Jamgrass pioneers Leftover Salmon first melded strings, bouncing melodies and wild stage energy a quarter century ago when founders Vince Herman, Drew Emmitt and Mark Vann merged their respective bands.
The group has been through a lot in the years since – grueling touring schedules and sold-out shows, the cancer that took Vann’s life, a hiatus that was lamented by fans and the subsequent revival of the band when Emmitt and Herman rejoined their musical efforts in the late aughts.
Now, four years after diving back into it full time, Leftover Salmon has embarked on the newest chapter in its storied history with the addition of revered music veteran Bill Payne, the energy of young guns Andy Thorn, Greg Garrison and Alwyn Robinson and a brand new album, “High Country.”
Emmitt said band members are still rubbing their eyes in disbelief that Payne – who co-founded the famed country-rock band Little Feat with Lowell George in 1969 – now counts himself among their ranks.
“It’s such a gift having Bill in the band. His musicianship is through the ceiling, his ideas on songwriting,” Emmitt said. “It’s brought so much to this band.”
That, combined with the talent of new members and the joy they are finding in playing together, has resulted in what Emmitt says is a stellar new era for Leftover Salmon.
“I feel like this band has never been better,” Emmitt said. “So we’re loving it.”
Leftover Salmon will bring its frenetic mountain boogie to Durango this week with back-to-back shows Tuesday and Wednesday at the Animas City Theatre. The band is on the tail end of a winter tour in support of “High Country,” and Emmitt said they are looking forward to wrapping up the run in southwestern Colorado.
“High Country,” which was released in late November, features a batch of music that weaves together roots, bluegrass, Cajun and country strains and peppers it with the band’s signature flairs – blistering strings, blues balladry and a joyful, loose-limbed sound.
Emmitt said Leftover Salmon took a collaborative approach on the album that resulted in songs that cover a lot of musical territory and lean heavily toward Americana.
“I think it is definitely a departure for us,” he said. “It goes a lot of interesting places.”
Departure as it may be, it doesn’t lose the essence of Salmon – that jamgrass foundation, those rootsy rambling sounds and the hints of funk, Latin and rock.
And since Payne was in the process of joining the band when the album was being finished (He became official in September), he was able to put his “magic touches” on it, Emmitt said.
Payne has been moving in the same orbit as Leftover Salmon for years. The keyboard player produced the band’s 2004 self-titled album and has clocked a significant amount of stage time with Salmon. Payne said he clicked with the band during a gig in Laramie, Wyoming, a few years back, and the relationship unfolded pretty naturally from there with more gigs and an easy collaboration.
“It was an organic situation that eventually brought us all to the realization that maybe we ought to include me as a member,” he said. “It’s been wonderful ... We’ve all been looking at each other and smiling on stage. That’s always a good indication for a band.”
The new collaboration has been a shot in the arm for the band, Emmitt said. And after 25 years, it’s still a damn good time.
“It’s fun,” he said. “It’s definitely a brotherhood. It’s a very tight-knit group. The other half of the equation is the audience ... As long as people keep coming to see us, we’ll keep playing.”