BURNT TOAST AND JAM – Lost in the Woods
Just northwest of Green Bay, halfway to Wausau, lies the little town of Leopolis, home to Burnt Toast and Jam, a lifelong contingent of friends and musical peers, and the originators of the “dewgrass” style. Four years in the making, Lost in the Woods is the group’s third album, their last being 1999’s Dewgrass. BT&J is a seven-piece group with organic, mostly acoustic instrumentation and rich vocals with ample harmonies. The Cork ‘n’ Bottle String Band’s Greg Dierks is prominently featured, playing mandolin on several tracks. The band is basically a bluegrass outfit but their sound most resembles the country-rock of bands like Pure Prairie League, only with more banjo and better guitars.
The band defines “dewgrass” as “all those sparkles on the grass when you roll over next to a campfire on a sunny summer morning after dancing at a bluegrass festival all night. It’s the wetness on your feet as you walk to the river and the dampness on your clothes as you throw them to the ground before you dive in. Dewgrass is all of the above complemented with a unique mix of bluegrass, acoustic, newgrass, R&B, folk, jam music and other influences.”
Lost in the Woods is an easy-going, immensely pleasurable album; a generous serving of over seventy minutes of original compositions. There are some lengthy tracks with lots of solo turn-taking in the bluegrass tradition. Kurby Hoffman provides the banjo and his compositions, “Bee in Her Bonnet,” “Hard to Talk” and “Train Song (Never Got Started)” tend to favor more traditional bluegrass forms. An exception is the gorgeous acoustic-guitar-driven “Get to Know Her.”
A distinct highlight is the blues-with-a-banjo track, “Broken Boat,” which features extended guitar solos courtesy of guest Wade Fernandez. Fernandez is a blisteringly fluid player and his work here recalls some of the best Steely Dan/Larry Carlton solos. He’s one of the most vastly underrated musicians in the state, hailing from the Menomonie Indian Reservation, which is very near Leopolis. Fernandez also burns up two other tracks: “Red Water” and “Lift it in the Air.”
Lost in the Woods was recorded at Mongotracks in Appleton by Tim O’Connell and the sound quality is superb with rich bass tones and full, resonant acoustic guitars. The production is clean and really presents this band and their songs in the best possible light. All the tracks are standouts and, by the time the whole album had played, Burnt Toast and Jam had skyrocketed up my list of favorite Wisconsin bands. I’m pretty sure that one listen to this exceptional disc will do the same for you.