Without the New Grass Revival, there would never have been a Leftover Salmon, String Cheese Incident, or Yonder Mountain String Band. The band formed in 1972 with Sam Bush (mandolin), Courtney Johnson (banjo), Curtis Burch (guitar) and Ebo Walker (bass); their rock ‘n’ roll attitude, long hair, extended jams, and adaptations of rock tunes brought new audiences to bluegrass.
Typical of bluegrass bands, their lineup changed over the years. The last configuration, with Bush, John Cowan, Pat Flynn and Bela Fleck, could play anything from traditional grass to reggae to blues to celtic to jazz to rock. The band just kept getting hotter until flaming out with a New Year’s Eve show in Oakland, California, in 1989.
This two-disc collection contains tracks from the majority of their albums and several unreleased gems. Each disc contains 70-plus minutes of material, starting with Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire” and Leon Russell’s “Prince Of Peace” and ending with a live version of “Can’t Stop Now”.
The first disc focuses primarily on the original lineup. Three unreleased tracks from Shelter Records demo feature interim bass player Butch Robbins, including a rocking version of “Gotta Do My Time”. The next seven tracks are from their Flying Fish Records tenure, featuring new bassist and vocalist John Cowan. The instrumental “Lee Highway Blues”, with Bush’s phase-shifted fiddle, is the tour de force. Courtney Johnson’s banjo playing is second to no one, not even future member Bela Fleck.
The second disc focuses on the lineup of Bush, Cowan, Fleck, and Flynn. Of particular interest is the original version of “Callin’ Baton Rouge” (later covered by Garth Brooks) and the various covers, including Bob Marley’s “One Love”, Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t That Peculiar” and the Beatles’ “I’m Down”. There’s also three tracks from the farewell show: Flynn’s “Do What You Gotta Do” (also covered by Garth), an eleven-minute masterpiece version of “Singing The Blues”, and that final cut “Can’t Stop Now” — which brings up the eternal question of a possible reunion.