november 2009

Emmitt-Nershi Band
SCI Fidelity Records

At the confluence of Leftover Salman and the String Cheese Incident arises the Emmitt-Nershi Band, headed by multi-instrumentalists/songwriters Drew Emmitt, he of LS, and former String Cheeser Bill Nershi. Seeking to craft something tradition-rooted but apart from standard progressive fare, the two band mates have found a niche to call their own right out of the gate. They look beyond lovin’ and losin’ and drinkin’ for inspiration, favor tight, smooth harmonies that are kinda bluegrass but will also have you searching for comparisons outside of that genre, their musicianship is impeccable and their whole attack is energetic while decidedly mellow. There are moments in the album opening title track when it sounds like the fellows are heading for Del McCoury territory (Emmitt’s vocal at times has some Del timbre about it), but Nershi, who takes the lead vocal on the second cut, “These Days,” sings in an uninflected, conversational style, intimate but slightly detached emotionally, as he recounts a lonely wanderer’s struggle to find a purpose. On the near-six-minute instrumental, “Surfing the Red Sea,” the band lights out for the border in an intriguing, flowing, Spanish-flavored composition full of surprising textural changes a la the Punch Brothers, especially in Emmitt’s serpentine mandolin solo, which is promptly shadowed by fiddler Jason Carter (yes, that Jason Carter, if the McCoury connection need be more emphatic) picking up the theme and taking it out there before handing it off to guitarist Nershi for his own amusement, development and resolution. Another expansive instrumental, the six-minutes-plus “Mango Tango,” further underscores the band’s ambitious compositional strength as, once again, the casual, shuffling, Spanish-tinged arrangement provides exhilarating theme-and-development dialogue, but is notable for Andy Thorn taking a prominent solo turn on banjo and impressing with his spare, restrained commentary, before Carter’s anxious fiddling kicks the song into a lively, strutting pace during which mandolin (Emmitt) and guitar (Nershi) hash out a wildly careening melody until the whole endeavor settles down to earth again. But in the midst of so much genre bending the band can ease right into a straight-ahead country groove and deliver the easygoing tribute to the simple life, “I Come From the Country,” a contribution by band member Tyler Grant, who adds a sturdy lead vocal to boot. It’s stretching only a bit to suggest Crosby, Stills & Nash as a model for the Emmitt-Nershi Band (that’s meant as a compliment to both bands, lest anyone think this is a putdown of the new outfit, given how much critical flack CS&N have endured over the years) as both share a low-key but slow boiling intensity in their approach, both trade on exquisite harmony singing, both take pride in writing songs outside the norm for their genres, and there is indisputable technical mastery at work in the music. And both are unrelentingly musical through and through. Some may disagree with this comparison—heck, maybe everyone will disagree with it—but it says here that somewhere between the Punch Brothers’ progressive bluegrass trailblazing and CS&N’s devotion to harmony and song you will find the Emmitt-Nershi Band. All are invited to prove me wrong. –David McGee

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, 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