Mill Town Rounders formed in 2012 as a joint project between friends Don Shulsinger (banjo) and Joy Walsh (vocals), who’d been playing music together on stage for several years. Like Don and Joy, the band’s other members, Joy’s husband Dave (harmonica), John Harper (guitar), Josh Olivier-Mason (vocals, ukulele) and Michael Carotenuto (bass) share a passion for folk, rock and traditional bluegrass. The band’s name refers to its spiritual home in Maynard, Massachusetts, the old mill town where four of the band members live.
This is an album (Not The Love You Wanted) review with a difference. We sent an email asking for background on some of the songs and all six members chipped in with comments within hours. The album does not give individual songwriting credits so we have anonymised quotes.
1 – Rocky Ground
This song was inspired by the parable of the sower who cast his seeds across the ground and only a few took root. It harkens back to my parochial school upbringing where I was fascinated by the stories in the Bible, specifically ones about the losers and the ones left behind. I was always attracted to them and wondered what it would be like to be one of the forsaken.
2 – Until The End Of Time
I tried my hand at songwriting with “Until the End of Time.” The harmonic side of my songwriting tends to be cyclical in nature, so I decided to lean into that by creating three separate vignettes about people caught in vicious cycles: specifically crime, loneliness, and bitterness. Since I’m still new to the world of lyrics, another band member graciously stepped in and wrote some verses to embellish each story.
3 – Half Empty
This song is a cautionary tale to people who spend all their energy complaining, so much so that it blinds them to all the good in their lives and eventually drives their loved ones away.
4 – Devil Lies With A Whiskey Tongue
This has biblical elements to it but reflects more of the recognition of the destructive power of addiction and the need for sobriety, that and the warnings sent by those who regret their choices. I have bumped into too many of those to believe it is just coincidence. The idea of a whiskey tongue is just cool.
5 – Pillar Of Salt
This imagines a young father with a kind of painful past that drives him to box as a release from having to look back (and perhaps learn to forgive himself). The title comes from the story of Lot’s wife in Genesis and from Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse-Five where he refers to himself as a “pillar of salt” who cannot help looking back at the past.
6 – Tuesday Blues
This is auto-biographical. I’m tired and broke. Tuesdays are always my busiest days at work. Somedays, everybody wants a piece of me and I feel like I’ve got nothing left.
7 – You Should Have Been Mine
A country song about unrequited love that gradually reveals its protagonist to be a creep at best, and a stalker at worst. I liked playing around with the listener’s expectation that the song’s narrator is someone with whom they can/should sympathize. The title hints at the off-kilter perspective and the exasperated resentment that leads him to take a kind of infantile revenge by slashing tires in the bar’s parking lot.
8 – Bad News
I like songs that tell stories, either directly or through impressionistic metaphors. Sometimes a good story is just bad news.
9 – Nowhere To Go But Down
This is a song about a lost friend. Someone I thought was a very close friend suddenly stopped returning my calls and emails.
10 – Lead Lined Box
I had been kicking around the alliterative phrase “lead lined box” for quite some time and dark themes such as burial just seemed to be a natural fit. It follows that bluegrass tradition of the “murder ballad”, where someone kills the one they love. In this case, I liked that it was reversed and the song was from the scorned victim’s perspective.
INFLUENCES – lots of influences for six people.
Jerry Garcia, Pete Townshend, Mark Knopfler, Joe Perry, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson, Roscoe Holcomb, Jorma Kaukonen and Jeff Beck (doesn’t need to be bluegrass to be powerful!), jazz and classical. Bob Dylan and John Prine. Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt, Emmy Lou Harris, Pat Benatar, Grace Potter, Celia Woodsmith.
This is a marvellous record of bluegrass-influenced music by a talented group of friends who love making music together. The band’s repertoire ranges from bluegrass standards to classic rock ‘n’ roll to down home country. Thoughtful arrangements, tight harmonies and spirited instrumentals make this a high-quality album that is thoroughly recommended.
The album can be purchased from here or streamed on Spotify.
Compiled by Chaz Brooks