november 2009

Yonder Mountain String Band The ShowTHE SHOW
Yonder Mountain String Band
Frog Pad Records

Yonder Mountain String Band prides itself on being a bit out there, uninterested in perpetuating traditional bluegrass templates long since perfected by others but rather taking their cue to be daring from the music’s visionary giants—think Bill Monroe, think Jimmy Martin, think Del McCoury; and not least of all, think of early, challenging punk bands. Working with rock producer Tom Rothrock on this, its fifth studio album, the Colorado quartet meshes its eclectic influences most effectively, and with abundant passion, on The Show. To that end, YMSB still sound like they belong in the country, not the city, but not too far out in the country—they like modern conveniences such as indoor plumbing and being on the electric grid, so to speak. So it is that we hear intriguing iterations of its philosophy in the driving, rhythmically pulsating “Complicated.” With its persistent and out-front banjo riffing, this urgent number is a kindred spirit to the Pogues’ pop-ish “Tuesday Morning,” but takes off from that foundation into more anguished territory lyrically, in its restlessness with the complexities of love, and rushes headlong into rock anthem territory.  By contrast, the band can make a smooth transition to backwoods mode, as it does on a tender, smoothly harmonized country love ballad, “Dreams,” a pastoral beauty of gently shuffling percussion, soft mandolin and banjo punctuations, its key atmospheric devices being a moaning harmonica and a striking, heartfelt lead vocal rising out of velvety harmonized choruses. At the opposite end of the angst scale, a less generous woman from New Orleans, “Belle Parker,” inspires an approach that is both scabrous and wounded—the former in the edgy, anxious instrumental thrust powered by guest drummer Pete Thomas’s jittery stomp, the latter in the urgent, aching vocals soaring up and away in the choruses. Perhaps most indicative of the YMSB’s ethos is the ambitious, eight-minute “Honesty,” a rambling discourse of scintillating textural shifts, progressive compositional ideas, lyrics ambiguous, dreamy and artsy all at once, an extended middle movement of theme and development that breaks into a full-on, galloping plea for reconciliation punctuated by Adam Aijala’s aggressive guitar picking and a powerful, Byrds-like harmonized plea to “run back to me!” This one will have some people hearing some late-era Moody Blues in the YMSB’s style, and that’s probably exactly what the guys would like to hear. A moving target is always harder to hit, and this bunch will resolutely resist being boxed into any stylistic box when there’s so much music out there to be distilled into their own brew. –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