Town Mountain’s Challenge: Creating New Music with ‘Old-School Grittiness’
The town is Asheville, NC, and the mountains are so multiple they go by the name “Great Smokies.” But they've provided a smoking springboard that has taken the new Bluegrass group from the Southeast U.S. to Southeast Finland.
No less an authority than Jim Lauderdale has proclaimed, “There's a new Mountain in Town, and they get down with heart, grit, soul, and drive.” Woody Platt of the Steep Canyon Rangers describes the group as “centered around strong, soulful vocals, poised to stay put, and true to Bluegrass in all the right ways.”
It's also no small digital feather in Town Mountain's cap that their most recent albums were produced by Mike Bub, long-time bass player for the Del McCoury Band, and whose other studio clients include the likes of Sam Bush. Bub has boiled down the band's output this way: “Town Mountain is not reinventing the wheel, but taking the wheel in their hands and driving the music down both familiar roads and out to new territory.”
The “familiar” include blasting through the traditional “Dead Man's Cove” with both a pace and attention to detail that leave even the purest of purists open-mouthed. Among the “new territory” is member Phil Barker's original “Sparkle City,” with the lyrics, “It's a land of easy living / Sparkle City is her name / Do you think I'll ever see / The lights of your Broadway / Shining down on me?”
On another musical frontier...long renowned among roots- and world-music audiophiles, New York City-based Putumayo Records features Town Mountain's original “Diggin' on a Mountainside” on its newly minted Bluegrass anthology (alongside such talents as Allison Krauss, Sam Bush, and others): "They're comin' in from out of town / To cut the timber and strip the ground / Then onward to the sun they climb / Rich folks diggin' on the mountainside / They're born to see their silver shine / Rich folks diggin' on the mountainside..."
If their newest CD “Leave the Bottle” sounds a little different than some of its competitors, banjoist and songwriter Jesse Langlais says there's a reason for that: “Even when we're in the studio, we try to maintain that rough around the edges quality. We certainly did that with the last two. This one, I think we achieved the same goal, I just think it’s tighter for our band, but still not smooth around the edges. We like that. That’s who we are as musicians and as people. We can appreciate all the great musicians in Bluegrass and what they’re doing, but we try to keep an old-school grittiness about the music that a lot of bands don’t.”
Earlier this summer, that practiced grittiness took an especially long airline flight—to the band's European debut in Helsinki, Finland, for the 25th annual Rootsinpythaa Bluegrass and Roots Festival. As Langlais told fans on the group's website, “Often when we're on the road we'll do what we call a 'Town Mountain enrichment program' to help better ourselves culturally, spiritually and physically. It may be a side trip to a local college campus, a fine arts museum, or a natural wonder of the world. But a trip to the Old World takes the cake.”
Town Mountain, live onstage at Hippie Jack's in Overton County, Tennessee, as part of a PBS Americana Music TV special:
Town Mountain performs “Sparkle City,” onstage at MerleFest for American Songwriter:
The original song “Rich Folks Diggin' on a Mountainside,” just out from Town Mountain on Putumayo Records: