The Infamous Stringdusters "Things That Fly"(Sugar Hill, 2010)
Soaring third album from bluegrass iconoclasts
A name like the Infamous Stringdusters could easily seem hubristic were it not for the fact that over their last couple of albums the band have rapidly established themselves as one of the most exciting propositions in progressive bluegrass.
Not only do they wear their substantial instrumental prowess lightly, but with their two previous collections the Stringdusters have pushed the melodic conventions of the genre in bold new directions whilst keeping one foot sufficiently planted in tradition to drag the purists with them. Things That Fly does nothing to undermine that legacy and indeed, it builds on their previous work to create their strongest release yet.
The second track here is a cover of U2's 'God's Own Country', and whilst it's to the band's credit that it's far from the most interesting example of songwriting on the album, they have clearly taken inspiration from the sonic territory of the original. As a result, the production feels especially spacious. This is perhaps most obvious on the reverb-laden bridge of opening track 'You Can't Stop the Changes', but it can also be heard in the languid beauty of the instrumental codas which play out 'All the Same' and 'Masquerade', or the ethereal backing-vocals of guests Sarah Siskind and Crooked Still's Aoife O' Donovan.
The band is very fortunate in that every member contributes songs, yielding a diverse and fertile set. Whilst lyrics sometimes tend towards the platitudinous, the melodies are memorable and inventive. Dobro player Andy Hall's songs such as 'Those Who've Gone On' and 'Love One Another' are the most immediate and forceful, especially thanks to his resonant baritone vocals. Contributions from Andy Falco and Travis Brook tend to be more reflective but no less interesting, particularly 'Not Tonight', co-written by the latter with Sarah Sisking. Meanwhile, the most radical effort is Jeremy Garrett's 'Masquerade', the harmonic sophistication of which recalls the seminal work of Chris Thile with Nickel Creek.
It is in the harmonic choices that the Stringdusters tend to display their virtuosity, for although solos are frequent they tend to be admirably taut and concise, and whilst Andy Hall's dobro is the primary source of the band's individual sound, every player is clearly a master of their instrument. For those craving some sustained picking, they offer two instrumentals, 'Magic #9' and 'The Deputy', the first of which is distinguished by its dynamics, the second by its slippery meter. It all contribute to the deft combination of tightly-reined technical skill with consummate songwriting which really marks the Stringdusters out and ensures their broad crossover appeal.
Date review added: Sunday, May 23, 2010
Reviewer: Kai Roberts
Related web link: Artist website