Review By Steven Stone
Drew Emmitt has been making music for over 25 years. His first band, Leftover Salmon, developed a cult following of fans who trailed them from gig to gig. Although the band still plays several gigs during the summer festival season, its members have all moved on to other projects and bands. Emmitt began his career as a bandleader with his first release, Freedom Ride, in 2002. His second album, Across the Bridge, further established his credentials as a solo artist capable of enlisting and inspiring a band of first-class musicians.
On his third solo release, Long Road, Emmitt displays the full breath of his musical talent. "Gold Hill Line," showcases his bluegrass chops. "Beat of the World," proves that Emmitt can weave a powerful reggae groove. Still other songs, such as the title cut, successfully explore the realm of new acoustic/electric groove music. Leftover Salmon categorized their sound as "polyethnic Cajun slamgrass." Emmitt's latest work has retained this eclectic and discursive essence.
Eight of the eleven songs on Long Road were written or co-written by Emmitt. Some, such as "Gold Hill Line," have already found their way into bluegrass jams (I first heard it two weeks ago in a Lyons, CO gathering). Others, such as "Cloud City," are destined to be modern instrumental classics. Emmitt has a knack for combining Celtic, blues, and bluegrass influences into tunes that satisfy on many levels.
Emmitt's principal instrument is the mandolin, where he's established himself as a unique stylist. But on Long Road Emmitt also plays acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and mandola. Most of the cuts feature The Infamous Stringdusters' banjo player Chris Pandolfi, longtime studio pro Stuart Duncan on fiddle, and harmony vocals by the likes of Tim O'Brien, John Cowan, and Darrell Scott. Even in this exalted company Emmitt's vocals stand out. His singing isn't flashy, but it commands your attention.
Compass Record's studio in Nashville has been responsible for a long string of sonically splendid recordings. Long Road joins the list. Compass Record's co-owner and Long Road's co-producer Gary West and engineer Erick Jaskowiak know how to record a mix of acoustic and electric instruments so they sound right, as if doing it wasn't any big thing. Anyone who has tried knows how tough it is to get these balances and textures right.
For Drew Emmitt, three is definitely a charm. Long Road will not only impress long-time fans but also garner festival-loads of new ones.