Old Salt Union is a young band, but one well versed in timeless tradition and the ability to make music that’s energizing, exuberant, versatile and vibrant. Ironically, their origins are anything but ordinary. Consider their makeup — a horticulturist, a player whose interests were fuelled by classically trained musicians, and a bass player/vocalist with an interest in producing hip-hop as well as a fondness for the Four Freshmen. As odd and eclectic as that combination may be, the combination clicked from the start.
Winners of the 2015 FreshGrass Band competition, they quickly landed a recording contract with Compass Records, one of the more prestigious labels representing the entire grassicana community. Label president Alison Brown, a gifted artist in her own right, showed her further commitment to the project by agreeing to produce the band’s debut entry.
Given those credentials, it seems incidental to even mention the fact that the quintet yields some star connections of their own. The aforementioned bassist/vocalist, Jesse Farrar, is the nephew of Son Volt helmsman Jay Farrar.
On their initial outing, Old Salt Union makes no secret of their wide array of influences, from ballads to bluegrass and practically everything in-between. There’s plenty of rousing revelry to be found, all exercised with drive, dexterity and determination. Where I Stand, Feel My Love and Madam Plum are upbeat and emphatic, surefire crowd pleasers that ought to find instant appeal with newfound audiences. Their sprightly take on Paul Simon’s You Can Call Me Al rings and resounds with a freshness and enthusiasm that easily equals the original, no easy feat considering Simon’s the source. Likewise, the gypsy tempo of Flat Baroque indicates that their preferences extend far beyond the bluegrass norm.
On the other hand, their heart-wrenching ballads — Bought and Sold and On My Way in particular — show a sentimental side that’s as touching and tender as anything a more experienced band might glean from a lifetime’s experience.
Their wide expanse of sounds and style aside, Old Salt Union is, at their core, an extremely supple string band, one well equipped to carry the tradition forward while injecting their own contemporary perspective. It would be easy to credit Brown for the polish and finesse that went into the arrangements, but there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the band came equipped with all the finesse and flourish necessary to ensure these winning results. Initial albums rarely reveal a similar level of instant appeal, but here again, Old Salt Union shows a promise and potential which points the way to future possibilities.