Asheville’s Town Mountain finds some Louisiana groove on their new release, Southern Crescent.
It’s hard to find a list of “Best Places To Live” that does not have Asheville, NC on it. The people, the community, the arts, the Blue Ridge Mountains: all combine to keep Asheville high on any list for people searching for an upgrade on quality-of-life. When writers scratch the surface they discover a local bluegrass music scene that draws from and gives back all of these qualities.
There’s no better example of this than Asheville-based bluegrass band Town Mountain. What started as a local project has quickly became known throughout the national bluegrass music scene for heartfelt songs, crisp and clean picking, and the unmistakable South Georgia voice of Robert Greer.
Town Mountain is releasing their fifth studio album, Southern Crescent, on April 1st. The album was recorded by producer, Grammy winner, and all-around music genius Dirk Powell in his home studio in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. The studio, dubbed The Cypress House, lives up to its name by being fully constructed with cypress planks. “We wanted to get a little South Louisiana flavor in it!” jokes Greer, Town Mountain’s lead vocalist and guitarist.
Southern Crescent has the feel and groove of a live album with professional studio recording quality. “We walked into the studio and had never met Dirk before, so it’s kinda strange, because you’re going to get after some serious work for large amounts of time,” says Greer. “We go in and he’s got 3 mics set up in this awesome room and says ‘A’right, let’s get to it!’ He wanted us to work it like we’re onstage. I sang everything live and we recorded like we were standing in his living room. It was a great experience, and we all loved working with Dirk. I came out of that experience thinking that’s how I want to record every record from here on out.”
Much like the first generation bluegrass bands would start shows with a short and to-the-point blazing instrumental to grab everyone’s attention, this album comes out hot with Bobby Brit’s fiddle-led St. Augustine. Brit’s fiddle is consistently creative and smooth throughout the album and an absolute show-stopper in their live shows.
The second track, Ain’t Gonna Worry Me, slows it down to feature the deep and comfy groove these guys find with each other. You’ll be excused if you don’t readily notice the drums played on this track by Dirk Powell. Powell’s ability to layer non-bluegrass instruments into this album, providing both groove and a sonic thickness without drawing explicit attention to them, is quite impressive and highlights his producer capabilities.
The title track, Southern Crescent, presents the voice of mandolinist Phil Barker, and is one of two songs he co-wrote with Charles Humphrey III, the bassist for Steep Canyon Rangers. (Humphrey is a prolific songwriter and is fresh off accolades for the 3rd release with his sideband, Songs From The Road Band.) A hard driving train song, Southern Crescent features tight vocal harmonies, as well as Jesse Langlais’ unique banjo style that combines impressive Scruggs-style timing with subtle blues licks that always seem to fit perfectly within each song.
The bluegrass coming out of Asheville, NC is arguably some of the best in the world. I would even claim that in passion, picking, and individuality it rivals Nashville, TN. Balsam Range and Steep Canyon Rangers have been on the forefront of taking the Western NC sound to national and worldwide audiences, and Town Mountain is on their way to completing this trifecta of nationally known Asheville bluegrass bands. There are several prominent reasons for their rise, including songwriting, creativity, and instrumental prowess, but one that stands out is the voice of Robert Greer. His singing voice and speaking voice are nearly one and the same with a deeply southern Georgia accent that, for many of us, produces a sense of hometown-like comfort. Greer grew up singing in the Methodist church, but he didn’t start playing bluegrass guitar until he was 25. “I was tired of asking my friends to accompany me on bluegrass songs I wanted to sing, so I figured I better learn how to play,” says Greer.
The bluegrass bands that will find success in today’s musical multiverse are going to embrace their individual voices and steer towards a more genuine sound as opposed to one that is digitally polished and bland. Town Mountain is leading the way in this aspect, from their studio recordings and their live shows to the national praise they’ve received for their unique take on Springsteen’s classic hit I’m On Fire. Atlantic Monthly chose it as one of the “most transformative cover songs of the year” and wrote, “They dropped the synthesizer, added a banjo, a fiddle, and another singer for harmony, and made a gem.”
Southern Crescent is a near-perfect balance of tradition and young, raw energy. On the surface it’s solid bluegrass, but astute listeners will hear more. They’ll hear a hundred years of southern musical culture bubbling up and finding a common point where North Carolina, Georgia, and Louisiana meet as old friends. Town Mountain’s style and sonic footprint comes from a foundation of rhythm and groove that comes not from just loving the music (that’s too easy) but from living the music.
Southern Crescent releases April 1 on LoHi Records.