Leave the Bottle
3.5 stars (out of 5)
By Donald Teplyske
Town Mountain release their fourth album, and second for Pinecastle, this autumn. Leave the Bottle is a darn strong bluegrass album featuring original, band-written music, a powerful instrumental presence, and vocal diversity and dexterity.
From Asheville, N.C., Town Mountain has garnered considerable airplay with previous releases. As well, the still youthful group has traveled far and wide playing their music; they have appeared at IBMA, performed internationally, and toured with respected bluegrass and jam bands. Further, their song “Diggin’ on the Mountain” was featured on the recent Putumayo bluegrass compilation.
Town Mountain is a band that finds their inspiration both in the traditions of bluegrass—traditions that include both Jimmy Martin and New Grass Revival—and in the increasingly expansive world of the jam bands. Much like the Steep Canyon Rangers, Town Mountain has found a way to bridge these seemingly disparate universes, appealing to audiences of all types.
Without doubt, this band has fine writing chops. Either as co-writers or singular offerings, eleven of the dozen songs originate within the group. “Lawdog,” written by mandolinist Phil Barker, is a law-breaking throwback to the days of the Osborne Brothers; with Barker singing high and plaintive on this one, Bobby O naturally comes to mind. This may prove to be the album’s most popular track.
Another Barker song, “Greenbud on the Flower,” is more meditative; sung by Robert Greer, this one comes near the conclusion of the album and is of the “hard times aim to movin’ on” variety. Barker also writes two songs with frequent collaborator Charles Humphrey III. “Don’t Go Home Tonight” closes the album and is a plea for the party not to end while “Lookin’ in the Mirror,” the album’s spirited lead track, perhaps tells the rest of the story.
Also presenting songs is banjo player Jesse Langlais with three including the album’s title lament. Sung by Greer and with nice mando fills from Barker, “Leave the Bottle” is a traditional “drinkin’ on the road” song: “Hey, bartender, leave the bottle, because the drink helps to keep her far away.” The song could be taken a couple different ways, depending on whether you’re the one leaning on the bar or are the one left behind. He also wrote the very excellent song of questionable decision-making, betrayal, death, and a cold, lonesome corpse, “Away From Home.”
Greer also contributes a cut. “Up the Ladder” reminds one of both “Hard to Handle” (the Otis Redding song later cut by the Black Crowes) and “White Lightning”: it is a hard times tune disguised as a romp. Fiddler Bobby Britt weaves a bit of magic on the album’s instrumental, his own “Four Winds.”
Whereas the band’s previous albums featured covers of songs written by Springsteen, Van Zandt, and Hank III, Leave the Bottle’s sole cover is of more obscure origin. “Loaded” comes from the Wood Brothers featuring a laid-back, Chatham County Line approach that deviates only a few beats per minute from the original: a very effective tactic for a blurry-eyed song of self-destruction.
Robert Greer sings the lead the majority of the time. His voice and approach is every bit as distinctive as Chris Stapleton’s, and this certainly helps Town Mountain separate themselves from the pack.
Produced by Mike Bub with Scott Vestal handling the knobs, Leave the Bottle has every element needed to help Town Mountain expand their presence within their bluegrass world