Music

Emmitt-Nershi Band: New Country Blues

From the on-hiatus String Cheese Incident and Leftover Salmon, two jam-grass all-stars get together to make strong new newgrass.


Emmitt-Nershi Band

New Country Blues

US Release: 2009-09-29
UK Release: 2009-09-28
Label: SCI Fidelity
Amazon
iTunes

Few musical styles are quite as polarizing as that of jam bands. The haters deplore the never-ending and meandering solos, the emphasis on instrumental improvisation over singing and melody, and the conspicuous uniformity of the fans, with their emphasis on drugs and identical dancing. The lovers argue for the unmistakable musical prowess of the players, the exciting unpredictability of the never-the-same-set-twice aesthetic, and the unmatched fun-loving and free-spirited vibe that connects the band and the audience. What's interesting is how few people are on the fence with regard to jam bands. The haters want nothing to do with them, and the lovers are often literal followers who listen to little else. Sure, I'm generalizing, but just try insulting someone's favorite jam band by, say, writing an unfavorable review of Phish's new album.

If you're among the haters, there's no band more egregiously jammy than String Cheese Incident, who took modernist, rock-influenced bluegrass (“newgrass”) and stretched songs into loose, jazzy, extemporaneous roots-psychedelia (“jamgrass”), on which the band would noodle around for 15 minutes or longer per song. For true believers, the band's eclecticism and first-rate musicianship was thrilling, but others felt mauled by it all. On the other hand, even the haters, in this case bluegrass purists, could get behind the other powerhouse jamgrass band of the late '90s, Leftover Salmon. Like String Cheese Incident, Salmon were capable of broad musical diversity, but they generally reigned in wayward jammy-ness in favor of working more songs into each show, many of them fun and surprising covers, led by one of the great frontmen and party-starters in roots music, Vince Herman.

Both Leftover Salmon and String Cheese Incident have been on hiatus for the last few years, although both bands occasionally reunite for one-off shows. In their absence, two of their respective key members have joined forces, Salmon's mandolinist/singer Drew Emmitt and String Cheese's guitarist/singer Bill Nershi. They're cleverly named the Emmitt-Nershi Band for New Country Blues, a set of tunes, most of them freshly-penned by the pair. So what will this new configuration do to appeal to both the lovers and the haters? Drive impressively down the middle, toggling between fairly traditional bluegrass on one song and idiosyncratic vanguard jams the next. Conventionalists will be happy to hear the album open with a good, fast, banjo-driven barn-burner, the title song. While the band will take plenty of turns off the beaten path, they announce with their opener their intention to keep things within the great New Grass Revival continuum with one foot reverently in bluegrass history and one foot in progressive experimentation.

The other thing that's clear here is that these two newgrass heavy-hitters have mighty recruiting power to bring in the hottest young pickers in the game. The Emmitt-Nershi Band is technically a quartet, with official members Andy Thorn on banjo (the most dynamic banjo discovery since Noam Pikelny) and guitarist/bassist Tyler Grant. In addition, the band gets help on fiddle from Jason Carter and on dobro from the excellent Rob Ickes. Emmitt and Nershi themselves are both highly accomplished players. While taking lightning-fast solos are live calling cards for these kinds of bands, and something the two of them do deftly, the Emmitt-Nershi Band shows refreshing restraint by keeping solos relatively brief and sticking to carefully arranged instrumentals like Neshi's gyspsy-jazz “Surfing the Red Sea” and Emmitt's Latin-flavored “Mango Tango”. The musicians are given room to lay foxy runs over thorny chord progressions, but these songs never feel like excuses to meander, never straying too far from the head during the explorations. “Mango Tango” gets a little frenetic as it picks up steam at the end, but again, the band occasionally scratches the itch of jam enthusiasts while staying dedicated to measured accessibility.

For all of the record's outrageously great playing—check out those solos on “Restless Wind”, for instance—the album is not without drawbacks. Most obviously, New Country Blues is not a particularly songful album in terms of vocal melodies and lyricism. Nothing stands out as exceedingly memorable or singable. (Exception: the breezy “Wait Until Tomorrow".) Hindering the matter is the fact that neither Emmitt nor Nershi is a particularly strong singer, the Achilles heel for so many jam bands. Emmitt is the more effective of the two, with his clean tenor, but he’s unable to generate much power in his voice, so he’s frequently overwhelmed by the instrumentation. Nershi has the kind of pinched warble familiar to fans of Jerry Garcia or Railroad Earth’s Todd Sheaffer, and the harmonies Emmitt and Nershi create are milky and hazy, at times lovely, at others less assured.

The two leads throw Grant and Thorn one songwriting bone each, “I Come from the Country” and “Flight of the Durban”, respectively. Neither is a song-of-the-year candidate. New Country Blues's penultimate song is Emmitt's “This Is the Time”, which is odd since anyone likely to buy the record already has a nearly identical version of the song on Leftover Salmon’s Euphoria album. While it's a fine song and performance, it still feels like filler. the Emmitt-Nershi Band might have waited until they had a handful of more new tunes to bring to the project. Those concerns aside, New Country Blues is an overall satisfying accomplishment that offers more than enough to satisfy the lovers and perhaps enough to convert a few of the haters.

6

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image