Though plenty flavorful, Leftover Salmon still sounds better than it tastes 

There’s a quote in Leftover Salmon’s liner notes to their new album The Nashville Sessions. It’s from singer and guitarist Vince Herman and it says, “We got to play with the masters. It was a dream come true. Enjoy the festival.”

It’s great that Herman made a point of stating how lucky his band was to be able to play with musicians diverse as John Popper, Sam Bush, Bela Fleck, Todd Park Mohr, and Del and Ronnie McCoury. Having these names and others like Lucinda Williams, Taj Mahal and Waylon Jennings associated with your band, on one record, must be such a tremendous high.

Of course, Leftover Salmon have specialized in reaching highs for about 10 years now. And though the various musicians on their new record may seem somewhat disparate, Leftover Salmon have always been a far-reaching band, mixing genres with a taste and dexterity lost on many of their peers.

When Herman’s Boulder band the Salmon Heads broke up, he converged with mandolin player and singer Drew Emmit and his friend Mark Vann and the Salmon were born. Their self-released debut, Bridges to Bert was a great start, and their live album Ask the Fish showed that the band was for real; their highly dexterous musicality wasn’t all bright and shiny brilliance with no soul. With one foot planted firmly in downright hillbilly sentiment, the band’s capacity to lift riffs from southern rock, Cajun music, Irish ballads, salsa and just about every other ethnicity of folk music is almost a mission statement. A Leftover Salmon album seems, at times, to hold the whole world inside it.

And The Nashville Sessions, which will no doubt figure prominently in their show this Saturday, is a classic example of what Leftover Salmon do best. As usual, the songs range from heady romps in the boogie-woogie style to soft and winding ballads. But with the addition of so many talents, this record is a document of American musical history. Each song is just great, which is a tough thing to say about any album, but the Salmon used every talent they lured into the studio to great effect, giving each a prominent place in each song.

Leftover Salmon are known for great live shows, hence their inclusion on festival circuit, from H.O.R.D.E. to Merlefest. But where many of their contemporaries might be masters of the jam-band milieu, the Boulder boys are content to play mountain music that is, like their hometown, from a higher, rockier place. Perhaps it is the view from above, into the musical valleys that inform such deft work.

Of course, Leftover Salmon will probably not be toting Lucinda Williams, Waylon, and Taj Mahal with them on this tour. One imagines that the guests on The Nashville Sessions probably have plenty of other work to do, but the Salmon will probably find a way to manage without them. In fact, when it comes to Leftover Salmon, guest appearances would probably slow things down.

Leftover Salmon play the University Theatre this Saturday, Jan. 22 at 8 p.m. Tickets $15 advance, $17 day of show. Call 1-888-MONTANA.

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