Leftover Salmon’s genius is how they take the old and reimagine it into something new. Over their thirty-year career they have toyed with the fabric of bluegrass and roots music, stretching and pulling it into something uniquely their own, yet something that still maintains the integrity of where it was born. Their latest album, the appropriately named Grass Roots, is a collection of covers reinforcing Salmon’s connection to its past and the music that influenced them and helped make them the band they are today. The album features songs that have been part of Salmon’s repertoire for years, by artists who have shaped the band’s identity and includes David Bromberg’s “New Lee Highway Blues,” Mcgraw Gap’s “Fireline,” an uptempo take on the Grateful Dead’s “Black Peter” that shows how closely related the Three’s Company theme song and the Jerry Garcia ballad are, Bob Dylan’s “Simple Twist of Fate” and “Nashville Skyline Rag,” and the Dallas Frazier standard, “California Cottonfields” sung by recent addition to the band Jay Starling, whose dobro helps color Salmon’s sound with a more traditional shade.
Even with that traditional shade, the way Salmon reinterprets each song points to the future of roots music, the ability to present each new song in a new, modern guise that is still respectful of each tune’s rich history. Guests Oliver Wood on Link Wray’s “Fire & Brimstone,” and Billy Strings on “Blue Railroad Train,” and “Nashville Skyline Rag” only deepen this connection to the future as both are on the cutting edge of roots and bluegrass themselves.
The inclusion of Bromberg’s “New Lee Highway Blues” is important as he has long been a key touchstone and predecessor for Salmon, with his bluegrass-rooted sound and open willingness to incorporate elements from jazz, folk, blues, country, and rock into his music. His quirky lyrics and anything-goes style are clear inspirations, with his reverent views and irreverent approach towards music providing a guiding light for singer/guitarist Vince Herman.
For the uninitiated, it is easy to get lost in the antics of Salmon and lose sight of how utterly important a band they are in the history of roots music. They are the bridge from the roots of bluegrass to rock, from the traditional to the modern. Since first forming in the mountains of Colorado they have helped keep alive one of the great American musical genres, bluegrass, in their own special way and help introduce it to a generation often unfamiliar with it. Through their continued influence, Salmon has ensured that bluegrass music is in good hands as it heads into the future and Grass Roots is the latest reminder of that.