A sweet combination of runaway string solos, humble lyrics and southern-fried harmonisations make The Infamous Stringdusters’ latest album, ‘Laws of Gravity’, a definitive can’t-miss.
The 13-track album is an evolution from the band’s prior six albums, the first of which (‘Sugar Hill’) received three awards from the International Bluegrass Music Association in 2007. Calling themselves “the very model of a major modern bluegrass band,” the Stringdusters pull from a number of other genres – indie, rock, and even a little R&B – for their own special blend of bluegrass.
The first song, ‘Freedom’, is an immediate springboard into a pool of string instruments customary to bluegrass: banjo, fiddle, guitar, dobro and upright bass. The vocal harmonising elicits the feeling of driving with the windows down, down the American South’s winding highways.
‘Gravity’, the titular single, takes a left turn into the indie territory also associated with the band’s eclectic work. The fiddle moves a little more to the forefront, meshing gracefully with the lilting, heartsick romance in the words (“What could go wrong / If you hold on / Hold on to me”).
Intermingled with storytelling lyrics, ‘Laws of Gravity’ is peppered throughout with Stringdusters’ solos, characteristic of prior albums. The musicians’ meandering strings are exemplified in the one instrumental track, ‘Sirens’, although some of the resonance from the rest of ‘Gravity’ is lost with the lack of vocal power.
Most of the tracks exhibit startling finger-picking speeds that showcase both Berklee-trained talent and a simple, down-home touch. But it’s tracks such as ‘This Ol’ Building’, ‘Soul Searching’, and ‘Back Home’, with their taste of molasses in the slower pace and heavier feel, that leave a lasting impression.
One of the most powerful songs, ‘Maxwell’, starts down a dark road. The highs and lows pull you down from inside your belly, and the whining fiddle scratches at the back of your mind as the rest of the band brings you back to the sombre story spelled out in the plaintive narrative (“Lonely child left alone/ Mother dead and his father gone/ Maxwell, my boy, what will be your fate?”).
Overall, the album is a warm, emotive experience that calls to be left on repeat long into the evening.
‘Laws of Gravity’ is out now on Compass Records.