july 2008

Take the Scenic Route

By David McGee


Drew Emmitt
Compass Records

Wanderlust afflicts Leftover Salmon lead singer/mandolinist Drew Emmitt on his exemplary third solo outing, as a number of songs deal directly with a journey, within and without, and sometimes both at once (most memorably, though, on the reflective “Beat of the World,” a reggae-influenced meditation to which Reese Wynans’s B3 adds a church flavor). In addition to his original co-writes, Emmitt assays Supertramp’s “Take the Long Way Home” in a throbbing treatment spotlighting Emmitt’s keening vocal (at times reminiscent of Chris Thile’s) and wailing electric slide mandolin juxtaposed with Stuart Duncan’s free-floating fiddle work and Wynans’s steadily humming B3; the Marshall Tucker Band’s “Take the Highway,” in an arrangement that honors the road’s siren call and a great band’s original version via a steadily percolating five-and-a-half-minute all-star workout offering a bluegrass tinge in Duncan’s fiddling and Infamous Stringduster Chris Pandolfi’s spare banjo work prior to a detour into southern rock when Tyler Grant’s slide and Emmitt’s electric guitars engage in forceful, angular discourses, with Emmitt joined in striking vocal harmony by tenor John Cowan and baritone Darrell Scott; and Van Morrison’s “Gypsy In My Soul,” its seductive, slinky Latin vibe courtesy Steven Sandifer’s pulsating conga thumping throughout, over which Emmitt, Grant, Pandolfi and Duncan each fashion mellow, rich solos, and Emmitt delivers Morrison’s confession of footloose ways in a wry, bemused tenor.

Many of Emmitt’s original songs keep the theme going. In the bustling bluegrass-laced opener, “Into the Distance,” the singer admits up front, “Places never been before/here we go down the road…” as drummer Jeff Sipe sustains a jittery, impatient rhythm designed to mirror the sense of impermanence the lyrics state outright. The strutting “Long Road,” the co-write with Cowan, finds the songwriting partners teaming in righteous harmony during the choruses, not in celebration of leaving but rather appealing for reconciliation (“on this long road/back to you…”) with a vengeance, as suggested by the hard driving rhythm and heated, fleet fingered (and bowed) solos from Emmitt, Grant, Pandolfi and Duncan. Bringing it all back home, so to speak, at the close, in a seven-minutes-plus composition titled “River’s Risin’” (actually a metaphoric commentary on the unsettled state of the natural world), the band, with Emmitt’s churning electric guitar setting the tone, roars out of the gate with a furious charge, Wynans’s B3 sputtering and protesting all the way as Emmitt’s vocal plea “take me to higher ground!” soars above the churning instrumental cauldron; then, at the 4:10 mark, things quiet down for a beat until Pandolfi surges in with a cascading banjo run and it’s off to the races again, in a breathless, rocking sortie led by Emmitt’s dynamic, richly textured electric guitar solos and wailing vocal. It’s quite a showcase, for Emmitt and for his henchmen, who band together to make Long Road one heck of a scenic route.

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (www.johnmendelsohn.com)
Website Design: Kieran McGee (www.kieranmcgee.com)
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY; www.flickr.com/audreyharrod), Alicia Zappier (New York)
E-mail: thebluegrassspecial@gmail.com
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024