On his second full-length CD, Home, Billy Strings and company prove emphatically that Strings is one of the most exciting and daring creative artists in bluegrass today. Blending the twenty-first century via Doc Watson guitar skills that earned him IBMA Guitarist Of The Year for 2019 with 14 songs he wrote or co-wrote, Strings pushes his strain of bluegrass into new realms here. With its sweeping sonic palette, frequently drenched with studio effects that would have been at home on a 1960s LP from a psychedelic rock band, Home veers away often from conventional bluegrass sounds. But by keeping the core true to the genre, Strings creates a perfect fit for many younger listeners just discovering bluegrass sounds and styles.
The opening track “Taking Water” parallels the anger and frustration expressed in his generation’s growing anxiety about world politics, economics, and global climate change. But one key to his growing popularity is Strings’ uncanny ability to follow such an angry track with the lovely tune “Must Be Seven,” featuring the ethereal vocals of Molly Tuttle. It’s a pattern he repeats here, as he follows the cutting edge tunes “Watch It Fall” and “Love Like Me” that are as lovely and traditional as you’d care to hear. Looking for tight, blue blazing bluegrass here, look no further than “Everything’s The Same” with a patented Dobro solo by Jerry Douglas. Strings and company imbue this rousing tune with so much energy.
While the CD features guest spots by a couple of outside musicians, it’s his core band that explodes into the highest levels of bluegrass. Jarrod Walker shows formidable mandolin chops on “Long Forgotten Dream,” among many others. Playing with power, precision and great taste, Walker consistently renders exciting licks that reflect mandolin influences from traditional bluegrass to newgrass and more. Billy Failing’s modern straight-up bluegrass banjo merges perfectly with the band’s blend of styles, and is often the vehicle here that transitions the band from its acid grass sections back into a bluegrass sound that Earl Scruggs would have loved. And everything is held together by Royal Masat’s focused, intuitive bass lines.
Filled with honest, gorgeous original songs played by some of the best bluegrass musicians working today, Home still may turn off some bluegrass fans who feel there’s no place for screaming electric guitar, psychedelic effects, and anti-establishment lyrics. But as his legions of fans, both old and young, flock to sold-out shows, there’s no denying that this young man from the backwoods of Michigan has created a contemporary sound and spirit that lifts bluegrass to higher vistas. Highly recommended. (www.rounder.com)DJM