The Rialto proudly presents
Yonder Mountain String Band
Old Salt Union
10 West Main St.
Bozeman, MT, 59715
Doors 8:00 PM / Show 9:00 PM
This event is 18 and over
Yonder Mountain String Band
Yonder Mountain String Band’s first new album in two years, LOVE. AIN’T LOVE is undeniably the Colorado-based progressive bluegrass outfit’s most surprising, creative, and yes, energetic studio excursion to date. Songs like “Chasing My Tail” and “Alison” are rooted in tradition but as current as tomorrow, animated by electrifying performance, vivid production, and the modernist power that has made Yonder one of the most popular live bands of their generation. Melding sophisticated songcraft, irrepressible spirit, and remarkable instrumental ability, LOVE. AIN’T LOVE is a testament to Yonder Mountain String Band’s organic, dynamic, and intensely personal brand of contemporary bluegrass-fueled Americana.
“I think this is our best album yet,” says Adam Aijala, guitarist.
Yonder founding members Aijala, banjo player Dave Johnston, and bassist Ben Kaufmann reconfigured Yonder Mountain String Band as a traditional bluegrass instrumental five-piece in 2014 with the recruitment of new players Allie Kral (violin) and Jacob Jolliff (mandolin). The reconstituted group debuted with 2015’s acclaimed BLACK SHEEP, but truly gelled as they toured, the new players’ personalities seamlessly blending and elevating the intrinsically tight Yonder sound. Yonder made certain to show off the current roster’s growing strength with the 2017 release of MOUNTAIN TRACKS: VOLUME 6, the first installment in their hugely popular live recording series since 2008.
“This lineup just keeps getting better,” Aijala says. “The more gigs you get under your belt, the better you get. Obviously. But the confidence I have in these individual musicians, I’m amazed at some of the places we go together on stage.”
LOVE. AIN’T LOVE is produced by Yonder Mountain String Band and longtime collaborator John McVey, with the majority of the album recorded at Coupe Studios in Yonder’s home base of Boulder, CO. Aijala and McVey handled all of the album’s mix and engineering at their respective home studios and while Yonder was on the road – the second time a Yonder member has taken on the technical task.
“John taught me a lot when we worked together on our last album,” Aijala says. “So this time around, I felt a lot more confident.”
Like virtually all aspects of Yonder Mountain String Band’s unlikely artistic methodology, LOVE. AIN’T LOVE is a fully collaborative effort, its original songs credited to the core founding trio of Aijala, Johnston, and Kaufmann, regardless of combination or specific input.
“I think it removes the jockeying for songs on a record,” says Aijala. “We’re all of the mind that even if one of us wrote a great song, if not for Yonder, would anyone get a chance to hear it? It works better this way. All three of us grew up playing team sports so we’re team players – everyone wants what’s best for the band.”
Laced with interstitial dialogue, music, sound effects, and other overlapping ephemera, LOVE. AIN’T LOVE is by design Yonder’s most ingenious studio collection thus far. Songs like “Take A Chance On Me” and the heavy metal-inspired breakdown, “Fall Outta Line,” see the quintet touching upon FM pop, country rock, funk, world music, and so much more; adopting traditional sonic and lyrical idioms to mask deeper and darker personal truths.
“It’s a little more eclectic,” Aijala says. “None of us grew up with bluegrass so there are always other influences in there. I think this record is a bit more reminiscent of our live show, with different genres and different types of songs.”
Indeed, “Last of the Railroad Men” plays like a lost narrative country classic while the unprecedented “Groovin’ Away” closes LOVE. AIN’T LOVE with a summery sense of joyous optimism. Yonder’s first-ever original reggae song, the track stands out as yet another shining example of the band’s lifelong commitment to anything-goes artistic freedom.
“There are no limits to what we do” says Aijala. “We’ll try anything, if it feels good, we’ll try it again.”
In addition to the founding trio’s songwriting efforts, Jolliff – who arrived to play on BLACK SHEEP sessions and never left – contributed a pair of fiery instrumentals and also lends vocals to a delightful cover of King Harvest’s eternal “Dancing In The Moonlight.”
“Allie sang a song that we wrote on BLACK SHEEP,” Aijala says, “so we wanted to showcase Jake’s vocals on this album. We’ve been playing ‘Dancing in the Moonlight’ in our live shows and whenever we play it people just light up. We always enjoy playing it, the harmonies are really good and Jake sings the hell out of it so we thought, why not put it on the record?”
2017 will see Yonder continue its seemingly endless touring, leading towards next year’s 20th anniversary of their initial coming together, an irrefutably momentous occasion.
“When we were first starting, our creativity was rooted in rebelliousness. Now, there’s a greater conscious awareness and attention to detail that we’re bringing to our writing and recording. Our nature and instincts remain progressive. We’re just doing it in a way that’s sharper, more musical, and way more satisfying,” says Ben Kaufmann.
With its melodic flair, expert technique, and forward-thinking fervor, LOVE. AIN’T LOVE is a strikingly assured and well-crafted manifestation of Yonder’s matchless musical vision. Nearly two decades in, Yonder Mountain String Band is still utterly unto themselves, a one-of-a-kind, once-in-a-lifetime combo whose inventiveness, versatility, and sheer imagination shows no sign of winding down.
“We’ve talked about this,” Aijala says, “and we all feel like we could play in Yonder until we can’t play anymore. As long we still have new ideas, as long as we’re still creating something that’s fresh to us, I don’t see any reason to stop.”
Old Salt Union
“Old Salt Union has the groove and the chops of a great string band, balanced with infectious rock and roll energy. Their music occupies that sweet space between Old Crow folk and Yonder Mountain jam --
not a bad place to be for a band about to break.”— No Depression
A great band is more than the proverbial sum of its parts, and in the pursuit of becoming something that can cut through the clutter of YouTube stars and contest show runner-ups, a great roots music band must become a way of life. Less likely to rely on production or image, they’ve got to connect with their audience only through the craftsmanship of their songs, the energy they channel on the stage and the story that brings them together.
Old Salt Union is a string band founded by a horticulturist, cultivated by classically trained musicians, and fueled by a vocalist/bass player who is also a hip-hop producer with a fondness for the Four Freshmen. It is this collision of styles and musical vocabularies that informs their fresh approach to bluegrass and gives them an electric live performance vibe that seems to pull more from Vaudeville than the front porch.
In 2015 they won the FreshGrass Band contest and found the perfect collaborator in Compass Records co-founder and GRAMMY winning banjoist and composer, Alison Brown, whose attention to detail and high standards pushed the group to develop their influences from beyond a vocabulary to pull from during improvisation and into the foundation of something truly compelling in the roots music landscape.
Violinist John Brighton mentions some names familiar to the Compass roster as key influences, musicians like Darol Anger, Edgar Meyer, Mike Marshall and Mark O’Connor, all of whom have collaborated with Brown in the past. Primary vocalist and bassist, Jesse Farrar (for the indie rock heads - yes, he’s related – Son Volt front man Jay Farrar is Jesse’s uncle) brings an alternative rock spirit as well as his unique formative experiences as a hip hop producer and bass player for a national tour of The Four Freshmen. The band’s self-titled Compass debut combines these instrumental proclivities with pop melodies and harmonies into a coherent piece of work that carves out a road-less-travelled for the band in the now crowded roots music genre.
The album kicks off with a nod to alternative rock sensibilities – a deconstructed symphonic drone creeps in slowly, while Farrar emerges through the atmospherics to deliver the first lines “Stranded on a lonely road/Trying to find my way back home/A dollar and a broken heart/Didn’t seem to get me very far”. His words are followed by a dramatic moment of silence (a trick often used in hip hop) that quickly launches into “Where I Stand”, a hard-driving bluegrass track that gets moving so powerfully you almost don’t notice the layer of angelic harmonies flowing consistently underneath.
Mandolinist Justin Wallace takes over lead vocal duties for the second track “Feel My Love” as well as a version of Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al”. He pops up again on his composition “On My Way” and his no-frills, approachable voice is the perfect complement to Farrar’s more gymnastic style. The two work together beautifully on the Wallace-penned, “Hard Line”. Wallace is further showcased on the disc’s lone instrumental “Flatt Baroque”, composed by Brighton, who joins him in some twin mandolin, and it’s this more contemplative moment on the album where the listener hears him reaching to be in perfect sync with his bandmate, that best reflects Wallace’s role in the evolution story of the band. If Farrar has emerged as the heartbeat, then Wallace is the soul.
Perhaps most surprisingly, the band was founded by banjoist Ryan Murphey, the aforementioned horticulturist who came to bluegrass music and the banjo later in life. Finding a kindred spirit in Dustin Eiskant, the band’s former guitarist and Farrar’s cousin, the pair started the band in 2012 and Murphey played the banjo and led the band’s business through its early incarnations, including the recruitment of Farrar in 2014.
When Eiskant quit in 2016, just as the band’s already impressive trajectory seemed to be taking a significant step forward, Murphey and the band were able to reset, adding guitarist Rob Kindle to the lineup. Kindle brings a bluegrass foundation from his early exposure to the music as a child in family settings, as well as a degree in jazz performance to the mix.
Though the band had established themselves as a growing festival act with performances at LouFest, Stagecoach Festival, Bluegrass Underground, Winter Wondergrass, Freshgrass, Wakarusa, Yonder Mountain String Band's Harvest Festival, and the 2014 Daytona 500, it was their breakout track on Spotify, “Madam Plum” that seemed to amplify awareness of the band beyond the bluegrass bubble.
Of working with the band in the studio, producer Brown says, “These post modern bluegrassers are true renegades. While they look like a bluegrass band, their musical sensibilities run much deeper and broader, borrowing as much from indie rock and jazz fusion as from Bill Monroe. And, even more exciting to me, they know no fear! They are wide open musical adventurers and we had a great time experimenting in the studio at the crossroads of these disparate influences.”
The most unexpected but possibly most fascinating song on the album is a ballad entitled “Bought and Sold”. Its earnest beauty is balanced with a youthful inventiveness that leaves a solemn mark on the listener who might wake up at the end of it thinking, “What just happened?”.
At this point, the future of the band seems marvelously unclear. The album closes with “Here and Off My Mind” which seems like the bluegrass song that Conor Oberst never wrote featuring a lyric that ends with the promise of “a better life” though from the all-hands-on-deck jam session that breaks out in the middle (is that a kazoo?) one gets the sense that the band can’t imagine a better one than they have in the beat up Winnebago they currently call home.