Yonder Mountain String Band has a preternatural fan following, courtesy of its live touring over two decades. Generally known as a jam-grass band, their record releases have been a mix of original recordings and live event presentations.
Following the inevitable arc of a long-running band's narrative, Yonder's lineup has changed in the last couple of years. Erstwhile frontman Jeff Austin left to tour on his own, and Yonder's remaining members, Ben Kaufmann (bass) Adam Aijala (guitar) and Dave Johnston (banjo), have kept Yonder musically alive.
Yonder added fiddler Allie Kral (formerly of Cornmeal) and Jake Joliff (mandolin player for the fondly remembered and lamented Joy Kills Sorrow). Yonder has moved back toward being a traditional bluegrass band. Their jam roots are still wired into the band's sound, so there's a fascinating push/pull to the record.
Although heresy to Yonder's original fan base, Joliff is a step above Austin as a mandolinist, both technically and melodically. He's sneaky-spunky and, when not reeling off fretboard runs and cross-picking arpeggios, keeps percussive flow (along with Kaufmann's always solid bass line).
"Love. Ain't Love" features a bunch of original songs and some instrumentals; most are classic-themed bluegrass numbers. "Allison," the opener, has a soul and texture that gets better and better with repeated listening. "Used To It" may have been written before November 2016 (there's no real way of knowing), but its story of a culture gradually succumbing to deconstruction has particular meaning at the moment of the album's release.
"Eat In. Go Deaf (Eat Out. Go Broke)" is a lively instrumental piece in which all Yonder members take a turn at swinging for the instrumental fences. They succeed in touching them all.
Yonder feels comfortable enough to cover "Dancing In The Moonlight" an early 70's pop hit by the forgotten, and not lamented, band King Harvest. The song is familiar to anyone in an English speaking country, who has taken a breath since 1973, but Yonder gives it a nice bluegrass spin.
Joliff stands out on "Love. Ain't Love." He's clearly having fun and putting up sonic markers for his band mates to approach. Kral, an estimable fiddle player is well-suited as an instrumental counterpoint. Yonder Mountain String Band sounds great on the record, crafting fine work for the rest of us to enjoy.