Town Mountain hails from Asheville, N.C.’s fertile bluegrass scene. They are among a crop of young musicians in the area (which includes the Steep Canyon Rangers) who are producing quality original traditional bluegrass material. Their third album, Steady Operator, showcases their writing and their tightly integrated band sound. Phil Barker, the mandolin player, has penned most tracks with Jesse Langlais (banjo) contributing three.
Although the album notes don’t say so, the energy in these songs sounds like they were recorded live in the studio, a feat that can only be successfully pulled off by a group that has played hundreds, maybe thousands of hours of music together. The variety in the material suggests that the band is equally at home on a festival stage or in a smoky bar room late at night. A couple of standout cuts could easily become bluegrass standards. “Come Break My Heart” crosses a Jimmy Martin feel with a honky-tonk groove to form a catchy heartbreak tale. “The Humble Shepherd” captures the Biblical story of the burning bush with a call-and-response chorus impossible not to sing along with.
Lead vocals are mostly handled by guitarist Robert Greer, who has an appealingly straightforward delivery. His voice has that hint of an edge to it that lends intensity and vitality to what he’s singing. The band shows off its instrumental chops as well. Jesse’s banjo tune “Fallin’ Off The Wagon” has a distinctive little hook, while Bobby Britt’s version of the traditional “Flannery’s Reel” embodies everything that is good about slippy-slidey old-time and bluegrass fiddling. Town Mountain is a standout among young touring bluegrass bands on the scene today. Steady Operator should help cement their reputation as a group to keep your eye on in the future. (Pinecastle Records, 2881 NC108 Hwy E., Columbus, NC 28722, www.pinecastlemusic.com.) CAH