Eight Dollar Mountain’s third CD might be called Tied To The Tracks, but nothing in terms of enthusiasm or musicianship is held down or back. This Oregon-based band is a talented outfit especially successfully in rolling off the well-traveled bluegrass tracks into the new territories of great original material and inventive arrangements of classics.
The opener, “These Old Blues,” will surely please its composer Larry Sparks (one of the band’s heroes), and starting with an evergreen is a nice idea. But once the group has established its bluegrass bona fides, it really gets into the money and scales new heights with its originals. “Big Time” is a wry romantic song boosted by some lively instrumental breaks in a thoughtful arrangement. “The Old High Way” shows that the Cascade-Siskiyou Mountains of southern Oregon can produce music just as lonesome as the eastern Appalachians. The title number “Tied To The Tracks” has echoes of classic Stanley Brothers or Charlie Monroe.
There’s so much consistently good material here by the members—featuring fine lyrics and melodies, engaging characters, and compelling situations—that it’s hard to single out the best ones. Just get ready to travel on highways or railroads, enter penitentiary walls or family kitchens, and encounter lovers and pioneers and hobos. (Notably, the group credits the autobiographical “true songs” of Bill Monroe as an inspiration for their originals.) By contrast, the closing number is a cover of a pop hit, but it’s an absolute winner—a wonderful, inventive, and soaring bluegrass arrangement of the Steve Miller Band California-rock classic “Fly Like An Eagle.”
There are a few rough edges, but these don’t detract from the band’s self-described neo-traditional sound, by turns gritty or smooth, gentle or rousing. Everyone in the band sings and they sing well. Bandmembers Phil Johnson (mandolin), Stuart Green (banjo), Mark Lackey (resonator guitar), Darren Campbell (guitar) and Peter Koelsch (bass) successfully play off each other’s picking in a true ensemble sound. Vince Herman of the jam band Leftover Salmon produced the album. The project’s good recording values, attractive package design, and overall fresh concept put Eight Dollar Mountain on the right track indeed. (www.eightdollarmountain.net)RDS