Leftover Salmon is back after an eight-year recording hiatus. The band had decided to give it a rest in 2005, after 15 years as a unit and three years following original banjo player Mark Vann’s surrender to cancer. 2007 saw the first in a series of occasional reunion shows, but the fire wasn’t stoked until RockyGrass Banjo Contest winner Andy Thorn was recruited in 2010.
In December 2011 and January 2012, a once again fully engaged LoS spent some time in studios in Denver and Portland with Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin producing, resulting in “Aquatic Hitchhiker” — the group’s fifth studio album and first containing all original material.
Their self-coined “polyethnic Cajun slamgrass” description applies only somewhat now, as “Bayou Town” is the sole track here with a Cajun element. There isn’t much polyethnicity left, either, outside of the Caribbean-flavored “Liza.” In their stead is a stronger dose of rock, successfully coexisting on an almost equal level with the slamgrass component.
Highlights of this superb return, which is on a par with LoS’ arguably finest moment, 1999’s “The Nashville Sessions,” include:
• The title track and lone instrumental, a high-speed showcase for newcomer Thorn.
• “Keep Driving,” guitarist Vince Herman’s seemingly effortless exercise in open-highway songwriting.
• The slow and beautiful “Light Behind the Rain,” a Thorn collaboration with amazing Colorado journeyman meatpacker/songwriter Benny Galloway, whose compositions have been recorded by the Yonder Mountain String Band and the Infamous Stringdusters.
• “Stop Your Worrying,” mandolinist Drew Emmitt’s rollicking breakdown, complete with tempo changes and guest fiddle by Jason Carter of the Del McCoury Band.
• Bassist Greg Garrison’s “Gone for Long,” a plucky (figuratively and literally) midtempo dirge with almost-mellotron-sounding organ by Asher Fulero (aka Halo Refuser).
1. Gulf Of Mexico
2. Keep Driving
4. Aquatic Hitchhiker
5. Bayou Town
6. Sing Up To The Moon
7. Light Behind The Rain
8. Stop All Your Worrying
9. Walking Shoes
10. Kentucky Skies
11. Gone For Long
12. Here Comes The Night
Total time: 46:36