A band knows they've made the big time -- at least in bluegrass and old-timey circles -- when Tim O'Brien and Darol Anger start guesting on their latest album. Old Hands also features guest spots by Dirk Powell and Jerry Douglas and has been produced by dobro player Sally Van Meter. Of course none of this would matter too much if the Yonder Mountain String Band didn't pretty much have their vocal and instrumental chops together to begin with. Guitarist Adam Aijala, banjoist Dave Johnston, mandolinist Jeff Austin, and bassist Ben Kaufmann form a smooth unit that calls to mind other recent bluegrass/folk groups like Rice, Rice, Hillman, and Pendersen and New Grange. Like these groups, the band relies on a number of lead vocalists, superb harmony, and an instrumental finesse to pull it all together. On Old Hands all of these elements are brought to bear on 13 songs by Benny Galloway, a guitarist/writer who also makes several appearances on the album. There's the spontaneous "Deep Pockets," a fun bit of Western swing with some clever guitar work by Aijala and some nice fiddle playing by O'Brien, and the equally upbeat "Pride of Alabama." Powell's accordion adds a bit of Cajun spice to "Big Lights," while Meter's slide guitar adds a lyrical quality to the mellow "Sleepy Cowboy." Old Hands is a nicely executed album of succinctly played songs, and Yonder Mountain String Band aficionados will be happy to get it in their hands.
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AllMusic Review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.