Like Steep Canyon Rangers, Town Mountain makes an upward climb from bluegrass basics to yet another pinnacle. The two bands share a propensity for bending boundaries whenever it suits their purposes, a tack taken by means of their superior songwriting and clear populist precepts. They may not always please the purists, but they have gained their grudging respect regardless.
Town Mountain’s latest album, New Freedom Blues, is another reflection of that musical mantra, one that finds the quintet — Jesse Langlais (banjo, vocals), Phil Barker (mandolin, vocals), Bobby Britt (fiddle), Robert Greer (guitar, vocals) and Zach Smith (bass) — maintaining their template with all the energy and exuberance that they’ve been known to muster over the course of their career. Occasional guests — Miles Miller on drums, Matt Smith on pedal steel, and Tyler Childers, who makes a cameo vocal appearance on Down Low — facilitate an obvious transition to grassicana, but even so, Town Mountain excels on their own merits. Their’s is a down home delivery that thrives on the players’ essential interaction and an engaging attitude that’s amiable and upbeat, sans any need for pomp or pretence. New Freedom Blues, Way I’m Made, Life and Debt and Lazy River reflect that effusive intent, with each musician finding solid standing in the musical mix.
There are occasional variations to be sure. One Drop in the Bottle finds further kinship with the sound of Steep Canyon Rangers in both melody and make-up, little surprise considering it’s a cowrite with former Steeps bassist Charles Humphrey III. Underdog bows to Town Mountain’s love of traditional country music and demonstrates their penchant for combining high harmonies. Likewise, Pamilco, another Humphrey collaboration, finds them taking a slower pace. On the other hand, Witch Trials is an engaging sing-along, one which seems a clear candidate for getting the crowds to clap along with absolutely no prodding necessary.
Ultimately, New Freedom Blues marks another high point in Town Mountain’s continual trajectory to that upper plateau, another example of a bluegrass bands that ‘s energizing the norm and bringing new fans and followers. Fanciful and freewheeling, New Freedom Blues is a lofty embrace.
The album is released independently on the band’s own label, distributed by Tone Tree Music.