Asheville, North Carolina-based Town Mountain finds itself in a moment of transition. As mandolinist Phil Barker said, “We’ve always had such a reverence and respect for those first and second-generation bluegrass bands, and it was that sound that initially inspired all of us to get together.”
“That will always be a part of our sound,” he added, but “we also need to grow as artists, and as individuals — for us, that means bringing in a wider palette of sonic influences.”
On their latest album, last year’s Lines in the Levee, Town Mountain embraced more of an Americana style. For their local show on May 12, their setup at the Pearl Street Warehouse included electric (rather than upright) bass, pedal steel, and keys. Founding member and guitarist Robert Greer explained, “This is the sound we’ve been working towards since the inception of the band,” and it is an “evolution” rather than a “departure.” (The electric bass is a bit of a compromise, as guitarist Greer said, as it’s easier to get it set up when they’re not touring with a dedicated sound man.)
While the arrangements may be a little different, Town Mountain hasn’t changed a lot of what they do. They continue to include a number of covers in their sets, which is typical for a band grounded in bluegrass traditions. The first set included Ray Wylie Hubbard and Hayes Carll’s “Drunken Poet’s Dream,” followed immediately by Townes Van Zandt’s “Snowin’ on Raton.” In the second set, they covered a Levon Helm tune and Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire,” which has long been a part of their live show ( — they performed it when they were last in the area, playing at The Hamilton Live, several years ago). For their encore, they played the Grateful Dead’s “”West LA Fadeaway.”
The bulk of Friday’s sets, though, consisted of the band’s own originals, especially their latest material. They opened with the title cut from Lines in the Levee.
Watch the official music video for “Lines in the Levee” by Town Mountain on YouTube:
“Daydream Quarantina,” Greer said, was written in the early days of the pandemic, “when I was trying to find out what to do myself.” Other cuts from the album included “Distant Line,” “Firebound Road,” “American Family,” “Comeback Kid,” and the album’s last track, “Lean Into The Blue.”
Other songs mined the group’s back catalog. Introducing “Justified, Greer said, “See you if you spot the Willie Nelson reference.” Other old favorites included “Down Low” and “Arcadia Breakdown.” Notably, the band operates more as a collective than as a unit with a traditional frontman. During the course of the show, while Greer sang most of the lead vocals, other members of the band took their turn as well.
The Pearl Street Warehouse always seems to attract electric crowds, and Friday night was no exception. There was a palpable energy in the densely packed room throughout the show, and the audience welcomed the new directions in the band sound. I’m eager to see what these guys have in store as they continue to develop and evolve.
Here are some photos of Town Mountain performing at Pearl Street Warehouse on May 12, 2023. All pictures copyright and courtesy of Ari Strauss.