Leftover Salmon’s Brand New Good Old Days isn’t a sarcastic title. The album is fun and hopeful, with elements of bluegrass, country, rock, and jazz organically woven together, recalling classic Grateful Dead.
Their cover of the iconic Soundgarden song, “Black Hole Sun,” perfectly encapsulates the album. Where the grunge-y original is a hopeless dirge, almost feeling like Soundgarden was performing under both duress and water, Leftover Salmon gives it a bounce not unlike a puppy who got into the vitamins. The band preserves the beautiful hooks and melodies of the original, as well as its gravitas, keeping the track recognizable, but replacing sludgy guitars with bright banjos and acoustic hiccups. Leftover Salmon build the same structure out of different components.
Brand New Good Old Days’ strength is how well the various song pieces fit together. When they take on Conway Twitty’s “Boogie Grass Band,” they keep much of the country, but filter it through Southern rock, throwing in Allman Brothers “Ramblin’ Man” licks that make the song both more and less country than the original. The track is playful and goofy, but doesn’t feel like a novelty tune.
The band also has solid originals. They lay back on the title track, with an almost-spoken vocal. The lyrics match the joy of the melody: “These days I don’t think about tomorrows / Because the time just can’t be borrowed / And tomorrows, they just turn to yesterdays.” The song clocks in at less than three minutes, but has the majesty of a longer tune, with plenty of time for waves of piano, instrumental solos, and lovely background vocals.
Leftover Salmon also delves into serious issues. The Colorado-based band has witnessed multiple mass shooting in their home state. “Red Fox Run” is the story of one such event, told from the point of view of a fox, performed over banjo, mandolin, and piano, the instruments simulating the fox running from a gunman. The lyrics aren’t subtle (“Thoughts and prayers to broken stares ain’t helpin’ / ‘Cause the country is owned by the NRA”) but the song’s depth gives the album tonal variety.
Brand New Good Old Days is a tight album. The band shows off their impressive instrumental chops, but tracks never sprawl. They get into and out of songs quickly, making it easy to appreciate the earnest vocals. The album, even with some darker topics, feels like a beautiful, sunny day. Where many bands wear their sadness like a medal, Leftover Salmon share their happiness like orange slices after a Little League game.