I’m not sure what the definition of bluegrass would be in words alone, but if that definition was set to music, it would probably sound something like Town Mountain’s new Pinecastle Records release, Leave the Bottle.
The dozen songs here are firmly rooted in the tradition of the Blue Grass Boys, Flatt and Scruggs and other pioneers of the genre. The band sounds the part – tight picking and comfortable harmonies that aren’t overdubbed to soulless perfection. And the songs sound the part, too – murder ballads, endless highways, a nod to bluegrass’ Celtic roots and even a tip of the hat to a moonshiner. The songs are new and mostly written by band members, but they sound like they could have come from the exciting early days of bluegrass.
The best example, among many that are stellar, is Run Junior Run, written by Town Mountain’s mandolin man, Phil Barker, and performed at a runaway tempo befitting a tale of a moonshiner trying to outrun the law in some southern hollow.
I’m pretty sure this song is about Junior Johnson, a first-generation NASCAR star who learned to drive while hauling ‘shine and trying to stay ahead of the law. Some times he succeeded, and sometimes he went to jail, just like the “Junior” in this terrific song. On the track and on the backroads, Junior drove on the edge between crashing and just barely staying in control – exactly the way a great bluegrass band plays.
Another Town Mountain nod to tradition is Lawdog, which also flowed from Barker’s pen. If it had been written a couple of decades earlier, Ralph Stanley might have sung the daylights out of this road song. Here, too, the singer is trying to evade the law. But this time, instead of a moonshiner, he’s a bluegrass picker!
I’ve got a lot of miles to travel,
I’m running a little late.
A no show gets me nothing,
So don’t you get in my way,
I’ve got no time for you, Lawdog.
Other standout songs include Four Miles, an instrumental written and fiddled to perfection by Bobby Britt, Heavy Stone, the story of a rambling man who can’t be tied down, and Away From Home, the aforementioned murder ballad, sung as a tender duet in three-four time.
But for all-out entertainment, accompanied with a huge serving of snark, nothing beats the CD’s opening song, “Lookin’ in the Mirror.” Unlike most songs of introspection, this narrator likes what he sees coming after his darling ditches him for a younger man:
Time can take its toll, in so many different ways.
I’ll get more distinguished, you’ll go old and gray.
You’re gonna wish you had me back when your beauty starts to fade
Me, I’m lookin’ in the mirror, lookin’ better every day.
I could go on. There are no duds, and no filler songs on this project, which was produced by Mike Bub. But you get the point. This, my friends, is how bluegrass is supposed to sound.