Trail Mix – Old Salt Union

Man, that’s a pretty record.

What a superficial way to start a post about a great band, right? But I can’t lie. That orange vinyl disc spinning on my turntable is a sight to behold.

And it sounds pretty darned good, too.

Old Salt Union, the bluegrass quintet hailing from Belleville, Illinois, is out on the road following the release of Where The Dogs Don’t Bite, their newest record on the Compass Records label that dropped last month.

And a fine record it is.

The intricate interplay between the guitar and violin during the opening notes of the lead off track, “God You Don’t Need,” offer a chamber music feel that belies the bluegrass rollicker that is to come. Song after song, there are just enough notes in all the right places, with virtuostic breaks, tight harmonies, and insightful lyrical work that prove the boys in Old Salt Union are prodigious pickers and outstanding songwriters.

Personal highlights include the instrumental “Johann’s Breakdown,” the title track, which pushes the band beyond typical bluegrass boundaries and reminds me greatly of the guitar work shared by Tony Rice and Jerry Garcia on so many of the Acoustic Disc releases, and “Tell Me So,” which features harmony vocals with the legendary Bobby Osborne.

If you are needing a healthy dose of progressive bluegrass, get out and grab this record. It’s hopped right to the top of the list of best acoustic/bluegrass releases of the year for me, and I promise you won’t be disappointed.

I recently caught up with bassist/singer Jesse Farrar, nephew of Son Volt’s Jay Farrar, to chat about touring with his uncle’s band, singing with Bobby Osborne, and how these guys got to be so salty.

BRO – How intimidating was it having a legend like Bobby Osborne in the studio with you?

JF – Working with Bobby was amazingly special for all of us. When the early talks of him potentially being on the song were being kicked around, we didn’t really know how to contain our excitement and were all just crossing our fingers that it would happen. When it finally came to fruition and we got to hang with him and talk about the song, it was sincerely incredible. He’s a pioneer of the boundary stretching in the genre, an amazing songwriter, and an even more amazing person to be around. We are extremely humbled just to be in a sentence next to his name.

BRO – I saw that you guys have been on tour with Son Volt. Favorite Jay Farrar tune?

JF- The Son Volt tour was another big dream moment for us. Being from Belleville, Illinois, Jay’s music has been a staple for many of us growing up in the band, and to see him nail all the songs to the wall night in and night out was fantastic. I think if we had to collectively pick a single song, which is nearly impossible with Jay’s incredible discography, we’d probably all land on “Tear Stained Eye.” The writing, the melody, the progression, all just superb. Jay at his finest, in my opinion. 

BRO – What was the inspiration behind working with Gateway Pet Guardians?

JF – Working with the animal shelter was an idea that kind of came naturally over the course of finishing up our album Where The Dogs Don’t Bite. Aside from the obvious connection of the title, John Brighton has recently adopted from Gateway and it all just seemed to fall into place. 

BRO – We are featuring “Big Dreams, Small Talk” on this month’s Trail Mix. What’s the story behind the song?

JF – I wrote the song as kind of an ode to my old way of thinking and maneuvering. Back when I talked about getting out and making it more than I doing anything to make it happen. It dances back and forth between that ideology and a few other more personal ideas but the fixins are all there.

BRO – Just how salty are you fellas?

JF – How salty are we? That’s a good question. Urban Dictionary defines salty as being bitter or jealous, and I’d like to think that we are neither. We like to see people succeed, even if it’s not us. Don’t hate, congratulate. It’s not our motto, but it works. However, the AC in our bus has been out all summer, so in regards to sweat, we have been EXTREMELY salty all summer. It’s gross, actually.

Old Salt Union is in the midst of a run of tour dates through the Midwest. You can catch them this weekend at Walnut Valley Festival in Kansas and next weekend in Columbia, Missouri. Future dates include stops in Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois.

For more information on the band, how you can get a copy of Where Dogs Don’t Bite, of where you can catch them on stage, surf over to their website.

And be sure to check out “Big Dreams, Small Talk,” along with new tunes from Jonah Tolchin, Billy Strings, Sunny War, and many more on this month’s Trail Mix.

Places to Go, Things to See: