Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Jon Ashley at Echo Mountain Studio, Asheville, North Carolina
There's a part near the end of the Yonder Mountain String Band song "Ragdoll," where singer Jeff Austin actually sounds like Nicki Minaj does when she sings(?) or blurts, "Pink wig, dick, ass, give 'em whiplash/I think big, get cash, make 'em blink fast/Now look at what you just saw, this is what you live for/I'm a motherfuckin' monster," on Kanye West's last album. It's an odd juxtaposition of thoughts, we'll grant you that - what is essentially a punky, bluegrass band from Colorado and a hip-hop weirdo from Queens - but we're still talking about two songs that go down dark paths. Both of them are threats - one more as a brag and the other a legitimate swipe at someone who's wronged them, treated them like dogshit one too many times and there's no telling how the story is going to end as Austin - who wrote the song with Danny Barnes sings, "Hell‚ honey better come back 'round‚ better say your prayers‚ better kiss the ground/Jenny… Jenny I'm leaving on the first train‚ smoking." He sings the word, "ragdoll," as if he's sharpening a knife/clearing his throat of blood and hacking it out onto the ground. It's not a song that should be misunderstood as a man gladly taking abuse and bending over backward for a pretty girl. This is a man at the end of his rope and we should look out.
The band gives us a sense that the salt of the earth and all the grime that lies on top of it are collecting and somehow it's all going to wind up under the fingernails of the characters in its songs. They are the people who find the moon to be predatory and they're people you could find under cars, sweating their asses off for their bacon and bread.
They're working to pass the time, as we're reminded on "Pockets," and still, it consumes them. They can't afford not to. Days roll into one another, as the drama packs onto their ribs like a meaty coat. These days drag their feet and come at them in awkward movements as people fall out of line, just trying to manage a straight path. The pushes and the pulls are thought to be acts of fate, the force of the wind "trying to push us to the side," but you get the feeling that all of these people know what they've made for themselves. Sometimes, it means that they'll be leaving on a morning train, smoking, abandoning whatever have you.
Yonder Mountain String Band Official Site