Compass Records

Like a lot of new young bands, Old Salt Union is trying to carve out a distinctive territory of its own to be heard among the traditional, progressive, and jamgrass scenes. I’m happy to say that, based on the recorded evidence of their second album Where The Dogs Don’t Bite, this Midwestern quintet has the considerable tools to have a far-reaching impact.

This release features ten tracks, all band originals, and they present a dual front line of fine singers in bassist Jesse Farrar and mandolinist Justin Wallace. Interestingly enough, Farrar’s vocals seem more mainstream. While his songs such as “God You Don’t Need” are more abstract, Wallace’s singing has an appealingly crusty edge and bite to them. This is showcased most effectively on his song “Tell Me So,” on which Bobby Osborne’s backing vocals gives the group some instant bluegrass street cred. Wallace’s songs are also more likely to stick in the memory, with skillful lyrical hooks.

The musicianship is impeccable—rhythmically tight with instrumental breaks that are consistently deft, but not self-indulgent. Guitarist Graham Curry adds a lead vocal on the burner “Heartbroke & Lonesome,” violinist John Brighton channels his apparent classical influences into his instrumental “Johann’s Breakdown,” and Ryan Murphey’s banjo supplies the needed drive. Alison Brown’s production showcases the band’s strengths while she also adds a bit of guitar to the title-track.

Probably the most impressive aspect of Old Salt Union is their tight and imaginative arranging. Each track shows careful attention to the presentation of the songs and the rhythmic and harmonic interweaving of the instruments, and it shows in the freshness of each piece. This is a band that clearly knows what it wants to do, and Where The Dogs Don’t Bite is a gift to the listener who wants a new and original twist on tradition. (Compass Records, 916 19th Ave. S., Nashville, TN 37212, www.compassrecords.com.)HK

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