Note to the jam-band contingent: Leftover Salmon is not really one of you, despite appearances to the contrary. The band is sunny and string-heavy, yes, but its music comes out of the bluegrass tradition -- a stop-on-a-dime style that's driven by songs instead of elongated instrumental spaceouts.
"The jam-band thing is more of a movement than anything else. I think we've been lumped into that genre just by virtue of that's the people that we play to," says Salmon co-founder/mandolinist/guitarist Drew Emmitt. "But we're more song-oriented, less noodle-oriented. We want to pass it around and create something rather than letting any one person dominate."
Currently at home in Crested Butte, Emmitt finds his schedule momentarily dominated by leisure. He and the rest of his mates are taking a break after recording a new album with Bill Payne of Little Feat; tentatively titled Hollerwood, the album will be released on the Red Snapper label in early September. But the band is also awaiting returns and response on O Cracker, Where Art Thou?, an odd and surprisingly engaging project they recorded on the fly with David Lowery and John Hickman of Cracker during two improvisation-fueled days in Richmond, Virginia, last summer.
On the ten-song disc, released this week on Pitch-A-Tent Records, the Salmon players serve as Cracker's backing band, recasting the latter's radio-familiar cuts as countrified ditties. The new arrangements pair Lowery's sardonic voice and lyrics with an organ, all kinds of mandolins and banjos, and pedal-steel, electric and acoustic guitars; as a result, "Eurotrash Girl" morphs into a bluegrass waltz, while "Low" becomes an ethereal dirge that sounds almost like a hippie hymn.
According to Emmitt, Lowery suggested the collaboration after catching Salmon's shows in Virginia last spring. He'd come to the show at the invitation of Boulder banjoist Tony Furtado, who was touring with Leftover while its members searched for a permanent replacement for Mark Vann, who passed away in March 2001. (Noam Pikelny has since taken the spot, and he appears on the album that's due in September.) When the band returned to the East Coast a few months later, it took time to sit down and record in Lowery's studio.
"David was like a kid in a candy store the first time he saw us, and he was really open to putting different spins on his tunes," Emmitt says. "When we got out there to do it, we just pounded it out. It's not a real polished record. There are even some times when you can hear David calling out solos, like, 'Okay, now piano! Okay, bring in some guitar!'"
O Cracker, Where Art Thou? is Salmon's second foray into studio collaboration: The Nashville Sessions, released in 1999, paired the Colorado band with a heavy roster of Tennessee bigtimers, including Waylon Jennings, Lucinda Williams, Del McCoury and Sam Bush. That recording process was very similar to the way things worked on the Cracker project.
"There was a lot of open-mindedness on their part," Emmitt says. "We basically just threw ideas out and played with what we liked. I've kind of learned that the best way to make records is just to relax and enjoy it and not worry about it. We didn't worry too much about how it would be received -- whether our fans would dig it or their fans would. But hopefully, it will be a way for Leftover Salmon fans to be introduced to Cracker, and vice-versa."
Fair enough, but let the record reflect that O Cracker, Where Art Thou? is very clearly the product of a bona fide jam.
So, Drew, is Leftover Salmon a jam band or not?
"I guess we are -- in the sense that we like to jam," he says. "We love collaborating with people and seeing what we come up with, and it's something I'm sure we'll do again. But I don't think I've ever played a twenty-minute guitar solo in my life, and I don't think I'd want to."
Brush with DATEness: Finally, we have indisputable proof that Denver has transcended its cowtown status. In early June, producers from Warner Bros. will shoot six episodes of ElimiDATE in our fair city. The show, a "reality" dating competition with a decidedly Darwinian slant, pits five hopeful singles against each other in a progressive-style date during which one contender is axed in each round. Although Backwash is infinitely more enamored of the similarly spirited Shipmates, we've seen enough ElimiDATE to deduce that each episode is likely to include a near catfight, exposed breasts and someone puking into a potted plant.
Undignified? Well, natch. But that didn't quell the enthusiasm of scores of hopeful elimidaters who turned up for two cattle-style casting calls at Blue 67 and the Church last week. Decked out in deep-plunging tanks, skinny dresses and body glitter a-go-go, a girlish brood swarmed the two casting agents who turned up to scout potential screen-gracers at Blue 67. According to the show's producer, Christopher Catalano, the Mile High City did not disappoint, even if we did come across as a little, um, eager.
"We've seen some really good people so far," he says. "The Denver people just seem like they really want it so bad. Which is great, because we're really trying to class it up a little bit this season, and this is the perfect place to do that. I mean, look at all these great-looking girls!"
Gentlemen, start your televisions.
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Backwash is truly saddened to note the passing of James Bludworth, who died of complications from cancer on Wednesday, May 14, at age 33.
Bludworth had huge eyes that were always bright and alert, which may have had something to do with his choice of profession. A freelance photographer who regularly shot for Westword, he used his camera as an extension of his vision, allowing viewers a glimpse of the free-spirited, fun and sensitive way in which he perceived the world. Bludworth shot artists, oddballs and local musicians, some of whom moved in the same circles as his wife, Julie, lead vocalist and keyboardist for power-pop band the Maybellines. Hemi Cuda, the Breezy Porticos, Dressy Bessy, Marty Jones and the Pork Boilin' Poor Boys, jazz drummer Nat Yarbrough and onetime local combo Electric Summer are among the artists who beam back from the portfolio pages on Bludworth's Web site, www.3goose.com/bludworth. In some ways, Bludworth was the Denver music scene's unofficial documentarian, an artist with a genuine interest in other artists. He was also a hell of a nice guy: You can tell by the way the people in his compositions seem so comfortable, disarmed and fully human. People who met James just liked him, and we'll all miss him.