Me / And / Dad
Obviously, bluegrass isn’t just Bela Fleck’s My Bluegrass Heart at the Ryman or Sam Bush lording over his domain at Telluride. It’s also—and just as much—the elongated jams around a legendary family campsite at Bean Blossom, the impromptu pick-with-a-star jams in the SPGMA lobby, or your local bluegrass pals getting together for a jam.
Billy Strings exploded from that latter group, honing his bluegrass guitar, vocal and songwriting chops until he now stands at the forefront of modern bluegrass. His undeniable commercial success and brand allure have engaged thousands of new fans, and even a few of us oldsters. But he’s always treasured those early roots.
So it’s natural at this point in his stellar career to make a return to his native soil and propagate a new CD of material featuring his father and many of Strings’ peers. Me / And / Dad is a completely personal disc that fulfills a lifelong promise Billy made to himself: to someday record a record with his stepdad, Terry Barber, who taught him to play and sing bluegrass. And several tunes here feature his family singing lead or harmony, like his dad singing lead on “Life To Go.”
On tunes like “Way Downtown,” you can hear Strings joyously channel his original guitar hero, Doc Watson, with Michael Cleveland soaring away on fiddle.
The family connection here is so strong, Billy pointedly includes “Stone Walls and Steel Bars,” a clear reference to his grandfather, who built an electric guitar in the prison shop during his incarceration. “Little Cabin Home” is straight-edged, honed to the hilt bluegrass like the way they like it where Harley Allen and Dorsey Harvey came from. And his tribute to legend Larry Sparks on “John Deere Tractor” may be the CD’s best track.
Let’s face it: at this point, Billy Strings could reunite with his Michigan heavy metal bandmates and play Bean Blossom with a wall of Marshall stacks behind him and most of his fanbase would still love him for it. Happily, he’s chosen here to go deep into his musical roots. Whichever side you’re on, this is a record for both the trad faithful and the legions of new fans he’s lured into bluegrass to hear their hero in a stripped down, no pedalboard or laser canon stage theatrics, setting.