By Matt Wickstrom
LEXINGTON, Ky. — Town Mountain has always had deeply rooted ties to Kentucky, with those connections more in the forefront than ever before on the band’s newest album New Freedom Blues, out October 26 on Tone Tree Music.
The band has adopted Lexington has a home away from home of sorts according to guitarist/vocalist Robert Greer, who added that the band became acquainted with the town after being booked to by Arthur Hancock, now guitarist/vocalist for The Wooks, to perform a handful of times at the old Willie’s Locally Known. However, while the band opted to stay in their hometown of Asheville, North Carolina, to record at Echo Mountain Recording with producer Caleb Klauder of Portland-based Foghorn String Band — the first time at the studio since 2015’s The Dead Session — most other parts of the projects feature a Kentucky influence.
Those influences begin with the obvious addition of drums from Miles Miller, a Versailles native and drummer for Sturgill Simpson. The occasion marked the first time a full drum kit has appeared on a Town Mountain album after the band had included scaled-down kits for portions of prior projects.
According to guitarist Robert Greer, he first noticed Miller watching the band perform at Bristol Rhythm & Roots in 2014, where Town Mountain performed just before Miller was set to take the stage with Simpson. The two formally met soon thereafter at a Town Mountain performance at the Station Inn in Nashville and again at the Rockwood Music Hall in New York City, striking up an instantaneous friendship and appreciation for one another’s music. Miller has even joined Town Mountain on drums during recent performances in Lexington at Cosmic Charlie’s, adding an extra “oomph” to the band’s hard-driving blend of honky tonk and country.
“[Miller] added a nice bounce to the tunes that lended themselves really well to the drums,” Greer said. “Miles is an asset to any musical outfit he’s a part of which helped us to maximize the potential of this record.”
The Kentucky connections continue to flow rampant throughout New Freedom Blues faster than moonshine from a still with rising country star Tyler Childers, who with banjo player Jesse Langlais co-wrote “Low Down,” a dark, swampy tune of up to no good musings that also features Matt Smith of Asheville group The Honeycutters on pedal steel. According to Greer, the duo of Childers and Langlais wrote the song several years ago in short bursts, as Langlais was constantly visiting Lexington and his then girlfriend, now wife, who at the time was studying for her doctorate at the University of Kentucky. Langlais presented the song to the group prior to Southern Crescent with the band ultimately deciding to shelve the song for the time being, eventually pulling it out of their back pocket for New Freedom Blues, timing the occasion perfectly with the fast-rising stardom of Childers.
Along with Miller, another new addition throughout the album was Zach Smith on bass, replacing Louisa, Ky., native Adam Chaffins. Smith has been playing live with the band for several months now, developing a tight groove with the touring veterans that he brought into the studio for his first time recording with the band.Greer says that Smith’s precise musicianship paired with Miller was one of the album’s most critical elements.
“It was really fun having Zach and Miles working together,” Greer said. “Bass notes and the kick drum have to be dead on one another to work, and together they sound as one.”
The resulting sound yields Town Mountain’s tried and true blend of hard-driving Carolina string music with a percussive twist, led by the signature southern drawl of Greer and tight musicianship around him. See it on display live when Town Mountain returns to Lexington TONIGHT, October 19, for their debut performance at The Burl.
IF YOU GO
What: Town Mountain with Misty Mountain String Band
When: 9 p.m. on Friday, October 19
Where: The Burl, 375 Thompson Rd.