Dooley, however, changing the song from the story of a moonshiner to that of a man whose fields hold something a little more illegal than cotton and rye.
Also included on the album are a lively version of The Fox, written by Burl Ives and made popular in the bluegrass world by Nickel Creek, and the dark, banjo-driven murder song Blackbirds and Crows, in which a man kills his wife before she can leave him. The instrumental Ook-Pic is one of the album’s standout tracks, starting out as a delicate mandolin piece before eventually speeding up and introducing strong banjo and guitar solos.
While most Bluegrass Today readers may be unfamiliar with the Compost Mountain Boys, this West Coast group, consisting of band members Bruce Johnson (bass), Tim Wilson (banjo), Mike Manetas (mandolin), and Marty Dodd (guitar), along with special guest Tashina Clarridge on fiddle, may be worth listening to for open-minded individuals seeking unique songs and sounds.
For more information on this group, visit their website at www.compostmountain.com.