Town By Town

Yonder Mountain String Band

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Town By Town Review

by William Ruhlmann

As its title implies, Town By Town, the Yonder Mountain String Band's second studio recording and third CD overall, is something of a concept album about life on the road, the reality for the quartet's members since the group's formation. Mandolin player Jeff Austin's "New Horizons" concerns the rescue of a family from a flood, and guitarist Adam Aijala's "A Father's Arms" is a war story with a Vietnam-era tone, but even these two songs are about family and dislocation, and the rest of the songs are dominated by references to travel, with the necessary impact on the singers' love lives, resulting either in breakups or pleas for fidelity, a major factor. But the lyrics of these original songs penned by the band members, sung in their uniformly reedy tenors, are less significant than the music underlying them, a familiar mixture of fast-picked guitar, mandolin, and banjo, with producer Tim O'Brien adding welcome fiddle and bouzouki lines here and there. In addition to three outright instrumentals ("Easy As Pie," "Wildewood Drive," and "Hog Potato"), "New Horizons" and "Peace of Mind" both contain extended instrumental sections that go beyond the term "breakdown" into the kind of loose improvisation typical of rock bands like the Grateful Dead, justifying the group's inclusion under the jam band umbrella. Nevertheless, there is plenty here to enthuse a traditional bluegrass fan. (After three minutes of silence at the end of "Peace of Mind" comes a six-plus-minute hidden track, probably titled "Dance, Boatman, Dance," which is taken at a sprightly square dance tempo and features O'Brien's fiddle extensively.)

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