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Mountain Heart Continues 20 Years Of Evolution With 'Soul Searching'

Sebastian Smith

Almost all bands change personnel. Some change personality. And then there’s Mountain Heart, which has done both several times over.

Formed in 1998 as a hard core traditional bluegrass supergroup with five musicians, today Mountain Heart is a quartet with no original members and a soul singing pianist. But the acoustic, song-centric heart, if you will, remains. For 20 years, this band has embraced new influences and grown younger and broader minded.

“The one trend that I think is super important about Mountain Heart is the quality of the musicianship," says the pianist (and primary songwriter) Josh Shilling, who made his debut in 2007. “You know, we were recently called the bluegrass Steely Dan, because it’s a bunch of studio players, session players.”


The comparison holds up when contemplating the production of the band’s newest album Soul Searching, its ninth overall and its second for Nashville's Compass Records. The core band steered the project but also invited in old friends and hired guns including Scott Vestal on banjo and Stuart Duncan on fiddle. The results are surgically precise but warm with acoustic tones and locked in harmony singing.  

Besides Shilling, the quartet features mandolinist Aaron Ramsey, bass and dobro player Jeff Pardin and acoustic guitar hotshot Seth Taylor. Taylor said the band still has fans and friends in its original bluegrass environments, but its eclectic take on roots makes the band most at home on improv-friendly festival bills with bands like The Infamous Stringdusters and Yonder Mountain String Band.

“The whole jam scene is the place to be right now," says Taylor. "That’s where we like to play.”

Mountain Heart celebrated their Aug. 10 album release with performances at the Grand Ole Opry and WMOT's Finally Friday. Their touring in support of Soul Searching will bring them to AmericanaFest in Nashville on Sept. 13.