Tracks from the disc are culled largely from 2008 performances at The French Broad Brewery (with the exception of one song, recorded at Ruby’s Tap Room, and three done in-studio at Broadview Studios). The album goes a long way toward reproducing the excitement and energy of a live show, but sound quality is crisp and the performances are tight.
From the first notes, Salamanders reveals itself to be carefully crafted and tending more toward the technical than the soulful, but fans of bluegrass, jazz and jam will not be disappointed by the dynamic and indefatigable sessions collected among the 11 songs.
“Me, John Lennon and the Escalator” is a high point — a finely crafted, bouncy, tune that dances between peppy banjo and snappy percussion.
“Harvest Reggae” is Grateful Dead-esque, from the Saylor brothers’ vocals (the lead baring some resemblance to Bob Weir) and thick bass to the trippy-noodly banjo. And then there are the lyrics: “We’ll come back with trash bags. Cause harvest time is here.” A cool skank bass/psychedelic guitar solo seems a perfect fit to a slinky banjo riff. The song has several movements and winds through a number of moods — probably especially fun for those who have partaken of whatever is being harvested. But clocking in at over nine minutes, it’s actually not the longest track on the disc.
That honor goes to “Funk Epidemic,” a 12-plus minute study in grooves and jazz phrasing. Bryan White’s bass solo is an artful display of musicianship that showcases his prowess (and distinctly non-rootsy approach) on the instrument. Ian Cunningham takes a mammoth drum solo that is more journey than showcase. It evolves through time signatures and textures, off through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year… oh wait, no. That’s Where the Wild Things Are. But Cunningham’s solo does last over three minutes and it certainly elbows up to the wild things territory, a theme picked up by Will Saylor on a guitar solo that’s as close to nasty as Brushfire gets. The solo breezes, it’s worth mentioning, through the famous, soaring guitar riff of the Allman Brother’s “Mountain Jam.”
Get the live experience (and buy a copy of the album in person) when Brushfire Stankgrass plays with the Bobby Lee Rodgers Trio at the Emerald Lounge on Saturday, Aug. 14.