It comes as no surprise that The Infamous Stringdusters latest release, Laws Of Gravity, is a perfect example of a modern bluegrass album. With the consistency and trust the band has drilled into themselves over their relentless touring schedule, they have fostered the ability to create seamless soundscapes full of peaks and valleys that echo with a presence as old as the hills. Each of the five members is among the finest practicing their respective crafts, and that united talent has evolved into something far beyond the sum of its parts. Never do you get the sense that the players are lined up and waiting their turn. Each of The Infamous Stringdusters has a part to play and, whether it is the lead or support, each note is treated as importantly as the last.
Opening the album with a track called “Freedom” seems fairly appropriate in this political climate. Lyrically, the tune is less of a political statement than a repudiation of deception and the breaking of the chains of falsehoods and the feeling of of hope that results from such a move. Musically it serves as a perfect showcase for the strengths of the Stringdusters, particularly their vocal harmonies and discipline.
With this many truly talented players gathered in one place, it is a difficult proposition to showcase the skills of each in full measure. “Gravity” lets bassist Travis Book step to the mic for a touching tale about the bonds of love, while the stark notes of banjo player Chris Pandolfi and Jeremy Garrett‘s drawn out fiddle notes compliment each other in a pleasing well. The ability to boil down to the essentials is a well used weapon in their arsenal, but by no means the only one at their disposal. “A Hard Life Makes A Good Song” is a textbook example of players using old forms of playing to make music that is nostalgic and fresh at the same time.
“Black Elk” adds to the stable of great fiddle tunes the band has given us, with Garrett flowing over the top of an ebbing and flowing bluegrass base. Andy Hall, whose dobro is equally impressive in short bursts and long flowing breaks from reality. Impressively, while Hall and Garrett cover similar sonic terrain the manage to never step on each others toes thanks to their ineffable awareness of the tendencies of the others. Guitarist Andy Falco has staked out the middle ground in the Stringdusters’ sound, filling the middle space in tunes like “This Ol’ Building” and “Soul Searching” with chords and the occasional tight leads.
Back to back tracks “Sirens” and “Back Home” provide a perfect final example of the ‘Dusters range. While “Sirens” is all flash and fury, “Back Home” is mournful and hopeful all at once. Each song is perfectly executed and instantly memorable, which is particularly impressive in such a crowded oeuvre. The themes of attraction and the forces of nostalgia that run through the album are brought to a head with disc closer, “Run To You.” The closing section of the song features the full band, with each managing to not just solo but break through the mix and take the jam in unexpected but soulful directions.
Laws Of Gravity is idiosyncratic and infectious to the point of fearsome. If The Infamous Stringdusters are capable of maintaining this insanely high level of play, they are on a course to write their own legend into the annals of bluegrass history. Even the most staid of purists are able to admit that what the Stringdusters are doing on albums like this and stages around the world will carry the essence of bluegrass into the future. These talented musicians might not have set out to become the standard bearers for an entire genre of music, but they did just that. Though their humility may keep them from basking in the praise they have earned, their music says all that is needed and volumes more.
Catch The Infamous Stringdusters out on the road and hear for yourself how far this band has come and listen as they explore the promise of many years of magic yet to come on their nation-wide tour.