Sizzling Bluegrass Road Warriors Town Mountain Headline at the Rockwood Tonight
A good night at the Rockwod tonight. In the little room, there’s down-to-earth, wryly lyrical acoustic Americana songwriter Joanna Sternberg kicking off the evening at 7. Across the way, cult hero Ward White – who is unsurpassed at menacing rock narratives – plays the big room at the same time. Later on in the big room, there’s excellent acoustic Americana guitarist Bennett Sullivan at 10 and then raucous Asheville, North Carolina bluegrass band Town Mountain.
If memory serves right, the last time Town Mountain played New York, it was at the now-defunct Zirzamin on the coldest night of the year…and the place was packed. They’ve got a healthy following here, for good reason, so if you’re going, you ought to get there early (and you’ll probably like what Sullivan does too).
Town Mountain’s latest album is Live at the Isis, recorded last year in front of a liquored-up hometown crowd and streaming at Spotify. They sound like they’re about to jump out of their shoes on the blazing, careening opener, You Weighed Heavy on My Heart, Bobby Britt’s nimble fiddle and Phil Baker’s precise mandolin contrasting with Jesse Langlais’ absolutely unhinged banjo. Britt’s instrumental Four Miles – reputedly the first song he ever wrote – manages to be gorgeous and dangerous at the same time. Then Barker and bassist Nick DiSebastian push the energy even higher with the lickety-split Tarheel Boys
Up the Ladder gives guitarist/frontman Robert Greer a chance to team with Barker and Langlais for a spot-on and revealing look at where Chuck Berry got his guitar harmonies. Likewise, Greer gets the crowd howling along with him on the snide band-on-the-run anthem Lawdog, Britt firing off a solo that spins and spirals like a pair of lights on the roof of a police cruiser.
Their choice of covers aren’t the usual standards all the other bands play, either. They give Hank 3’s 5 Shots of Whiskey a subdued, morosely half-in-the-bag treatment and then immediately pick up the pace again with George Jones’ The Race Is On, with a surreal, bluesy banjo solo after which Britt jumps in and serves as the voice of reason until he decides to say the hell with it and go straight down the rabbit hole too. Jed Zimmerman’s Texas New Mexico Line, another road song, is barely more restrained. They pull it back a bit more with Sugar Mama and then wind up the album with a noisy, rapidfire Orange Blossom Special, Britt’s machinegunning riffage front and center. Once you hear this thing it won’t come as any surprise that these guys are racking up IBMA’s (International Bluegrass Music Awards). Grammies – who watches them, anyway?