Music News & Reviews

Town Mountain may seem experimental, but their bluegrass is as classic as it comes

Town Mountain, with Phil Barker, left, Zach Smith and Robert Greer, perform at the Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro, N.C., Aug. 4, 2017.
Town Mountain, with Phil Barker, left, Zach Smith and Robert Greer, perform at the Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro, N.C., Aug. 4, 2017. lmoore@newsobserver.com

Town Mountain’s show at Cat’s Cradle Friday showcased fantastic bluegrass musicians in their element.

The band members were flawlessly in tune with each other with the bass driving the whole band, keeping them together. It was a tight sound that was slightly experimental.

But in many ways, the Asheville band’s version of bluegrass is as classic as they come.

Town Mountain’s approach is fast and furious and flawless, complete with banjo and mandolin solos played up very high, the banjo being played almost like an electric guitar by Jesse Langlais.

The second song, “Arkansas Gambler,” showed off fiddler Jack Devereux’s formidable skill with a fast-paced song with pretty harmonies.

There were moments to take a breath, too. On “Snowin’ on Raton,” all of the band members left the stage, except for Robert Greer, who sang and played an out-of-tune guitar. It made for the most mellow moment of the show, as well as a beautiful one, in spite of the tuning problems.

Town Mountain’s cover of Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire” was one of the slower songs, with nice harmonies and slow fiddling, making for a compelling version of the classic.

There were nods to Earl Scruggs and Jerry Lee Lewis, who seemed to have particular influence on the fun song, “Up the Ladder,” which sounds an awful lot like 1957’s “Great Balls of Fire.”

The show was fast-paced just like the music, and Town Mountain wanted it that way.

“We didn’t come here to jibber jabber, we came to pick and kick. So that’s what we’re going to do,” Greer said.

The crowd wasn’t large, but it was enthusiastic. There was plenty of dancing to the music, including to Steph Stewart from Blue Cactus, the opening act.

Blue Cactus, a two-piece band based in Chapel Hill, played their version of classic country. Stewart wore a ’50s-style green dress that was a nice touch in keeping with their sound.

Stewart played acoustic guitar and sang with a heavy twang while Mario Arnez went to town on a Fender Telecaster. Their songs were pieced together with clever and often funny lyrics. Though sometimes they were sad, such as on the highlight of their set, “I Never Knew Heartache (Then I Knew You).”

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