Written by Fantasma el Rey
The Infamous Stringdusters are comprised of six young men, Andy Hall, Jeremy Garrett, Jesse Cobb, Chris Eldrigde, Chris Pandolfi and Travis Book, who have been kicking around Nashville for a few years. They became friends after running into one another around town, either doing session work or at live gigs with other bands. It didn’t take long for them to realize that they all shared a passion for true and innovative bluegrass and string music. Not long after that, they decided to give it a go of their own and the result is Fork In The Road.
Their debut album is filled with original material, including some jumping instrumentals. From the opening picks and Andy’s vocal licks on “No More To Leave You Behind,” these kats are on fire, getting you moving and toe-tapping. The song sets the tone for all those on this disc, highlighted by expert picking and plucking, heartfelt vocals, and straightforward lyrics that tell a good story.
The title track is where we get to hear the second of three of the Stringdusters lead vocalists. Jeremy Garrett does a fine job and handles the majority of the CD’s lead vocal chores with confidence and ease. For “Starry Night,” the band slows just a bit, but loses absolutely nothing. Instead, they gain ground and pull the listener further into their world. Jeremy’s sweet vocal delivery paints a picture of a Virginia night sky.
John Mayer’s “3×5” is where Travis makes his first vocal appearance. His baritone is a hint deeper than Jeremy’s and stands out against Andy’s sweet-voiced traditional bluegrass tenor. Having three lead vocalists works fine for this sextet, and with the addition of Travis, the last to join the group, they can pull off that high lonesome sound made popular by The Stanley Brothers.
Two good examples of the band’s brilliance are “Tragic Life” and “Poor Boy’s Delight.” Andy and Jeremy penned “Tragic Life,” a true cowboy lament about love, being on the run, and shooting a lawman in the back. The whole back-shooting lyric gives the narrator the mark of the anti-hero. Adding to the foreboding vibe is the line, “I feel my blood flowing colder every day”. What sets this “chased by a posse” song apart from other country cow-punch tunes is the song is played with all string instruments, giving it an authentic touch, as if it could have been played over a hundred years ago around a trail drive campfire.
Benny Galloway wrote “Poor Boy’s Delight,” and it shows these gentlemen can make any tune their own. This little number finds our pals in a mellow mood and places the listener smack in the center of an outdoor summer night dance in Virginia. With Travis’ voice, you can almost feel that soft Southern wind in June that he’s singing so quietly about.
The Stringdusters display their diversity with their three instrumentals, penned by various members of the band. “40 West” is a lighting fast race down the highway everyone will enjoy. All you have to do is imagine yourself in Granddad’s supped-up 1940 Ford pick-up truck and let the music whisk you down a tree-lined Virginia road at 90 miles per hour.
“No Resolution” keeps the pace moving, only a bit slower than “40 West,” yet the musicianship here is amazing. These young lions have this string music thing packed up tight and are running wild with it. Their creativity shines as the tempo slows a tad more in the middle of the song only to pick right back up again and tear the place down.
The closing tune and third instrumental is “Moon Man,” a seven-minute long “jamgrass” session. It opens slow and low, then kicks up its heels “faster than all get out” bluegrass style. You can almost picture legends such as Bill Monroe or Ralph Stanley pickin’ up a storm in a fever pitched duel.
The Infamous Stringdusters hit hard on their first outing, showing the world their creativity and individuality by expanding on the music and sounds they know and love. This band will carry the bluegrass torch while bringing in new fans and passing a branch of American music on to the next generation of pickers and grinners, as well as those of us who can’t play but know a good thing when we hear it. So while you’re out trying to find this one at your local record shop or on-line (it’s just easier that way), I’ll be dusting off my old six string acoustic and strumming an outlaw love song. Goodnight y’all.