Nevertheless, the guy has true picking talent on a number of instruments, a super-fine pure voice, an amazing songwriting ability and utmost respect from some of the bluegrass world's superstars. And that is why he was able to convince a big handful of them to play on his new "solo" band CD, Freedom Ride.
The project let Emmitt return to his roots of straight ahead traditional bluegrass, and the result is one of the best sounding, energetic and impressive bluegrass albums I've listened to. Then again, it better be, considering the line-up. Although Emmitt probably could have sang and played just about everything himself - mandolin, guitar, fiddle, banjo, harmonica, flute and electric guitar - he brought in some of his heros to play with him. That is a true compliment – when your heros call you a colleague.
The namesake and first track of the CD, "Freedom Ride," kicks the collection into high gear with an infectious and energetic clog-stomping groove that is taken to higher ground by the golden voice of Johnny Cowan. Makes sense as Emmitt explains: "John Cowan is my all time singing hero, for sure!"
Another track, "Paving Eisenhower" features Emmitt in a dazzling mandolin duet with Ronnie McCoury and Sam Bush on fiddle. Emmit is joined by bluegrass mainstay Peter Rowan on
the Rowan-penned "Rainmaker," which has infectious melodies, great singing and masterful playing. The main band for the whole CD is John Cowan and his band - Jeff Aubrey, Luke Bulla, Scott Vestal and Pasi Leppikangas. Can you say New Grass Re-Revival?
Also featured are Vassar Clements, Stuart Duncan, Randy Scruggs, and Leftover Salmon band mates Vince Hermann and Greg Garrison, who are in the touring version of the Drew Emmitt Band.
The album also shows off light-hearted foot-tappers such as the Cajun flavored and Emmitt-original "Bend in the River," and a bluegrassy cover of the Dylan favorite "Tangled Up in Blue," which really rips. Emmitt has composed innumerable tunes, many of which have worked their way into the wild and diverse Leftover Salmon repertoire. His pure voice, with its country flavor and heartfelt lyrics, has become a band signature. By using combinations of overdrive, slides and foot pedals to emulate the sound of steel drums and electric slide guitar, he has also pioneered techniques that take his mandolin into new territory.
In 1984, Drew Emmitt founded the progressive bluegrass ensemble The Left Hand String Band. Six years later, Vince Herman's serendipitous scramble for musicians to fill in a gig with his band, SalmonHeads, yielded a glorious amalgam: Leftover Salmon. Of the newly formed band Jambands.com said: "Emmitt's mandolin prowess and songwriting gifts are two particular sources of the group's success."
Emmitt's dedication and love for music have helped him become one of our country's top mandolin players. Even with his own success, Emmitt has remained a fan as well. About joining his biggest influences on stage he said: "It's amazing. It's like walking in a dream. For years I had this dream of standing on stage next to them and having a good time. And it's happened. Standing on stage next to Sam [Bush] is pretty indescribable. And David [Grisman] as well. When Neil Young walked on stage that was outrageous. I turned around, and there he was standing six inches away from me. I looked right at his eyes. Then having him actually sing on a song that I wrote? Pretty amazing."
The Drew Emmitt Band plays the Sheridan Opera House on Thursday, Feb. 17, a show that is part of KOTO Winter Fundraising. In no way is this a solo concert. The band consists of some of the finest from the Front Range and one of the country's hottest banjo and mandolin players. Multi-instrumentalist, Matt Flinner, has made a career out of playing acoustic music in new ways. Starting out as a banjo prodigy who played bluegrass festivals before he entered his teens, Flinner later took up the mandolin, won the banjo contest at Winfield Kansas in 1990 and took the mandolin award there the following year. Although he lives in Nashville, the Rocky Mountains have had a very real impact on his music.
"There's an American harmony in classical music that's this big wide-open sound – Aaron Copeland's work, for example," Flinner said. "So I think there could be something to that, that your surroundings reflect your music."
On guitar Ross Martin has been surrounded by some of Boulder's best musicians for the past ten years. He has been to town with The Tony Furtado Band and The Motet while also playing for Mollie O'Brien, Billy and Liza, Nina Storey, and a half dozen other bands. Greg Garrison switched from playing piano and cello in fifth grade to playing bass, went after a degree in bass performance and joined Leftover Salmon in 2000. He has also toured with the Motet.
A Heads Up
New Monsoon storms into town from San Fran for a show at the Moon, Feb. 18. Another band that has had an impressive showing at the Bluegrass Festival, the group has been doing some intense touring and building a huge fan base across the country. With three talented guys on drums and percussion, including tablas, and influences including Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd and Led Zepplin, New Monsoon creates rhythmic world rock exploration.
And just a couple days after that show, the mandolin extravaganza continues at the Opera House with Tim O'Brien playing the night of Feb. 21, and Sam Bush, taking to the stage Feb. 24.