CDs: New sounds from a few old favorites | AspenTimes.com

CDs: New sounds from a few old favorites

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Stewart Oksenhorn/The Aspen TimesColorado jam band Leftover Salmon, with mandolinist-singer Drew Emmitt, has released "Aquatic Hitchhiker," its first album in eight years. Emmitt will appear as part of the Emmitt-Nershi Band Aug. 15 at Belly Up Aspen.

produced by Steve Berlin (LOS Records)

A few months ago Vince Herman, one of the Colorado musicians who founded Leftover Salmon more than 20 years ago, told me that the band’s new recording, their first since 2004, sounded “just like a Leftover Salmon album.”

No argument there. Despite changes in personnel, especially in the banjo slot; the occasional hiatus; and Herman and co-founder Drew Emmitt devoting themselves to other bands, “Aquatic Hitchhiker” picks up where Leftover Salmon left off – taking virtually every branch of American roots music and fusing them into a high-energy stew that sounds a lot like rock ‘n’ roll.

“Aquatic Hitchhiker” actually opens on an unusual emotional note. Leftover Salmon is known for songs about dancing, festivating and enjoying the outdoors, but the first track here is “Gulf of Mexico,” Emmitt’s reflective ode to the post-Katrina, post-spill Mississippi Delta that still manages to capture a groove. An even better tribute to the South is “Bayou Town,” another Emmitt tune, a waltz with a zydeco feel, an uptempo mood and a heart-felt fiddle solo from guest Jason Carter, of the Del McCoury Band. Herman is at his most Herman-esque on “Sing Up to the Moon,” an upbeat two-step that celebrates, in the simplest terms, mountains and music.

The new component here is banjoist Andy Thorn, who contributes excellent licks throughout, especially on the title track, a stylish instrumental that he also composed. And just as much of a presence is producer Steve Berlin. Berlin has worked with a bluegrass-influenced Colorado jam band before, producing String Cheese Incident’s “Outside Inside.” His work here is more notable, as he sharpens Leftover Salmon’s sound to just the right point.

The Emmitt-Nershi Band, with Drew Emmitt, will play Aug. 15 at Belly Up Aspen.

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produced by Jeff Lynne and Walsh (Fantasy)

Joe Walsh, at 64, doesn’t seem to mind that he is dated. He titles his first album in 20 years “Analog Man,” and the opening title track claims some pride in being an old fart. The tone could come off as cranky – “Welcome to cyberspace, I’m lost in the fog,” he sings – but he reminds listeners that the slow pace of the analog age allowed a lot more time to sit and vegetate, and that, on a literal level, the digital age is missing some substance.

Walsh seems to revel in dating himself technically and stylistically, using ancient approaches. On “Funk 50,” which updates his “Funk 49” with production tricks from the dawn of the digital age, he sings, “I’m gonna show everybody I’m back.” Walsh knows how to deliver the joke; the next tune, the instrumental “India,” goes even further back along the music-production timeline, but reveals Walsh genuinely enjoying himself.

The centerpiece, or at least the most nakedly heart-felt song, is “Lucky That Way.” A follow-up to his classic “Life’s Been Good,” this time Walsh comes from a calmer, matured perspective to let people know he knows how good he’s got it being a rock star: “When anyone asks me, ‘Joe, how do you do it, because you do it with such style and grace/ … I say, ‘I’m just lucky that way.'”

Joe Walsh will play Aug. 18 at Belly Up.

produced by Miller (Maximum Sunshine)

On his solo albums, singer-songwriter Rhett Miller tends to explore styles that are a good distance from Old 97s, the country-rock band he also leads. On “The Dreamer,” Miller take a step toward Old 97s, but this is different brand of country-rock. With Miller himself producing, the sounds are more spacious and twangy, the tone dreamier, the focus more on stories than stomping. Miller has always had a thing for Gram Parsons, and “The Dreamer” is at its best when he adapts Parsons’ knack for duets with a female singer. Rosanne Cash adds her voice to “As Close As I Came to Being Right,” and the highlight is “Sleepwalkin’,” featuring singer Rachel Yamagata.

stewart@aspentimes.com