Music connoisseurs with a heart for bluegrass should make it a point to stop by The Rustic on Sunday to catch Asheville, North Carolina, outfit Town Mountain. The critically acclaimed bluegrass band is swinging through Texas and Oklahoma on a short stint with Tyler Childers, promoting their sixth studio record, New Freedom Blues.
While Texas might not be the center of the bluegrass universe, there is some decent overlap between Texas/red dirt country and the mountain music that hails from the Appalachian states. Guitar, fiddle and mandolin are featured instruments, but swap out electric guitar for a banjo, toss out the pedal steel and go old-school with an upright bass and you get reasonably close. Like the country around these parts, the songs are down-to-earth and real, often dealing with the highs and lows of blue collar life but often with a mountain backdrop. It’s less crying in your beer and more up-tempo, foot-stomping fun complete with big harmonies and banjo rolls.
Zach Smith, Town Mountain's upright bass player, says their approach to the genre has sustained their careers for more than a decade.
“A lot of the bluegrass today, especially the harmonies, are extremely clean and produced almost like pop music," he says. "Town Mountain has never done that, and I think it has helped us to stand out in both the bluegrass and Americana scenes.
“A lot of it also is in the songwriting. You can tell Robert [Greer], Phil [Barker] and Jesse [Langlais] are steeped in both bluegrass and classic country. In the past, the band had written songs to fit neatly within the confines of bluegrass music. On this album, they didn’t worry about fitting perfectly into the genre and instead let the songs go where they wanted to go.”
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One such curveball heard on New Freedom Blues is the use of a full drum kit, a first by the band and atypical by bluegrass standards. They called on Sturgill Simpson drummer Miles Miller to anchor the beat.
“He’s a metronome that you can drink beer with,” Smith jokes. “As a bass player, it was really great to have him there because it freed me up to explore a bit.”
You’ll clearly hear those drums on the title track of New Freedom Blues. Other tracks to whet your appetite for this weekend’s show include “Lazy River” and “Life and Debt.” The former is straight-up-the-middle bluegrass, while “Life and Debt” juxtaposes the serious subject of America’s proclivity for debt with an upbeat zydeco feel. Perhaps the biggest standout on the record is the last track, “Down Low.” Co-written by banjo player Langlais and Childers, the song exquisitely describes a night of taking in too much. Its mellow bluegrass core is bolstered unexpectedly by electric guitar and a Waylon Jennings vibe.
Town Mountain hits the stage at 8 p.m. Sunday, with 2018 AMA Emerging Artist of the Year, Tyler Childers, to follow. Reserved seating at The Rustic for this event is sold out.