Album Reviews

Old Salt Union

Old Salt Union

Artist:     Old Salt Union

Album:     Old Salt Union

Label:     Compass Records

Release Date:     08.04.2017  

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Despite the name, they’re not exactly a bunch of leathery old sailors (even if they sometimes play pretend in the photo booth). The eclectic quintet of folkies known as Old Salt Union is a fresh outfit a couple years old and finally releasing a debut to back up their burgeoning live reputation. They’ve earned enough newgrass cred to get Alison Brown in their corner as advocate and producer, and it’s blended with the omnivorous musical tastes of genre-benders who don’t care what they’re not supposed to do.

We’ve got the elements of a classic down-home combo here while avoiding any obvious pigeonholing: guitarist Rob Kindle has roots in both jazz and bluegrass, while Ryan Murphey’s banjo work borrows from Béla Fleck as much as Earl Scruggs. Ballads like “Bought and Sold” or “On My Way” sound like traditional tunes known along the Mississippi in decades past; the sinuous “Hard Line” boasts a simple chorus that almost belongs in a modern R&B single. “Madam Plum” centers around an old-timey Latin melody, and yet it’s been their digital breakout track with some relatively big traffic on Spotify.

It’s common enough to grab listeners’ attention with a well-known tune, but the disappointingly straightforward Paul Simon cover actually produces the weakest link here. Old Salt Union’s smart writing and fun interplay already ensure they’re plenty able to stand on their own. From expert folky fiddling to classical dual mandolins and beyond, they’ve made an excellent rollicking debut full of energy and promise.

—Geno Thackara

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