RECORD LABEL:Mountain Home Music Company
LOCATION:Asheville, North Carolina
Not content to rest on laurels like last year’s summer #1 for “California” and an autumn CMT.com feature for their “Irons in the Fire” video, the swiftly emerging bluegrass quintet Unspoken Tradition makes a fast break for 2022 with the release of “Lookout Mountain,” a tuneful reflection on the consequences of profit-driven development for traditional communities. With its fiddle-and-banjo opening that invokes the feel of old-time mountain music, melodic solos, and mournful harmonies, the song’s well-crafted arrangement, and melancholy mid-tempo delivery build on the deepening artistry exhibited in the group’s pandemic era singles.
It was almost inevitable that Unspoken Tradition, whose music has always incorporated a strong sense of place rooted in its Western North Carolina home, would pick up the tune, penned by local stalwarts and popular songwriters Charles Humphrey III (Songs from the Road Band) and Phil Barker (Town Mountain). Though its lyric refers to southeast Tennessee—Lookout Mountain sits above Chattanooga—the song’s story reflects trends that are shaping Appalachia as a whole, forcing long-time residents and institutions to give way to newcomers in a kind of rural counterpart to urban gentrification. The combination of regional and cultural specificity with a more universal experience of loss and relocation, of looking forward and looking back, has been a hallmark of the group’s approach and resonated not only with singer and bassist Sav Sankaran but with the entire band.
“‘Lookout Mountain’ first came to me as I searched for material to record back in 2010 and 2011,” says Sankaran. “I was immediately struck by the themes of gentrification, loss of place, and searching for a place to call ‘home.’ Growing up in an immigrant family, that search for a sense of place and grief for a home left behind felt very relatable to me. I was excited to give this song new life and brought it to the band when I joined.”
“Some songs just hit you hard, as this one did me,” notes guitarist Audie McGinnis. “The lyrics are almost haunting, and there are so many musical nuances that trigger those emotions we typically keep buried deep; this song accessed all of that for me. When Sav officially joined the group back in 2019, I was excited to integrate some of his catalog—this song included—into our live shows, and I’m thrilled that we’ve recorded it.
“With other single releases since our last album, I’ve talked about how I hoped this record showed a new side of Unspoken Tradition,” he adds. “I think ‘Lookout Mountain’ does a really good job of showcasing some of the maturity and depth of the band’s content choices, as well as dimensionality in our musical style. Sav’s voice just fits this song so well, and in preparing for this song, I was delighted to see all of us dig deep to craft every element of this song in a way that resonated with the message and truly did the song justice.”
KEY SELLING POINTS
- Unspoken Tradition's 2019 release from Mountain Home Music Company, Myths We Tell Our Young, debuted at #5 on the Billboard Bluegrass chart
- Myths We Tell Our Young (2019) also experienced 5 top-charting radio singles, including a #1 spot on the Bluegrass Today chart for “Dark Side of the Mountain”