My 2nd year of college
, I lived with roommates whose taste in music was quite different than mine
. The few times I allowed them to control the stereo, they would put on what I considered (at the time) inoffensive folk music
. But every so often, some vocal harmonies or fancy pluckin' would catch my ear, and I'd ask what CD was playing. And every time, the answer was Salamander Crossing
Salamander Crossing, occasionally described as "New England's best roots band," was formed in 1991 when John Hartford failed to appear at a banjo clinic in Amherst, MA. The attendees decided to just play in his absence, and Andrew Kinsey (acoustic bass), Rani Arbo (fiddle), and Tim Farnham (banjo, replaced in 1994 by Tony Furtado) had enough fun to play together regularly. They were soon joined by Jeff Kelliher (mandolin), and eventually began to tour around the Northeast.
Half of my friends were in love with Rani Arbo, whose strong vocals led many of Salamander Crossing's songs. When my roommate managed to get them to play at our campus center, her version of Gillian Welch's Tear My Stillhouse Down left most of us breathless.
Salamander Crossing's songs jump from jigs to traditional folk (including a beautiful cover of Shawn Colvin's Shotgun Down the Avalanche) to pop covers (The Beatles). It's very relaxing music; while their live shows displayed incredible amounts of energy, their recordings are generally more sedate. But it's perfect music for lazy New England Sundays in fall.
The band got their name from a sign on Henry Street in Amherst, where a tunnel was built beneath the street to accommodate migrating salamanders. Until the tunnel was built, every spring traffic had to be stopped as people carried salamanders in buckets across the road. The sign reads: "SLOW - Salamander Crossing" with a nice picture of a lumpy salamander.
Salamander Crossing released three albums: Salamander Crossing in 1994; Passion Train in 1996; and Bottleneck Dreams in 1998. The first two are now available with some bonus tracks as Henry Street. They broke up in 1999; Rani Arbo and Andrew Kinsey, who provided most of the band's gentle harmonies, are now performing as Rani Arbo & Daisy Mayhem.