Ask the Fish (Bert Records)
Leftover Salmon

By Dallas Embry

One of the neatest things about Leftover Salmon's CD package is that it contains a fortune-telling fish. For the uninitiated, the fish is a thin piece of filmy material which, when held in the palm, curls up, indicating In Love, Fickle, False, Dead One or Passionate. Or so the instructions from the Taiwanese manufacturers claim.

The fortune-telling fish is the first indication that this is a fun band. The second clue is that they label what they do "100% PolyEthnicCajunSlamgrass." The third clue arrives with the first cut off this live concert CD, recorded at the Fox Theater in Boulder, Colorado in 1994.

Carnival Time," a sorta calypso-polka, kicks off an hour-long concert of subdued mayhem, jazzy noodling on bluegrass instruments, fish sounds, gibberish and some fine music.

There is actually a liner note giving credit to one Eric Peter Abramson for "Chaos control." It was probably a real position.

After "slamgrassing" their way through "Bend in the River" and "Ask the Fish" (with fish-sounds and noodling), they slide into some excellent pickin' on the bluegrass-flavored "Lonesome Road," written by Drew Emmitt, who doubles as the band's vocalist, fiddler, guitarist and mandolin player. Combining the Cajun standard "Two Step au Will" with "Madame Rosin," they start it with drums and fiddle in traditional Cajun style, then add instruments until it becomes Zydeco, then move to the Mardi Gras/Indian sound of the Neville Brothers "Wild Tschoupitoula," before bringing in some fuzz guitar a la Big Mamou, a Cajun-rock act that played Uncle Pleasant's a few years back.

Speaking of Uncle P's, the next song on the disc is the bluegrass standard "Reuben's Train," played at a tempo that suggests that the engineer is on amphetamines. It must be what the Salmon mean by "slamgrass," but when I first heard this fast style of bluegrass at Uncle P's, it was by a group named Bad Livers. They called it "speedgrass."

Memphis Minnie's "When the Levee Breaks" gets a reggae treatment, with bluesy vocals and a blues/jazz guitar-driven break. It changes to a slower reggae tempo, then becomes a fast-paced slide fuzz guitar rave-up before ending as it began. The calypso "Jokester" is followed by the original "Stay Away Monday," which features excellent acoustic and electric guitar work.

The traditional "Hot Corn/Cold Corn" fluctuates between reggae and bluegrass, with some fancy noodling on electric mandolin from Emmitt. Fairly straight-head treatments are given to Major Handy's "Come On Home" and Bill Monroe's "Rocky Road Blues." After a nineteen-second cut called "70's Lick," the concert concludes with "Headbag," a salsa/jazz/psychedelic/rock/bluegrass jam.

Put it all together and you have a talented, fun-loving, party down group of guys whom I would love to see in concert.