There’s Plenty of Leftover Salmon to go Around

July 28, 2021
Marty Halpern

photo: John-Ryan Lockman

Leftover Salmon has been creating music for over a generation., and their accomplishments have let them travel the world, playing in front of hundreds of thousands of fans. Never one to phone it in, the band has released “Brand New Good Old Days,” an impressive collection of songs that sets the current course the band is heading.

Previously, most new Salmon material was geared towards founding members Drew Emmitt and Vince Herman, but the new release presents a departure from that style. Yes, both Emmitt and Herman make considerable contributions to the album, but it’s the other members of the band that step in and let their voice be heard that take it to a higher level, as bassist Greg Garrison, banjo player Andy Thorn, and drummer Alwyn Robinson each contribute at least one song to the album, something Emmitt says hasn’t been the case with previous releases.

“It was more collective than we’ve had for any record. It was really cool for everyone to have their input and their space. It was great to include everyone,” Emmitt states. “Andy has contributed a lot of tunes since he joined the band. It’s nice it’s not just about us (Emmitt and Herman). It needs to be more that way”

photo: John-Ryan Lockman

Timing was on the band’s side for this album – they recorded most of it right before the Covid-19 pandemic hit and shut almost everything down for over a year.

Emmitt continues, “We were out on the east coast and booked some time at Echo Mountain in Asheville. It’s a magical studio and the sound is so great. It’s an old church so it had a super cool vibe.  There really wasn’t any concept. We put together some tunes and a couple of covers. Everybody had something brewing.”

The album opens with a bluegrass cover of “Black Hole Sun;” the song’s chord progression had always intrigued Emmitt.

“We had never played ‘Black Hole Sun.’ I thought it would be cool to do a bluegrass version of that song. Greg charted it and it came out great. The lyrics ‘Why don’t you come and wash away the rain’…it’s dark in a way, but it’s also positive.”

The title song, “Brand New Good Old Days,” is Herman’s first track, an upbeat reminder to live in the present with great lyrics “These days I don’t think about tomorrows. Because the time just can’t be borrowed and tomorrows they just turned into yesterdays.”

“Category Stomp” was originally recorded for a tribute album to songwriter John Hartford. The line dance country sound, mixed with a continual mouthful of lyrics, is a true tribute to Hartford. For Emmitt, getting all this down (especially to play the song live) is still a work in progress.

“That’s a fun tune and it took a lot of work to get those vocals down,” he says. “There’s a lot of words in that song. I’m getting there, but there are lots of words to spit out quickly.”

“Flying at Night” is a straightforward homage to something Emmitt has done hundreds of times. “I think flying at night is so magical and peaceful. It’s a cool feeling when you’re at 30,000 feet and there are all the lights of the city. You’re sitting there with your beverage of choice and headphones on where nobody can bother you. It’s a feeling I’ve had numerous times and decided to write about it.”

Despite an upbeat rhythm, “Left Unsung” is a tribute to mandolin player Jeff Austin (Yonder Mountain String Band, Jeff Austin Band) who passed away in 2019. While Austin was a childhood friend of Garrison, his death directly impacted everyone in Leftover Salmon.

Emmitt adds, “I think it’s a brilliant tune and Greg really nailed it. We were all really close to Jeff, and it’s really nice to have a tribute to him. This really speaks to how Greg knew him way back when he came to the Midwest and started on the mandolin, which is one I used to own. It’s a 1984 nugget.”

The band revisits their old school country sound with Herman’s take on Conway Twitty’s “Boogie Grass Band.” Although this version is close to Twitty’s original, Emmitt notes this adds a little “Salmon sauce” to it which is making it a great song to stretch out live.

Thorn’s “Red Fox Run” was written about a fox that used to hang out in his back yard, but after numerous mass shootings, including one in nearby Boulder Co., the theme changed to address what can be done to stop these unnecessary killings. Emmitt points out, “It has nothing to do with limiting people’s rights to have guns. It’s a sensitive topic that has become really important to talk about. I was devastated about Boulder. That was my hometown. So, it became really poignant to me.”

Robinson adds to the record as well, with “Sunday,” a tribute to a lost friend. According to Emmitt, Robinson’s contributions have been much greater than any of the band’s previous beat keepers.

“I’m amazed at how lyrical and melody-oriented he is as a drummer,” Emmitt marvels. “Not that drummers can’t write music…it’s not as common to hear songs like that come out of a drummer. We’ve had several drummers but none of them have brought in songs.”

photo: John-Ryan Lockman
photo: John-Ryan Lockman

“Waterfall” is a proud father moment for Emmitt, as the song includes some great vocal contributions from his daughter, Willa, and the album wraps with the upbeat “We’ll Get By,” a direct statement that no matter how dreary things get, if you keep the faith everything will work out.

Emmitt admits the album closer is another song which had a change of meaning due to the pandemic. “It wasn’t planned, like everything else about this record. The way it turned out makes sense,” Emmitt declares. ”We were all trying to figure out how we were going to get through this. I felt this way during the pandemic…somehow, we’ll get by. Sure enough, that song is perfect for that.”

With the world getting back to normal and a long list of upcoming live shows, the timing of “Brand New Good Old Daysworked out perfectly for Leftover Salmon – something not lost on Emmitt, who wraps things up.

“Once we could see that the timing was going to work well for this to come out and get to play live again, that drove the vibe of the record. We got lucky to put this out right as things were coming back.”

Emmitt continues, “We were a lucky band to have almost everything done before things shut down. We couldn’t have planned it better if we had known. I’m loving life. Living the dream. I’m pleased with how things are going and how we spent the last year and a half.”

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