may 2008

Yonder Mountain String Band
Frog Pad Records

Continuing an ongoing documentation of its live shows, the Yonder Mountain String Band returns with Volume 5, two discs of live performances. The first is a frenetic show that has reached legendary proportions among YMSB faithful, being a July 21, 2007 performance in Columbus, OH, in which the quartet surpassed even its own high-energy standard. The band doesn’t possess a truly gifted singer, but the fellows’ serviceable vocals get the job done and are more than well supported by dazzling displays of technical proficiency at dangerous speeds. You can sense the audience excitement surge during the rambunctious, infectious “Boatman’s Dance” near the outset, and at times even the pickers themselves are playing at such a furious, wild-eyed pace you half expect the disc to self-destruct. This is the bluegrass jam band ethos in full flight. Not to dismiss the vocals, though, because bassist Ben Kauffman, admitting to stealing a melody from Gordon Lightfoot, delivers a forceful but poignant evocation of lingering heartbreak in his own deceptively sprightly kissoff, “Must’ve Had Your Reasons.” Disc 2 is a collection of the band members’ favorite live numbers from the past couple of years. It includes a YMSB concert favorite, Bill Monroe’s “Kentucky Mandolin,” which also appears in a slightly longer version on Mountain Tracks: Volume 3, and in both cases is an occasion for extended theme and development jamming that takes it into territory where Mr. Bill never ventured, although its propulsive rush and angular contours are familiar to the jam band aficionados populating the band’s audience. Wacky, alternating vocals and an exhaustive pace mark a breakneck version of Ralph Stanley’s “If I Lose,” during which banjoist Dave Johnston sparkles with a speed-picked song-length solo. Nothing transcendent here, but a rousing good time ensues nonetheless.—David McGee

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024