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Raw, soulful & with plenty of swagger, Town Mountain releases 5th album, Southern Crescent, on April 1, 2016 on LoHi Records
Produced by Dirk Powell at his Cypress House studio in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana
Go Behind The Scenes with Town Mountain In “The Making of Southern Crescent” → https://youtu.be/VZD7avVtI4U
ASHEVILLE -- In much the same way that iconic southern dishes such as Louisiana gumbo or Brunswick stew can include any number of flavorful ingredients, so too does bluegrass music rely on a recipe that can vary wildly, depending on who's doing the cooking. For Asheville, North Carolina-based bluegrass band Town Mountain, the key ingredient of the musical stew that is their career-defining fifth album, Southern Crescent, is the same confident – yet entirely embraceable – swagger that has distinguished the group since they first formed in 2005. The new album is due out on April 1, 2016 on LoHi Records.
With an insatiable musical hunger, the members of Town Mountain (Robert Greer on vocals and guitar, Jesse Langlais on banjo and vocals, Bobby Britt on fiddle, Phil Barker on mandolin and vocals, and Nick DiSebastian* on bass) made their way to the little south-central Louisiana town of Breaux Bridge, where they recorded their most cohesive, most satisfying album to date. Produced by legendary GRAMMY-winning musician (and Louisiana transplant) Dirk Powell at his Cypress House studio, with low-swooping live oak trees and the picturesque Bayou Teche nearby, Southern Crescent is nothing less than a musical tour-de-force. Adam Chaffins* plays bass in the touring outfit.
Southern Crescent was recorded in a decidedly old-school way, live, with minimal fixes and overdubs, with all the musicians in the same room and no noise-reducing baffling between them. The result: a raw, soulful album that prompted iconic singer-songwriter Jim Lauderdale to enthuse in the liner notes, "The first time I heard Town Mountain I loved, respected, and enjoyed them. And I do now more than ever. They have stuck with their deep bluegrass roots but as they have with all of their releases, they have grown and expanded. They sound like Carolina, and they carry that sound farther and farther with Southern Crescent, their latest gem."
In spite of not having worked with Powell as their producer before, singer-songwriter Robert Greer says he walked away from the experience "thinking this is how I want to record every record from this point on." It probably didn't hurt that Powell's mom, who lives next door to the studio, was keeping the group supplied with coffee and homemade chocolate chip cookies.
The new album is being released on LoHi Records. Based in Greensboro, N.C., the label is a partnership formed by entrepreneur and marketing veteran Jim Brooks with singer/songwriter and record producer Todd Snider, record producer Tim Carbone (who also plays fiddle in newgrass band Railroad Earth) and Chad Staehly from Gold Mountain Entertainment in Nashville.
Each of Town Mountain's members contributed songs to Southern Crescent, with Barker, Langlais and Greer the chief writers in the band. A democratic process determines what they'll record, but the greatest factor, especially on the new record, is audience reaction, which is basically what led to release of the band's first official live album, Town Mountain: Live At The Isis, in 2014. "We've gone into the studio before with new stuff but every tune on this record had been road-tested," says Greer. "We go in to the recording situation and we have our tunes arranged already because we've been playing them on stage. That's a contributing factor to successfully being able to record them live, because we're used to doing them night after night."
From the boogie-woogie piano of Jerry Lee Lewis that inspired the delightful (and danceable) "Coming Back to You," to Greer's cleverly penned and fast-paced "Tick on a Dog," which offers a taste of another major bluegrass influence, Jimmy Martin, Southern Crescent is tailor-made to keep live audiences on their feet, but it'll also keep those who think they can easily peg Town Mountain on their toes. "With live music, anything can happen," Greer acknowledges. "It's not supposed to be perfect but does it have soul!"
The music, perhaps, should also come with a road map. As Langlais explains, "A lot of the material is based around traveling. You start to peel back the lyrics of the songs and see that a lot of the material is about being out on the road and the experiences – positive or negative – that we may have living the lifestyle."
Just as the guys find a wealth of musical inspiration in each other, there's admittedly a little frustration that comes from being in a band with several other gifted songwriters at the same time. As Langlais explains, "You want to make sure you're up there and everybody else is feeling the same about you. It's good to have multiple writers in the band because it gives your audience more variety."
That variety is indeed part of what drives Southern Crescent, which opens with Britt's delightfully dizzying fiddle work on "St. Augustine," and showcases Greer's hard-country vocals on "House With No Windows" and on the freewheeling composition "Ain't Gonna Worry Me," (penned by Barker). The group members' palpable chemistry (and individual artistry) are displayed throughout such instantly memorable tracks as "Wildbird," (Barker) and "I Miss the Night," which Langlais penned (with Mark Bumgarner) after experiencing 22 hours of daylight during Alaska's summer solstice.
"Bands are constantly trying to define their sound, a sound that sets them apart from every other band, especially in genre as small as bluegrass," says Langlais. "Our approach has been to find what our sound inherently will be and build off of that. Granted, we are taking a piece of what Bill Monroe's band did in order to make our own bluegrass band. That's just inevitable. But he borrowed from all these other genres, too – rock 'n' roll, country music, Scots-Irish fiddle music. I think we have realized what our sound is with this album."
Greer, who hosts occasional nights of acoustic classic country and bluegrass in Asheville called Cornmeal Waltz (after a Guy Clark song), understands the music-food connection, saying that no matter what goes into gumbo or Brusnwick stew, they're still "as southern as red clay." The same is certainly true of Southern Crescent, Town Mountain's prize-worthy signature dish.
MERMAID MOTOR LOUNGE
Depending on the lore, Mermaids are saints and saviors, or they’re muses and murderers. Josh Erwin is hosting them all at the Mermaid Motor Lounge. Delivering songs of damning relief as well as happy despair, Mermaid Motor Lounge is releasing their debut album, “Fits and Starts,” an opportunity for Erwin to perform churning and bumping rhythms along with atmospheric and dreamy melodies.
There is a cohesiveness to this collection of songs on “Fits and Starts.” The local coloring of reverbs on electric guitars and fiddles have just as an important of a role as the percussion. The melody lines lie easily on a bed of guitar, bass, and background vocals. These songs have a comforting familiarity, but there are still some unexpected musical shifts that keeps a listener on his toes. The theme of this album was to make the music dynamic by working with non-standard rock band instrumentation. By only relying on acoustic guitar, upright bass, vocals, electric guitars, fiddle, and percussion instruments it allowed the production to be more thought out. Oftentimes, nontraditional percussion adds great flavors to music that is not captured by a standard 4 piece drum kit. Nonetheless, a drum kit was used on the track, “The Preacher Tampered With The Radar”-- too tempting to pass up a 28" marching kick drum thundering through the back beat.
Nine songs were recorded at Standard Electric Studios by Damon Moon, who co-produced the album alongside Josh Erwin. Josh (guitars and vocals), Troy Harris (basses), Jenna Mobley (fiddle and background vocals), and Colin Agnew (percussion) performed all the music on the album. Damon was at the helm of Tascam M-600 serial #001 helm, turning knobs on the Echoplex EP-3 and Space Echo RE-201 [for all the fun stuff], and supervised vocal mic selections, compressors, and other dynamic effects.
At first, Mermaid Motor Lounge was purely a challenge to showcase a live-show based around Erwin’s own material on his own alongside Harris. The experimentation with new songs performed with only guitar, vocals, and bass on stage was too seductive to leave in the hypothetical. The sustain-elements of electric guitar and fiddle shape and form the music’s sonic-space, while the percussion carries the songs along.
Together, Josh and Troy have played thousands of shows and bear copious on-stage experience. With their powers funneled into a full band experience, Mermaid Motor Lounge performances are fueled by an instinct that's been building up over years and years.