Leftover Salmon find that rare divide between bluegrass tradition and the populist preferences of the jam band world. On their latest release, Something Higher, it allows for a steady influx of sounds and styles that make any attempt at typecasting a decidedly worthless endeavor. Free spirits in every sense, their astute musicianship, unbounded ambition, and obvious accessibility has allowed their mix of nu-grass, bluegrass, grassicana, rock, country, and zydeco to make them ongoing fan favorites. It’s little wonder then that this Boulder, Colorado-based band have become regulars on the festival circuit, and beloved by those who savor tradition along with the trappings of innovation and experimentation
“Don’t want no digital,” they insist throughout the tangled trappings of Analog, a song that finds them attempting to reconcile music of a vintage variety with the pull of technology. Yet while certain songs — the celebratory musical travelogues Places and Burdened Heart, the beautiful yet yearning Southern Belle and the brass-infused Show Me Something Higher — have an undisputed allure, it’s not all giddy and carefree. The cosmic Astral Traveler and a wary, disparaging House of Cards are both dark and descriptive, the latter a reflection of the unsettled state of the nation.
Happily, all is not lost in the latter. “Love is gonna win again,” they insist, suggesting that hope, not the current happenstance, will inevitably prevail.
Nevertheless, it is somewhat surprising to find the band caught up in these deeper concerns given their usual carefree attitude. Producer Steve Berlin may ultimately be the one most responsible for this change in tack. The band credits him with pushing them in new directions while helping to reinforce their consistent groove, an approach that may appear deceptively simple, but is actually the result of experience, expertise, and virtuosity.
Longtime fans will find the familiar trappings of their bluegrass origins in songs such as Evermore — a heartfelt salute to their Colorado environs where rapid-fire banjo, mandolin, and keyboards find a common syntax — as well as the uplifting yet down home delivery of Let In a Little Light, the rambling Foreign Fields, the celebratory Winter’s Gone, and the effusive instrumental Game of Thorns. Each effectively illustrate the band’s finely tuned group dynamic.
Ultimately though, Something Higher stays true to its title, a set of songs that aspire to a greater purpose. And indeed, when it comes to weaving a common bond, Leftover Salmon again show how it’s done.