Now, with the success of their latest album, Leave The Bottle, the word is out. Town Mountain came away from the 2013 International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) World of Bluegrass convention with a couple of awards in hand. At the annual industry conference held in Raleigh, NC, the group won the IBMA Momentum Award for Band of the Year and their lead singer Robert Greer was given the Momentum Award for Vocalist of the Year.
The members of Town Mountain include Greer on vocals and guitar, Jesse Langlais on banjo and vocals, Bobby Britt on fiddle, Phil Barker on mandolin and vocals and Rob Parks on bass.
Town Mountain was formed out of the fertile music scene of Asheville, located in the mountains of western North Carolina. They first began to make waves in the bluegrass world when they won the 2005 Rockygrass festival band competition. Appearances at major festivals such as MerleFest and the String Summit in Oregon soon followed.
After recording their first two albums, Town Mountain signed with Pinecastle Records label. That led to a pair of acclaimed recordings with 2011’s Steady Operator and 2012’s Leave The Bottle, which spawned newfound recognition for the band. Both projects were produced by Mike Bub, a recipient of five IBMA Bass Player of the Year awards as well as many other IBMA honors won during his time with the Del McCoury Band.
All four of Town Mountain’s albums have featured mostly original songs except for one or two covers thrown in the mix, and every member of the group has had a hand in creating the new sounds. One cover in particular, the band’s version of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire,” has garnered recognition from many quarters. Found on the group’s Heroes and Heretics album, the song got a boost when NASCAR favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr., tweeted about the cut on the twitter page of his main racing sponsor, the National Guard. That and other positive feedback led to over 150,000 hits on the Youtube video of the song.
The release of Leave The Bottle has resulted in Town Mountain receiving some of their best reviews yet.
“Phil Barker’s ‘Lawdog’ sounds like an unearthed classic, and the group’s tight harmonies alone make this record a treat for any bluegrass fan,” said Juli Thanki of Engine 145, the 2011 IBMA Print Media Person of the Year award winner.
“Thank god that Town Mountain are around to blow a hole in all the genre-juggling games of which music writers like myself are so fond,” said Devon Ledger, of Ed Helms’ The Bluegrass Situation. “They play bluegrass. Period. They play it hard, they play it fast, and they play it like their fingers are bleeding and their picks are breaking.”
David Morris of Bluegrass Today adds more praise, “The songs are new and mostly written by band members, but they sound like they could have come from the exciting early days of bluegrass…..The band sounds the part – tight picking and comfortable harmonies that aren’t overdubbed to soulless perfection. And the songs sound the part, too – murder ballads, endless highways, a nod to bluegrass’ Celtic roots and even a tip of the hat to a moonshiner.”
“Leave The Bottle starts off with four songs in a row that are fun and upbeat and good,” said the award-winning music journalist Derek Halsey in Bluegrass Unlimited Magazine. “‘Lookin’ In The Mirror,’ ‘Leave The Bottle,’ ‘Up The Ladder’ and ‘Lawdog’ are all original compositions by the band. ‘Lawdog’ even starts with an old school, a capella half-yodel field holler as it kicks into gear…they have a feel that harkens back to the early string music days of the last century.”
In the beginning, the various members of the group migrated to Asheville from other places. After meeting at a few local jams, Greer and Langlais decided to form a band and Barker came into the group soon after. Town Mountain really hit the ground running when Britt joined in on the fiddle. Eventually, Hopping would take over the bass chair and that is when the group solidified its current award-winning lineup.
“I met them at either one of the jams or at a picking party in town because that was the kind of community and circle that we all hung out in,” says Barker. “I filled in with them for a tour and had so much fun that I just stayed on. I’ve been there ever since. Then, eventually, a definite highlight for me was playing on the main Watson Stage at MerleFest. Having heard about MerleFest while growing up and then seeing all of those people play on that stage on videos and DVDs, it was something I had always wanted to do.”
The members of Town Mountain have thought long and hard about their cultivated roots music groove. The group has focused on the goal of creating a unique sound and brand while still giving a nod and a wink to the traditional side of the bluegrass genre.
“I feel like we’re closer to original bluegrass than a lot of bands out there today,” says Langlais. “I listened to a radio show recently that featured Ricky Skaggs and he flat-out said that Bill Monroe influenced rock and roll. He said that folks like Elvis and Carl Perkins and those guys were looking up to Bill Monroe. So, I feel like our band has a lot of that influence as well, of the blues and early rock. If you go back and listen to Monroe pre-Chuck Berry, those are Chuck Berry licks. A lot of music in the 1940s and 50s was so over-lapping. It is easy to put genre labels on it today, 60 years later. But to be honest, it was all so new and it was influencing each other at the same time.”
While the rise of Town Mountain in the music business has been steady, the group was still surprised and humbled by the awards they won at the 2013 IBMA World of Bluegrass convention.
“It’s a proud moment in Town Mountain’s history, for sure,” says Langlais. We’re out there doing what we do because we love to play the music. Anytime you start to pit one’s art against the other, it’s hard because who is to say that some music is better than somebody else’s? But aside from that, it is really nice to be recognized by the IBMA and we have experienced some good things to come from it already. When you look at it as this big wheel that is spinning, the music industry wheel, it’s great and hopefully we can live up to those momentous expectations and I think we will. We will do what we can to help to carry the legacy of the music on and make the IBMA and all who believe in Town Mountain proud of what we do.”
Town Mountain will release a new album in 2014 and will ride the wave of their newfound momentum with appearances at many venues and festivals around the country. Those will include upcoming performances at MerleFest, the all-star Mountain Song at Sea cruise, Wintergrass, Suwannee Springfest and more. As the year progresses, Town Mountain will appear at Merlefest, the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, the Targhee Bluegrass Festival, Rockygrass, Wintergrass, Suwanee Springfest, the California Bluegrass Association’s Father’s Day festival and other events.
Download: Town Mountain