“These are the brand new good old days/ My used to was got stuck in yesterday/ It’s never more now than it is today,” sings guitarist Vince Herman on the title track from Leftover Salmon’s eighth studio album. “Brand New Good Old Days,” is a song so infectious it immediately lodges itself at home on repeat in the gray area between your ears. In his trademark wordplay way, Herman provides a perfect summation of where Leftover Salmon is thirty years into their career; a band who is continually looking forward while, without forgetting their lengthy past, but who most importantly remind us to follow their sage advice to always live in the moment.
Thirty years on the bluegrass band who first added drums to the mix can still continue to find ways to confound. On Brand New Good Old Days it is with an album opening cover of Soundgarden’s grunge-anthem “Black Hole Sun.” A song if you didn’t know better sounds like it was born from Leftover Salmon’s DNA with drummer Alwyn Robinson’s stuttering drum lick, and Drew Emmitt’s signature slide-mandolin that builds to an explosive crescendo paving the way.
Brand New Good Old Days marks an evolution in maturity for Leftover Salmon. Those elements that have longed defined them are still present, unmatched energy, Emmitt’s easily identifiable mandolin, Herman’s unmistakable voice leading the charge, powered along by an inventive banjo and a rhythm section born from a jazz planet, but at home in Leftover Salmon’s bluegrass-rooted mission.
Leftover Salmon has seen plenty of tragedy and turmoil in their long career, and Brand New Good Old Days finds them aging gracefully as they look back with a wizened, contemplative eye at all they have been through. Drummer Robinson’s “Sunday” is a slow-simmering mediation, while Emmitt’s “Waterfront,” is a wistful goodbye. This prevailing mood of introspective reflection is most notable on bassist Greg Garrison’s “Left Unsung,” a look at life lost too soon, as Garrison sings of his childhood friend Jeff Austin, “Might have been ’86/ Both of us kids near the city/ Midwest, flatlands, suburbia felt like such a pity/ I was jazz band, you were theater class/ How were we to know it would end in such a mess.”
Brand New Good Old Days is an album that is like a life-long friend, with a whiff of familiarity that is comforting and reminds of home, but is at the same time still capable of surprising you as only old friends can. And that is the uniqueness of Leftover Salmon that has defined them for thirty years, their ability to be all over the place and to be right here. Their ability to make you think and question and laugh and smile all at the same time. Brand New Good Old Days does all of that and only leaves you with one final question, “Do you feel more like it used to be now than it ever has been?”