Mother Vinegar
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Mother Vinegar

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The best kept secret in music


"Get a Taste of Mother Vinegar"

[Published on 12/20/2005]

Nestled away in the heart of the Western North Carolina (WNC) mountains, a new project is starting to emerge in the Southeastern music circuit. Formed in the spring of 2005, Mother Vinegar is a high-energy rock quartet that is as adept at playing metal music as they are with displaying pop sensibilities. Their sound is an eclectic mix of hard rock, quirky funk, and heavy metal, with a taste of blues and punk. Truly an amalgam of sounds, when asked who the band most closely resembles, they countered with a diverse mix of Beck, J.J. Cale, Metallica, Ween, Primus, and Sonny Rollins. Principle songwriter Karl Engelmann inflates the group's live shows by adding humorous antics to the music as he stomps around the stage shredding on his guitar.

Construction of the band started when Jake Cinninger (Umphrey's McGee) informed Kevin Cassels (drummer) that Engelmann (guitar) had relocated to rural WNC. Having been a huge fan of Engelmann's music, Cassels went on a manhunt to track him down to inquire about starting a project together. Currently residing in Asheville, Cassels was engulfed in the Atlanta rock scene for many years with different projects but is best known as being one of the lead contributors to The Pharmers Almanac: Volume 6. You may be familiar with Engelmann for his work with cult favorite Ali Baba's Tahini as well as for his penning of several Umphrey's McGee concert mainstays such as "Partyin' Peeps," "Syncopated Strangers," and "Bright Lights Big City." Cassels admits he was a bit rusty when he first got back behind the kit, but his chemistry with Engelmann was genuine and their shared vision and great potential trumped any rough beginnings.

Needing another guitar player to bolster the frontline, Cassels tapped one of his favorite performers from the area, Tommy Dennison. Nicknamed "The North Carolina Shredder," the accomplished guitarist has been a fixture of the Southeastern music circuit for nearly a decade, sending many people into a frenzy with his heavy metal axe. Dennison is a second generation guitarist, following in the footsteps of his father Steve Dennison, one of the most respected musicians in the Southeast United States. With another guitar player in the fold, the band cut tracks for nearly a year before meeting their low end, bassist Jeff Hinkle. Cassels and Hinkle ended up converging on the same party one night, jammed together on some cheesy 80's material, did a keg stand, and from there the quartet was formed.

The main premise behind their project is to flex musically, but without sacrificing the key ingredients: songwriting and structure. Having recently put the finishing touches on their debut release, the band has made the record available for purchase in time for the new year. If you are searching for a heavy rock song with crunchy guitars, you may want to check out "Big Dreams." It is a catchy tune with a fat chorus, complete with a Satriani-infused guitar solo by Dennison. "Pimp in a Pinch" is a funky number, which Engelmann sings emphatically through a telephone onstage. Resembling old Fat Albert 70's funk, it contains a couple different guitar solos by the frontline and the emergence of a kazoo in the chorus. "Wishful Thinking," one of their newer songs not found on the album, features a long bass-filled intro that melts into a breezy middle section, while "Ferris-Wheeled City" is a surf-style heavy rocker about a legendary pub in South Bend where Ali Baba's Tahini and Umphrey's McGee used to perform.

Still relatively new on the scene, the band is focused on cultivating a solid fan base, while continually searching for ways to get more people in front of the stage. Fans of hard rock, indie-folk, and funky metal would be the most interested in their material; however, they draw fans from the jam scene because of the myriad of styles they play. While they may be a bit heavier than most so-called "jambands," they have already received a glowing endorsement from tour heavyweights Umphrey's McGee, for whom they opened back in October at the Orange Peel. Mother Vinegar is hosting the moe. after-party at the Grey Eagle in Asheville on December 30, serving as a warm-up to New Year's Eve festivities across the city. As the year comes to a close, do not be surprised if there are some special guests stopping by the Grey Eagle on a night dedicated to hard rock and mayhem in the mountains of WNC.

- JamBase

"Album Review: Mother Vinegar (3 1/2 stars)"

• Genre(s): Rock, funk, brushes with metal.

• You'll like it if: You want an album with more twists than a circus contortionist.

• Defining song: "Gypsum Cave" – This gypsy-jazz number swings like a school playground. Haunting tales of mountains of cocaine and dancing girls "that take you out back for a dime" contrast sharply with the bubbly instrumental landscape.

A superficial glance at Mother Vinegar's background might elicit conjecture: "hmm, another jam band." With a shimmering endorsement from Umphrey's McGee -– multi-instrumentalist and MV member Karl Engelmann has written several songs for the Midwestern jammers -– the quartet certainly has ties to the aforementioned genre. Mother Vinegar formed last April after drummer Kevin Cassels learned that Engelmann had moved to WNC. The two agreed to start a project together, and they rounded out the band with guitarist Tommy Dennison (nicknamed, for better or worse, the "North Carolina Shredder") and bassist Jeff Hinkle.

Their debut album is rife with personality. One moment the quartet is shadowing Shankar ("Have a Sitar"), next they're probing dysfunctional relations via honky-tonk ("Family Reunion"). Some of the songs reach the brink of musical wanking, only to pull back thanks to the brief length of each tune. The brevity works well because it makes the ear pine for more, instead of contemptuously closing off. The lyrics can be a bit much ("the light is beaming on my rhythmic regulator/I'm moving around like a sexual generator"), but their instrumentation becomes a life vest when the words threaten to drown the senses. All in all, it's an impressive debut for a band whose biggest predicament is having too many ideas. - Mountain Xpress

"Mother Vinegar Mixes It Up With Umprhey's Axemen, Meltsdown with East Coast Lights"

Last weekend, Mother Vinegar enjoyed three significant gigs. Thursday they performed to a sold out New Knoxville Brewery and they debuted a number of songs including aggressive numbers like "Think" and "Apples," the decidedly prog-rock "Microphones" and even a couple of jazzy numbers called, "We're So Lucky" and "Rich Little White Girl." They also were joined midset by Umphrey's McGee front men Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger who at one point engaged Vinegar axemen Karl Engelmann and Tommy Dennison in a quadruple guitar solo during "Latin Up Your Ass" (which also briefly broached Metallica's "One"). Cinninger and Dennison squared off for some mindblowing dual guitar on the Engelmann-penned Umphrey's McGee staple "Resolution" which was also a debut for Mother Vinegar.

Saturday they headlined the Andrews Music Festival in Andrews, North Carolina during the day, and that evening their performance at Across The Traxx in Bryson City, North Carolina was recorded for future release on the Live Music Archive.

Tonight, Mother Vinegar will perform acoustically at the Soul Infusion Tea House in Sylva, North Carolina. This will be the first of what will be a series of acoustic performances this summer, including a stop at legendary WNCW radio station in Spindale, North Carolina - this will be streamed on the station's web site at

Tomorrow night Mother Vinegar returns to the Emerald Lounge in Asheville, NC to headline the Summer Solstice Meltown with East Coast Lights opening. They also will be part of a three band gala at Asheville's Orange Peel July 27, the details of which will be provided soon. Report by Rob Turner -

"Sweet Vinegar Sounds"

Claiming influences as far apart stylistically as Iron Maiden and Ravi Shankar, Mother Vinegar lean further toward the rocking side of the jam ethic than the majority of their tie-dyed brethren. Off kilter lyrics (understatement?) and a blatant disregard for genre boundaries are the name of the game for these guys, and thankfully their overall instrumental prowess allows them to play musical hopscotch with a minimum of skinned knees.

The band itself has a pretty impressive pedigree: each member spent time in several well-respected projects individually before coming together in 2005 as Mother Vinegar.

Notably, singer/multi-instrumentalist and ringleader Karl Engelmann is an alumnus of Ali Baba’s Tahini (with future Umphrey’s McGee guitarist Jake Cinninger), and penned several tunes that remain part of UM’s live repertoire.

Tommy Dennison has graced just about every popular group in WNC (Zyder Zee, Oliver Soup, The Skinny) with his fluid fretwork.

Bassist Jeff Hinkle was part of “groosion” purveyors Big Block Dodge, and drummer Kevin Cassels wrote the book on Phish. Literally.

Mother Vinegar doesn’t make it easy on you, though. Once you think you’ve got a bead on what they’re doing, what their “sound” might be, they shift gears hard. Opening with the surprisingly poppy “Big Dreams,” they demonstrate a smarter ear for the song than many improvisation oriented acts. That said, guitarist Dennison does turn in a succinct, flowing solo that makes its statement without going overboard.

But then they hit the darkly swinging, mostly acoustic “Gypsum Cave,” and follow it with the twisted boogie of “Family Reunion,” with subject matter that might make you rethink just how weird YOUR last family get-together might’ve been. That is, unless your granny just happens to enjoy a rock-n-roll pole dance as much as the one in the song does. Hmmm.

It’s the instrumental “Have A Sitar” that struck me as an insight to the surprising places Mother Vinegar can really go. A trance inducing sitar, bass and drums jam, I found myself going back to it several times, enjoying the simplicity, mood and groove of the tune. With some acoustic shows coming soon, it will be interesting to see how Mother Vinegar reinterprets their mostly electric music, and if some of the elements presented in this piece play a role the direction of that interpretation.

While on the subject of “live,” it’s recommended highly to catch Mother Vinegar in the live format, especially to witness the band’s technical skill and interplay. A lot of his playing on the CD is kind of “reigned in,” so hearing guitarist Dennison rip on an extended solo gives you a much better idea of his real skills as a guitarist. Drawing on the rapid fire picking style of Steve Morse and the flowing musicality of Eric Johnson, he turns it on effortlessly whenever given the chance, providing fans of high-tech guitar with the fix they may be craving.

Front-man Engelmann is the showman, perfectly comfortable cajoling the audience or falling to his knees in the “rock god guitar solo” pose. The whacked sense of humor in his lyrics is easily mirrored in his onstage demeanor, and though he obviously doesn’t take it all terribly seriously, the music doesn’t suffer for the shenanigans.

Much like the recent Umphrey’s McGee album, Mother Vinegar’s debut is a mostly song oriented affair. By saving the all-out jamming for the live arena, they’ve constructed a collection of highly adventurous pop friendly songs that give you a glimpse of where they’ll take the tunes onstage. By no means a “reserved” listening experience, Mother Vinegar could appeal to fans of Zappa’s satirical lyrical bent as well as those that dig the instrumental skill of Phish, Widespread Panic and the like.

Skillfully played and smartly arranged, Mother Vinegar is a fine debut from a group of musicians that know exactly what they’re doing, and do it well. 4 stars.

- Smoky Mountain News


MOTHER VINEGAR (2005, MonkeyFuzz Records, full-length album).

The single "Gypsum Cave" has been played on various radio stations in the southeast. "Pimp in a Pinch" has been played on XM Satellite Radio.

You can stream "Gypsum Cave" (which went to No. 1 for several weeks on's folk chart) on our MySpace page at, along with three live tracks.


Feeling a bit camera shy


Mother Vinegar is a hard rock band from Asheville, North Carolina featuring the music of Karl Engelmann, who is also the leader of popular midwest rock group Ali Baba's Tahini. Engelmann is best known as the author of several concert staples performed by popular progressive rock band Umphrey's McGee (guitarist Jake Cinninger is also a member of Ali Baba's Tahini with Engelmann).

Mother Vinegar was founded in 2005 by Engelmann and Kevin Cassels, author of the The Pharmer's Almanac - a cult-favorite biography of Phish. Engelmann, Cassels, and guitarist Tommy Dennison actually began performing together in early 2004, but officially formed Mother Vinegar with the addition of former Big Block Dodge bassist Jeff Hinkle in the summer of 2005.

The band were signed to Asheville's Monkey Fuzz Records in 2005, and released their self-titled debut album in December.

A promoter caught their very first concert and immediately hired them as the headlining band at the Roxaway Music Festival, bumping the original headliner out of its spot. The band's 5th show ever was playing in front of 1,000 opening for Umphrey's McGee. Two months later, the band headlined the moe. NYE aftershow (moe. used the band's drumset at their show). Gigs followed with the SeepeopleS, Outformation, and others.

In October 2006, they were chosen as one of 10 out of 135 applicants to participate in the regional Rocktoberfest Battle of the Bands.

The band has performed nearly 60 original songs within their first year together, and has never performed a cover song.